Ethereal Express: Driving The Citroën XM

Citroen XM

There are countless phenomenons out there which defy description. To know that something exists, having this fact backed up by the reports of others, even seeing it documented on TV still can’t hold a candle to experiencing it first hand.

I found this to be true when I visited Iceland in April and was lucky enough to witness Aurora Borealis live and outrageous in the late winter sky. It was everything I had dreamt of and more besides, at one point exploding from the restful ribbon of bright green that boogied in the darkness into a sudden Pink Floyd laser spectacular- pinks and blues and whites swirling in an unimaginable vortex like Nature’s Own LSD. Probably.

And if that celestial showcase wasn’t enough, on Thursday 26th May 2016, I got to drive a Citroën XM.

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“Driving and listening” VS Driving and Listening


There’s no accounting for taste. This is true, as anybody who has looked through my CD changer will tell you (it currently contains Lamb, Pink Floyd, Underworld, James McMurtry, Moulettes and Brian Eno). But it’s surely better to express poor taste than to express no taste. At least it demonstrates that you have an interest.

Heart FM is a UK network of “Adult Contemporary” radio stations operated by Global Radio. Its playlist contains exclusively high-charting, recognised pop records from the last few decades. Musical heavyweights like Michael Buble, Little Mix, Take That, Robbie Williams, all inoffensive, all wildly popular, all bland to the point of being insipid. Every now and again they’ll play a blue chip classic by Michael Jackson or Sister Sledge, but it’ll be something really familiar and overplayed like Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ or We Are Family. And if you miss a track, then don’t worry, because they’ll broadcast the exact same musical menu the next day in a different sequence, you know, just for a bit of variety.

I always shudder when I get in a car and this radio station is selected. This driver clearly has so little interest in music that they physically choose to listen to Heart FM- rather than any one of the hundreds of other better radio stations, or MP3’s, a CD, even silence. So how much interest can they possibly have in driving?

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Diecast, uh, Delights? A Mercedes-Benz SL500 (R230) in 1:18 Scale


Imagine a street full of steakhouses. Most of them are advertising a Mixed Grill including a 10oz sirloin, farmhouse sausage, lamb chop, vegetables and fries, for $19.95. One, though; “The Macerated Bullock” proudly offers all the above, plus ham topped with a pineapple slice, three different sausages, two grilled chicken wings and a dessert, all for that same Nickelback price.

So, with an empty stomach and a thin wallet, you plump for the latter on the grounds of value, then you find yourself served a mountain of so-so meat, soggy, pale fries, dry pineapple and an insipid dessert. You then wish you’d bought something a bit less ambitious.

Welcome to the dangerously unreliable world of budget diecasts.

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The Carchive: ’81 Pontiac Acadian


I received an exciting telegram from the expedition team last weekend- while charting the cave we have come to know as the Lesser Chamber, a fissure was found in the rock which opened into a hitherto unknown void, and they could scarcely believe what they found in there. Welcome back to The Carchive.

We remain west of the Atlantic for today’s crawl among the loose rocks of motoring history with a look at the ’81 Pontiac Acadian.

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Abandoned Fiesta: A Family Betrayal


The break-up with Paul had been an amicable one. He was a good man, but Jessica knew he wasn’t the right man. He’d been good with the baby, though, and as a new mum, what Jessica really needed was somebody to be there for her, and he never failed in that regard.

It was a shame, really, that Paul and Jessica wanted different things out of life. He had been awarded a scholarship to a music school Up North and his parents were supporting his return to education, all that call centre work was killing him anyway, and the poor kid never did get a chance to follow his dreams. In fact, Jess encouraged him to go and be who he always wanted to be. Jess and Molly would do just fine now.

Especially since Paul had given them his car.

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Diecast Delights: A C5 Corvette in 1:18 Scale


Around the time of the turn of the millennium, a great change was about to take effect which would significantly improve the lives of grown men who really should know better than to still be playing with toy cars despite their advancing years. Sorry, I mean our advancing years. This was the time that manufacturing techniques and technology were such that really, ridiculously, stupidly detailed model cars first became available to Normal (relatively) people straight off the shelf, as it were. AutoArt led the march.

Todays model, by UT Models, who along with Gate became part of the AutoArt machine, comes from that period immediately prior to super-detail breaking out all over the place.

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The Carchive: ’93 Mercury Cougar XR7


Where I’m sitting, we’re done for another workday week.  The sticky, polyester 9-5 shirt and tie are coming off, the pipe bowl is being stuffed with rough shag and a favourite tipple is being poured into a lead crystal glass, with perhaps a few chips of ice to add a little decorative frost. And to heighten the feeling of decadence, perhaps a long, lingering look through a musty old brochure. Join me, if you will, in The Carchive.

From last week’s manual labour behind the wheel of a ’78 L-Series, we’re leaving Ford’s heavy truck division and heading fifteen years into the future for a look at one of their cars.

But first, I want you to do something for me.

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V.I.S.I.T: (KE20) Toyota Corolla Wagon


The other day we spent a while admiring the perseverance of somebody who keeps an ’81 Cadillac Eldorado alive and in pristine condition, despite living in Iceland, not a country which The Firm With The Duck Spangled Crest has ever held as their number one target.

But then again, driving around in the reddest, shiniest ’81 Biarritz on the island is sure going to get you some admiring glances. You could say a similar thing about spending wheel time in today’s featured early ’70s Corolla- but the glances you’ll receive are more likely to be ones of shock, confusion, maybe even pity.

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V.I.S.I.T: V8/6/4 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz


I still possess a swipe card for the JR metro system in Tokyo, a worthless artefact I keep only because I’m unlikely to ever own another one. People hang on to all kinds of weird old shit, with sentimentality being the main reason. Car preservation is a whole ‘nother topic for discussion, it’s thanks to the eccentricities of mankind that many of the most interesting automobiles are found outside museums and collections; I’m talking about the kind of subject matter that was seen as so plentiful and disposable that nobody considered that one day they might all be gone, and that a few folk might miss them.

It’s just a hunch, but I’m guessing that not a huge number of eighth generation Eldorado Biarritzes have survived to be pampered and mollycoddled, which made my encounter with this cherry example of the breed all the more surprising, not least because I was patrolling Reykjavik’s poetically named “Fishpacking district” at the time.

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Diecast Delights: A Ford Model T Van in 1:18 scale


It’s a political hot potato, it seems. 1:18th scale cars find themselves being dismissed as mere “toys”, by my wife, many of my work colleagues and (whisper it) certain members of this esteemed website. Surely it’s all about context? Give a six-year-old a CMC Maserati Birdcage and it’ll be launched down the stairs as if it had Tonka stamped on it. For me, though, the finely crafted model car is simultaneously a toy, an ornament and a work of reference.

I’ve got books galore upstairs in the library, many lavish volumes crammed with wonderful photographs of the most significant cars in history. But photos are static. You can only behold the subject matter from the same perspective as the photographer. With a good model you can hold, move and zoom in as much as you like.

This is why I ended up with this Model T.

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