Importing car parts - Faine 443

By: Jon Faine

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citroen parts citroen parts

Jon's steering box builds up serious frequent flyer points

Over many years I’ve owned a dozen different versions of the DS Citroen. Released in 1955, the design icon has regularly been voted top of the pops in polls about best engineering, most radical concepts, best looking…and most annoying. It remains an astonishing tour de force by any standard and shames many cars fifty years younger.

But one clear parameter where the DS fails to make the grade is ease of service and repair. Under the bonnet, the four cylinder motor is unremarkable – if you can get to it. Even some small jobs that take little time on other cars are a nightmare on a DS. Changing a starter motor, just [ahem] for starters, is a harrowing exercise in itself that baffles even experienced Citroen hands. And if you’re lucky enough to find a top of the range fuel injected semi automatic gearbox car – the legendary BVH – pray it doesn’t have air con as well or you will need a plumbers licence to even look at the engine. Bowls of spaghetti have seemed less convoluted.

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The ‘BVH’ denotes "Boites de Vitesses Hydraulique" – french for "Gearbox hydraulic" – or more simply put an hydraulically powered four-speed gearbox. The driver manually changes gears but there is no clutch pedal for your feet. The high pressure pumped hydraulic system that operates the suspension and brakes is called into action as well to activate the clutch off a micro-switch on the gear wand. When properly adjusted it provides a magic carpet ride and perfect shifts each time.

As the DS ages, the hydraulics need regular servicing. If neglected, the seals and rubber boots can split or perish and replacing some is a simple exercise, others a nightmare. The steering rack – a regular source of hydraulic fluid leaks – is one of the more vexing operations and strictly the work of specialists.

My 1975 DS23 was running wonderfully but had a tendency to leave a puddle underneath when parked. Typical leaking steering rack give-away. Closer inspection confirmed the diagnosis. There is no easy solution – the rack has to come out, get sent away for a reco and then reinstalled with special tools to reset the steering geometry.

I scouted around for a replacement rack. There are few options locally and I decided – foolishly – that it would be easier to send my rack to Europe in exchange for a reconditioned item off the shelf. It only costs Euro 760 plus Euro 400 deposit until your exchange rack arrives – plus the considerable freight to despatch your greasy old rack. That totals out at almost $2000 before you even pay the garagiste to remove and then re-install the new rack. Expensive job. So off I go, lugging a heavily wrapped huge box to the post office and sending it away. Apart from the pandemic related delays (not anyone’s fault) my replacement rack eventually arrived. Triumphantly I presented it like a Christmas present to the very patient garagiste, who rang a week later.

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"This new rack you got, we can’t use it. Its left hand drive" was the startling news. I am not often lost for words, but this time, I was stuck. Coming as it did amidst all the other bad news about the state of the world, I felt like this was the proof I always looked for that the universe was conspiring against me.

Some terse emails later, the suppliers on the other side of the globe tried to justify their error by saying I had not specifically asked for a right hand drive rack to be sent to me. Some impolite and blunt words and multiple emails later, and we agreed that I could return their left hand drive rack and they would despatch at no further cost a right hand drive rack as originally ordered. Further delays.

There is one Australian re-conditioner of DS steering racks and pumps. Peter Raffels in Queensland runs a business called "Pleiades Australia" and if only I had just sent my rack to him I would have never had the hassle.

The moral? Trade local whenever you can. And never assume that the people on the other end of an email know what they are doing. Every single piece of information needs to be supplied and checked. And when things go wrong, always stick to your guns and insist they make good their error.

 

From Unique Cars #443, Aug 2020

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