The Story Begins

Late 1998: I am driving a very tired Vauxhall Astra estate and wondering what to replace it with; I want to drive into the playground at school in something different and fun, but what? Lorry? Fire-engine? Breakdown truck? I visit The Plough, Wilmington with my colleagues one lunchtime and there in the car park stands a beautiful silver estate car; I love it, I want it, what the hell is it? (This, by the way, is what designers call X-factor, and seek to distil into their work, that very reaction “Phoaaaarrr, I want it, what is it?”). I look at the badge: Citroen…. A CX. A “Safari” (Photo 1). So in this case, CX-factor. I didn’t know they made anything like this. The owner, in the bar, doesn’t want to sell the car. I rush out and buy the first CX estate I find for sale, locally, an eight-seater version known as a Familiale. And the Family have used and abused this one; there follows, at times painfully, a steep learning curve; I really appreciate help from friends in The Citroen Club. The silver car is still frequently spotted parked in The Plough.

April 2001: It has a For Sale sign on it! I throw my money at the owner and drive it home, only to realise instantly why he now wants to sell it; there’s steam fogging up the windscreen! The heater matrix has burst. I spend a week ripping the interior of the car to pieces to get access to the heater; later I am told about the easy way to do it! Once on the road the car is fab.

1: The CX Safari

Keith in the Citroen Club tells me about the six-wheeler versions of the CX estate they have on the continent; I am fascinated. I make a foray to Citroen specialist Hills Motors of Wainscott, near Rochester; they have a six-wheeler parked out at the back of the workshop! (Photo 2). This is a big thing like a pantechnicon with a CX bonnet & screen, apparently built by a Mr Pijjops in Belgium; it is awaiting some restoration.

2: Pijjops CX 6-wheeler at Hills Motors

I take photos and stick them to the door of my school workshop to amuse the boys. I tell my son Simon about the six-wheelers; he borrows a photo of my estate and returns with an enhanced picture, having stretched the car to a six-wheeler on the computer (Photo 3). Now this is what a CX six-wheeler should look like! I stick it on the workshop door; only one or two boys spot the trickery.

3: Simon’s computer-generated 6-wheeler

Someone at Simon’s place of work gives him a magazine article about the six-wheelers made in France by M. Tissier. These are interesting, but a little too big to make practical everyday transport for me; M. Tissier did it by cutting the car in half, belting some box-girders into the sills with a sledgehammer to make a chassis, and building a glassfibre body on the back. Simon’s computer simulation still looks better…..; it looks like the six-wheeler as designed by Citroen.

2002: Keith shows me Citroen Rally photographs from France. In one of them is a six-wheeler “stretched” CX estate like Simon’s  picture (Photo 4).

4: Dutch CX six-wheeler.

THEY REALLY EXIST! The picture is of a Dutch car that had previously worked as a hearse. If they really exist, I want one!…..and the conviction is planted and starts to germinate, it has to be done!  Keith also tells me about German company CX-Basis; I use my new computer to have a look at their website, then get my sister who speaks fluent German to call them. They are going to have two six-wheelers for sale….but I don’t know what kind they are, and I don’t speak any German, and it’s a long way away…..

Spring 2003: The two six-wheelers are showing on the CX-Basis website, and they are both of the “Stretched Safari” type like Simon’s picture! But more money than I can afford; very soon the white one is sold. If I start saving can I get enough money together before the second one is sold? I keep checking to see if it is still for sale, on an almost daily basis. I must take some action! – so I book a flight to Stuttgart for Easter to go and take a look. Excited and very nervous. I am met at Stuttgart airport by German relatives Renate and Wolfgang, who put me up and treat me like royalty. The next day I undertake the adventure of travelling by train in a country whose language I can’t speak, and eventually arrive safely at Eggenstein, home to CX-Basis. I take a look at the six-wheeler; I am told they are officially known as LOADRUNNERS. This one was used to deliver the English “Financial Times”, a frequent use for these vehicles, and is decorated diagonally all over with columns from that paper (Photo 5).

5: Financial Times Loadrunner at CX-Basis

The reality is a little disappointing; the car has been standing for a while, needs some work, and most of all, it’s not exactly as I had dreamed I wanted; it’s a van with panelled rear end, and I’d prefer glass; it’s a turbodiesel, manual and noisy, and I have really come to love my petrol auto; I’ve come all this way though, how will I get out of it now? In the end I know it’s not quite the right car for me and hold on to my money.

Summer 2003 The Dream won’t die, though! I keep emailing Jochen at CX-Basis, then he phones me up; yes, they can convert my Safari to six-wheeler if I so wish. He is enthusiastic. Lengthy negotiations follow and the figures being quoted are quite scary, well beyond my league. Forget about it….And then one day in conversation he says “I think we do this transformation in Germany”…….What does he mean? Where else? It turns out that he has been quoting me a price for doing the conversion in Romania, where he has been having cars restored, because labour costs are so low there…..But now he is having second thoughts, “We get better quality in Germany…..”, he makes it sound as though he really wants to do the conversion himself. Which is good for me, except of course that the price leaps up… a figure I can’t possibly afford.

For many years I’ve had a 7” single of The Rolling Stones, in its original 1964 picture sleeve, singing in Italian, and it must be worth some money. Record Collector shops in London have not even replied to my inquiry, except one who says yes it’s worth some money but he doesn’t want to buy it from me. Nervously I register with eBay and put it up for sale; it makes £40! Is this an answer to the financial situation? I start to look around for what else I can sell, and find plenty; over the next months I am selling a 1950s black & white TV, ivory billiard ball, 1930s clocks, old tools, even a 1950s dentist’s drill, etc.

Spring 2004: I am confident enough now to go ahead and commit myself to the project. If I continue to economise (no more Sunday afternoon visits to the pub in Greenwich) and sell stuff on eBay, and the central heating doesn’t break down, I might just be able to make it. My brother-in-law Reinhard comes with me at Easter to deliver the car to Jochen at CX-Basis in Eggenstein. It’s the first time for years that he has seen his siblings and their families. We have a good time. At Eggenstein, Jochen gives the car a serious inspection and declares it to be suitable. I make a first payment and we fly home. A colleague John lends me a spare car to use in the meantime.

Summer 2004: eBay sales continue and the money is gradually coming in. Jochen emails me pictures of work in progress. The first one looks scary; my car cut in half! Subsequent pictures show the stages of putting the pieces together, a bit like a construction kit. One or two small problems have arisen which have delayed progress, but the overall impression is very encouraging; it looks as though they know what they are doing!

October 2004: I fly back to Germany to collect the car with a friend Geoff to keep me company and navigate. Renate and Wolfgang repeat their hospitality. We arrive at Eggenstein as the finishing touches are being put to the car; I am very impressed (Photo 6).

6: Loadrunner ready for collection.

The car looks exactly as it did when I drove it there, except that it is now 680 mm longer and has two extra back wheels! The quality of the work on the car is superb; you can’t spot the joins anywhere. The paint finish is lovely. The underside is similarly professionally completed. Wow! And the car sits in the workshop alongside the Financial Times six-wheeler that I had looked at eighteen months previously; two six-wheelers side-by-side is a rare sight indeed. (Photo 7).

7. Two Loadrunners.

After completing the business Geoff and I leave and nervously drive down the autobahn to stay one more night with Renate and Wolfgang. The next day we make the drive across to Calais in good time; the car runs like a train, never missing a beat. We arrive home late at night in pouring rain and mist, but at high speed, very happy and very impressed. When I go for petrol the next day three mechanics come out of the workshop to stare at the car.

I take the car in to school. I have told some of my pupils that I have been restoring an Ice-Cream van; they are reasonably impressed with the truth! (Photo 8).

8. First time into work.

July 2005: Six months in and I am still very happy indeed with the car. Parking and turning tight corners have proved to be no problem at all, as I had been fearing. I have experienced no problems with the car and have just continued to use it on a daily basis for going to work and shopping, as before. When my daughter moves house I put the back seats down; this gives luggage space 8ft 6” long. I have carried loads inside the car including 8ft by 4 ft plywood boards and scaffold boards over 12 feet long. I have fitted a towing bracket (for protection), replaced the tailgate, and am planning to make rear wheel covers and make one or two further minor improvements, but really all the work has been done and I only have to drive it. Bravo Jochen!

9. The Finished Loadrunner.

Good Taste is what jumps up when Imagination dies - Frank McCourt