Twenty-two years of Citroën XM ownership comes to an end.
Two decades account for about two-thirds of my time on earth so far. How began this span? In Billericay, Essex where an unseen driver, who suddenly wanted to make a right turn, led to the unexpected slow-down of a line of cars of which I was at the end. Crumple. My Peugeot 205 made contact with a Renault Laguna, which happily remained unscathed. Since a Peugeot 205 is made up of a thin substrate of metal beneath a thicker layer of paint, the 205 came out of it badly. Terminally, in fact.
Long story shortened: after a few weeks looking at large, cheap saloons I found myself the owner of a G-registration two-litre XM with a replacement nose cone and three inoperative windows. Four years later, that car got wrecked by a side-swiping lorry in Cologne. And that led me to the car you see photographed here, bought in the UK from a gentlemen handily near Stansted. I drove XM number 2 back to Cologne and then it moved with me to Jutland in 2006.
Fast forward to the present times. Job changes and family circumstances pushed the XM into an underground garage in 2014, without license plates. In April this year, the municipality noticed the plateless car and gave me a month to register it or remove it.
So, on the last day of April, the car went off to my long-serving Citroën mechanic to see what needed to be done to recommission Modestine, as the car had become known. While superficially in good condition, entropy had gnawed and nibbled at the XM, primarily rust along the sills. That, and a long list of other things to fix, added up to a large number which, in all honesty, it would have been foolhardy to grapple with.
Six weeks earlier, I went with my kids down into the garage. The eldest wistfully sat in the back, recalling drives around Jutland, Germany and Switzerland. She took a photo with her ‘phone. Her younger sister sat in the front and played at driving the XM, fully immersed in the momentary projection of imagination upon the cold and immobile car. She is too young to remember the high-speed night time drives where I had to bring her to hospital for nursing attention. She will recall walking past the XM in the garage for eight years though, going to the other car, the one that actually moved.
You get emotionally involved with cars, either directly or through the stories they embody. The emotional involvement with people translates back to the cars. You love the kids, you love the car and the time spent together. Irrecoverable time is invested in the human and the material. It weaves an emotional fabric.
I like to think that both kids will remember the strange, ancient gold dart, a feature on the landscape of their childhood recollections. I know my own childhood is in part defined by the sequence of useless British cars my dad endured until going Swedish in the late ’80s. In part, those cars represent a slice of memory of my dad and my childhood and I hope the XM will remain one of the idiosyncracies of my own kids’ childhood.
At least you can hang on to memories. The car had to go. I dreamt about it for three months, from the day the municipality told me the game was up. With a potential bill bigger than it was sensible to pay, I reluctantly contacted the vehicle scrapping system and booked the XM in for its final journey. The car would be collected sometime inside two weeks from the booking date. I had some more dreams about the car. This was going to hurt. Dreams: driving the XM in concrete landscapes. Memories: 160 km/h on the A5 to Basel; a day lost in the Taunus mountains; pottering around the Cotswolds; late night through Hamburg port and the Elbe tunnel…
Then, something good happened in the karmic flow of this pointless universe. I really didn’t expect anything as good as lucky. The mechanic phoned me and said someone might want to buy the vehicle. It was parked prominently outside the mechanic’s premises and had attracted the attention of a driver-by who knew a guy who liked Citroëns.
I arranged to show the car a few days later and had a final journey, from the car park outside the garage to the hydraulic jack, to be precise. I had not driven the XM for a year or two. I noticed the short travel brakes, the haptics of my position inside the car, even the clearly different way the machine moves, a disengagement from the asphalt. Seen from new angles, the other-worldliness of the car was again apparent to me. I spent two decades looking at the XM and never tired of its forms, changing from each angle, each mood. And now the car has changed hands, so I no longer have to worry about its future. The XM dreams stopped that night.