By on July 11, 2009

I could feel it getting closer. I heard the flat sixes at WOT nearby. I caught a glimpse of a lime-green race car flying by us. Martin and I were minutes from the one place I’d always wanted to go. I’d seen it countless times on Top Gear. I’d played it countless times on Xbox. And here I was, in Eifel, meeting up with Capt. Mike and Martin Schwoerer, about to turn videogame dreams into reality. To put it succinctly, there was no way the real-life Nurburgring could live up to my expectations. But it did.

The paddocks alone proved to be an automotive treasure trove. On this particular day, Martin and I ran into a group of Lagonda/Rapier enthusiasts. Peeling back the (unpainted aluminium) bonnet on a 1935 Rapier revealed a 74-year-old twin-cam straight four.

“They had twin cams in the 1930s” was all I could say.

In contrast, the owner of a TVR Chimera told us that he traded in his 911 on the TVR because the Porsche felt “too clinical.” The TVR, he said, brought a smile to his face every time he turned the key. “You’re just smiling because it actually started!” teased Mike, drawing a hearty laugh.

There were serious cars too. These paddocks had more M-cars and 911 GT3s than Hondas. All the owners were friendly and willing to talk. It seemed they needed to tell me about their cars more than I needed to hear it, but I was happy to listen just the same. Years of being a lone pistonhead in my own social circle made me appreciate these rare moments.

Martin and I walked the paddocks a bit longer until we spotted an RX-7 which was obviously race-prepped. Covered in tuner stickers, dropped to about 1 millimeter off the ground, with a wing that came off an Airbus, it was a serious machine. Without warning, it emitted a gunshot-like pop.

“That’s first gear,” I said.

“That’s a racing transmission,” agreed Martin.

As we waited for the track to open to the public, I went to the fence adorning the back straight. Track-prepped GT3s and M3s were duking it out, like German deities at war. Each car graced us with a glorious paean as it passed at full throttle.

“Martin, I don’t want to bore you, but I could listen to these cars go by until the track opens,” I said. Martin laughed. It was a pure “car guy” moment.

We walked around some more until we saw the Rapiers queuing at the lift gate. It was 17:30 and the track was now open. Martin decided we’d do a lap.

“You want to drive your Citroën on the ring?” I said.

“You’re going to drive it.”

“Me?” I replied. I wasn’t sure all of a sudden. It could be expensive. Broken guard rails cost thousands of Euros! Fortunately, my other head assumed control. “Okay, let’s go.”

“Do you want to drive it on the back roads first? Get a feel for it?” Martin asked.

“Fuck it, I’ll sort it out on the track.”

Twenty-two Euros later, we were peeling out of the blocks. Rookie mistake! A chicane of cones before turn one made us slow down drastically. It would be the first, but not the last time, I’d torture those poor Citroën brakes.

“You can always tell the first-timers who don’t know about the cones,” Mike teased.

After about fifteen turns, I’d figured out the cars driving limits. I kept it on 9/10ths for a few minutes, until the once-rigid brakes began to feel spongy. “Martin, I think the brakes are leaving us!” Minutes later, the smell of disk blanketed the cabin.

Wanting to preserve brakes, I took a safer line, hitting the beginner apexes and waving other cars through. When a sport-bike tempted me to follow him, though, I did. In the straights, he dusted me. In the corners, I could come to within a few feet of him. In the karousel, he was history—until history repeated itself in the next straight.

Eventually, I settled into a zen-like trance, taking corner after corner without much conscious thought. After one apex, I gave it the beans at just the right time and the car came straight almost by itself. It was a perfect turn. I’d found automotive Nirvana, in a Citroën, of all things.

When we hit the back straight, I stapled the pedal to the floor. We hit the ceiling at 171, even though we’d hit 180 on the autobahn on the way to the ring. We never figured out why the Cit’ didn’t want to go faster on the ring. French cars, you know.

Finally, it was over. I pulled back into the paddocks. A fleeting feeling of sadness overcame me. I knew right then I would come back.

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19 Comments on “Review: 1999 Citroen Xantia (a.k.a. Boy Meets Ring)...”


  • avatar

    Sam,

    Great write-up of a great time. You forgot to mention the raw steak at the Pistenklause!

    And you will be back, as this weekend was perfect weather, no wrecks, and me and a few Irishmen finally were able to kill the Carrera’s brakes. They are toast, carbonized, nuked, scorched, and kaput. But it was fun doing it.

    It will have new ones for your return!

    And long live the Citroen! It makes me smile.

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    You should be driving for a living if you can drive at 9/10 on an unknown track after the first 15 corners.

  • avatar
    geggamoya

    Sounds like fun :) A Xsara? Or Saxo? Wind and any grade on the track would explain the 10kph speed difference easily. Probably irrelevant though as it’s French so it’s probably faster driving uphill anyway.. on two wheels.

  • avatar
    Cerbera LM

    Nürburgring is a definite must drive for any gear head who makes it to Europe. But if all you do is lean on a fence and watch you will not be disappointed.

    My first lap was as a passenger in Porsche Cayman S unfortunately I left the GPS behind but it felt twice as fast as my laps. “Driving” the Nürburgring while playing Gran Turismo does not prepare one for the elevation changes, but at least I knew which turn was coming up next.

    Lap 2 I drove a E36 328i, Bridge to Gantry (BTG) was 10:10, lap 3 BTG was 9:50, Lap 4 BTG was 10:02 (had to slow down, a 997 went nose first into the armco after Hohe Acht) Lap 5 was 10:58. My top speed was 126mph on lap 3 between Flugplatz and Schwedenkreuz.

    Clarkson’s drives the Jaguar S-TypeD Part 1

    Clarkson’s drives the Jaguar S-TypeD Part 2

    Sabine Schmitz In a Ford Transit

  • avatar
    Accords

    Hmmm,
    I do have one teensy question…

    Since when do people dump a 911 for a TVR cause its too clinical?!

    Can someone.. explain that to me.

    And who wouldnt have a giant smile on their face.. getting into a 911.. (lunatic rant, as long as its a certain year.. and its being driven as if its being stolen..)

  • avatar
    Stainless

    I visited Berlin in October of last year, and even as a huge World War II aficionado, the Autobahn was the one thing I was most excited about.

    I could only afford to rent an Opel Astra, and at 175km/hr (about 110 miles per hour) it was about three RPMs away from spraying connecting rods across most of eastern Germany, but the experience is something I’ll never forget. At a buck seventy-five, I was being passed by BMWs and Audis at speeds too great to read license plates, and I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. Even in a slow, boring car, it was the freaking Autobahn.

    I only made it as far as Weimar, about 400 kms short of Nurburg, but it’s probably for the best… that Opel wouldn’t have made it back to Berlin in one piece. After reading this article, I think I should save some more rental car money for the next trip.

  • avatar
    zora

    Give me a call after you receive your first maintenance invoice from the dealer. Until then, any discussion is all merely academic.

  • avatar
    Samir

    Greg: There’s a huge difference between a FWD Citroen at 9/10ths and a Porsche 911 Carrera S at 9/10ths. I don’t even pretend to be good enough to get anywhere near the limits of the latter.

    And I did overcook one corner, luckily I caught it in time and all we hit was kerb. No grass! But I’ll let Martin tell you if I’m a good driver or not, he was riding shotgun.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Sunday morning, I’m leaving for a family outing, so just a few quick words from me.

    It was my ten-year old beater, a 1999 Xantia, a reliable, sweet car that looks ridiculous (with scores of dents installed by my ex).

    The thing about good French cars though, is that they flow through the bends in a linear fashion. You just push them to the limit and drive with your ear and the gas pedal and let em dance. Not fast, but entertaining.

    I could tell that Sam the Man really wanted to try the Ring so I thought it would be good for weird kicks to let him do the driving. And after a minute or two it was clear it would be great fun too. Upon cooking the brakes he scrubbed volocity off the curves by drifting through, all four tires squealing, at a moderate yet effective speed.

    The thing about good drivers, I would say, is that they have a feel for a car and can adapt to its strengths and weaknesses (in the case of the Cit, its many weaknesses and few strengths, but what the hell).

    More later…

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    “Eventually, I settled into a zen-like trance, taking corner after corner without much conscious thought. After one apex, I gave it the beans at just the right time and the car came straight almost by itself. It was a perfect turn. I’d found automotive Nirvana, in a Citroen, of all things.”

    Did you hear that, Jack Baruth?

    The point is, that nirvana can be achieved, within legal limits, on public roads, with a beater. Motoring nirvana is not always about maximum speed at all costs, on other peoples expense…

  • avatar

    Of course a Citroen. There is something very special about a Citroen. Glad to share your fun vicariously.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Some more bits and pieces from me.

    To Capt Mike: you’re right steak was great, and we’ll return to the Pistenklause for sure.

    It’s a historic pub with signed Jackie Stewart posters and such and I recommend it to anybody visiting the Ring.

    To Stainless et al: as Mike reports, it is no longer possible to take a rental to the Ring. Rental companies have their spies that report on customers who take cars to the track and subsequently void their contract. So don’t do it, just find somebody who’ll lend you their car. Preferably a beater, cause the Ring is narrow with little room between the track and the Armco and if a crash probably means totalling it.

    You can rent a car directly at the ring. There’s a big selection available, up to a F3 car for 1200 Euros per hour or so. None are cheap. Bummer!

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Oh yes and the brakes. How did Samir manage to cook them so quickly? I’ve travelled the Alps, the Picos de Europe, and the Apennines in this thing, and never even felt a trace of fading. The whole parking lot stank of my cooked brakes for the next two hours. I couldn’t get the smell out of my nose the whole day. They’re fine now, though.

  • avatar
    agenthex

    To Stainless et al: as Mike reports, it is no longer possible to take a rental to the Ring. Rental companies have their spies that report on customers who take cars to the track and subsequently void their contract.

    So do they prevent you from entering or just renege on insurance?

    You can just take your plates off at the entrance.
    Edit, nevermind, forgot the ring is technically a public toll road. It’s generally a good idea on most tracks though to prevent potential problems.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    agenthex, you can’t take your plates off. The Ring is a quasi-public road and German law applies. For instance, you are (potentially) liable to get a ticket for reckless driving, or even for overtaking on the right. (Don’t laugh, the police occasionally flies helicopters over the Nordschleife to see what’s going on).

  • avatar
    50merc

    “‘They had twin cams in the 1930’s’ was all I could say.”

    Several European makes had DOHC engines in the 20′s, as did the 32-valve straight eight Duesenberg Model A, introduced in 1921.

  • avatar
    locodude

    “In contrast, the owner of a TVR Chimera told us that he traded in his 911 on the TVR because the Porsche felt “too clinical.” The TVR, he said, brought a smile to his face every time he turned the key. “You’re just smiling because it actually started!” teased Mike, drawing a hearty laugh.”
    Yes that was me! The only car of our trio not to break down I hasten to add & still going strong. Off up to the Yorkshire Dales for some proper driving roads this weekend. Look up ‘Buttertubs Pass’ on you tube.
    p.s you’re right about the Pistenklause too, great atmosphere.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Actually, the Chimaera and Griffith have been my dream cars since I read the reviews of them in CAR Magazine around 1993. More individualistic and less pimptastic than the Italian supercars. One of these days, I think I’ll get one — even if it ends up staying in the garage for repairs most of the time.

  • avatar
    locodude

    Oy! Cheeky, bad enough capt. solo making remarks like that. They just need a bit of TLC and they need to be used! In fact the said capt. may like to know the ‘Chim is now sporting some very fetching RAF roundels on the doors as an antidote to all the German metal around, they bombed our chippy you know!


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