Review: 1999 Citroen Xantia (a.k.a. Boy Meets Ring)

Samir Syed
by Samir Syed

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.

Samir Syed
Samir Syed

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2 of 19 comments
  • Martin Schwoerer Martin Schwoerer on Aug 26, 2009

    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.

  • Locodude Locodude on Aug 26, 2009

    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!

  • Slavuta "The fuel-economy numbers are solid, especially the 32 mpg on the highway"My v6 Highlander did 31 over 10 hour highway trip
  • Aja8888 As I type this, my 4 months old Equinox's Onstar module that controls the phone is broken. Yep, 4 months (never worked right from day one). Replacement will be a REFURBISHED unit since no new ones can be obtained (from China?). I really don't miss the phone via Bluetooth. And I have a great Garmin that I have used for years for trips which has free lifetime maps and traffic.
  • Bd2 There's a reason why talented American execs have been leaving Stellantis in droves.Tavares seems intent in following "Le Cost Cutter" Ghosn into driving his company into the dirt, whilst "justifying" his ever expanding compensation.
  • Bd2 Too bad gm didn't make the C8 better looking to begin with...
  • GregLocock Not interested at all. Apparently I've got Apple car play but I've never used it in 3 years. The built in nav is ok.