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