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Shitbox Showdown Sunday Special: My Used Car Search History Has Officially Gone Off The Rails

Shitbox Xm Vs Elf

Welcome to a special Sunday evening edition of Shitbox Showdown. Maybe you’re unwinding after the Miami Grand Prix, maybe you have a diagnostic laptop hooked up to your daily driver and are waiting for adaptations to reset, maybe you’ve got the Sunday scaries. Whatever the case, The Autopian Anti-Roll Bar & Radiator Grille is here to quench your automotive thirst.

The usual kernel of any good shitbox is an ounce of sensibility. Parts availability for old Mopar tat is tremendous, most old Japanese cars will run until the bodies rot off and while every electrical component on an old German car will fail, that won’t faze robust engines like BMW’s M30 inline-six and Volkswagen’s unstoppable two-liter eight-valve four-cylinder engine. Hell, I applied this logic when buying my 3-Series as parts are just so much cheaper than they were for my old Infiniti G35.

But what if you want your car to attract more eyeballs than a zebra grazing on the side of I-80? What if you want it to be the automotive equivalent of playing LCD Soundsystem for the rock kids? Don’t worry, I have a ride for you so long as you abide by a few simple principles. First, despite our weekday format having a price cap, true shitboxes have no upper price limit. If a McLaren 570S was briefly parked in a small puddle that happened to come up to the windows, chances are it’s a shitbox. Second, the more distinctive you wish to be, the more work your shitbox will require. Whether spending a year on DuoLingo to build up enough Italian vocabulary to phone the offline Piedmontese farmer hoarding deadstock parts or accidentally setting yourself on fire with a Harbor Freight welder, this won’t be an easy process. However, like crate digging, cool things come to those who put in the hours. Let’s take a trip to my homeland of The Great White North and see what brilliant curiosities pop up.

$5,500 Canadian 1989 Citroen XM


Xm 5

Engine/drivetrain: Two-liter fuel-injected four-cylinder, five-speed manual gearbox.

Location: Montreal, Quebec

Odometer reading: 325,604 kilometers

Runs/drives? It definitely runs, but I wouldn’t drive it far.

A 1989 Citroën XM project may be a financial decision on-par with trusting Bernie Madoff, but at least you’ll have a fabulous Bertone-styled wedge to drive around once your bank account is dry. Sure, the XM never drove out of Grace Jones’ head, but the follow-up act to the CX certainly wasn’t shabby. From the single-spoke steering wheel to the extra rear window behind the rear window, the XM bristles with Gallic charm. It was also the last big Citroën sold new in America, all the way through 1997 by way of importer CXAuto. However, that’s not to say that this particular XM didn’t come through the grey market.

Xm 2

Judging by the absence of giant V6 fender emblems, this XM is a two-liter fuel-injected model with eight valves per cylinder. Power clocks in between 120 and 130 horsepower depending on if it’s a catalyzed model, although a 0-60 time of more than 11 seconds is expected regardless. Hey, it could be slower. Instead of the available ZF 4HP18Q four-speed automatic gearbox, the original owner stuck with the standard five-speed manual gearbox for an added dose of joie de vivre. Indeed, this XM must’ve brought joy considering its odometer reading of 325,604 kilometers (202,321 miles). While a post-DS big Citroën with more than 200,000 miles on the clock is impressive, that doesn’t mean all maintenance has been kept to aircraft standards. Unfortunately, the only phrase I know in French is “Ma bite monte jusqu’à la tour,” but I know enough car parts to get by.

Xm 6

For starters, the seller says that this XM will need either a new or refurbished radiator before it’s wise to drive particularly far. Thankfully, Montreal has some brilliant radiator repair shops, so patching up the cooling system shouldn’t be the end of the world. There are two other minor jobs that allegedly need doing, replacement of the steering rack bellows and welding of the muffler. Two-beer jobs, essentially. The big concern is recommended valve replacement on the Hydractive suspension. While this Phase I example doesn’t have the added complexity of Hydractive 2, its suspension system is still more complex than the logistics behind sending a cheeseburger into low Earth orbit.

Xm 4

Combine the suspension maladies with the extremely niche audience for this large slab of French magnificence and it’s no wonder that this XM has been on the market for a long time. I mean come on, there’s still snow on the ground in the advert pics. Still, there’s a certain perverse joy in knowing that this XM is 58,796 kilometers (36,534 miles) from having essentially driven to the moon and that someone could manage that feat with a spine-bashed copy of Foucalt’s The Order of Things in the door pocket. Who knows, maybe that someone could be you? At $5,500 Canadian ($4,258.05 at the time of writing), where in North America would you find another one this cheap?

$10,000 Canadian 1968 Riley Elf

Elf 1

Engine/drivetrain: 998cc BMC A-Series four-cylinder engine, non-original four-speed automatic gearbox

Location: Hamilton, Ontario

Odometer reading: 31,400

Runs/drives? No

You may be thinking that I only threw this Riley Elf in the mix to make the Citroën look good, but bear with me. This rusty, trusty Mini-based sedan has more benefits than meets the eye. With a coachbuilt body by Fisher & Ludlow, the Elf was the poshest Mini variant you could buy off of a British Leyland forecourt in 1968. Not only did it offer a traditional sedan silhouette, it also featured the decadence of a full-width wood dashboard with dual gloveboxes. All the chrome and wood of an executive car with the brilliant handling of a Mini. What’s not to love? What we’re looking at here is a Mark III Elf with wind-up windows and hydrolastic suspension. It may not be as complex as Citroen’s Hydractive suspension, but at least it’s hydr-something.

Elf 2

This Elf’s story starts back in England, where the current seller picked it up as a daily driver. Christened Katy, this Elf is said to have gone on many adventures on British soil including annual participation in the Bromley Pageant before following its owner across the pond. Sadly, time on Canadian soil hasn’t been kind to Katy, with the Elf’s owner allegedly parking it in 2015. As it stands, the Elf doesn’t idle but is alleged to turn over and make good oil pressure.

Elf 3

Fortunately, the Elf’s owner has a full list of everything it would need to be recommissioned. Unfortunately, it’s a very long list indeed. According to the seller, the right front and left rear brake cylinders are leaking, the CV boots are ripped, the coolant is browner than what came out of the Dave Matthews Band’s tour bus in 2004, both front lower ball joints have play, the carburetor needs some work, and the floor has a few speed holes. There are also said to be oil leaks, although that’s just a BMC A-Series engine operating as normal. What isn’t so normal is the gearbox. The seller alleges that a previous owner swapped an automatic gearbox into this Elf sometime in the 1980s, a statement that seems quite plausible judging by the presence of an automatic gear selector from a suitably classic Mini.

Elf 4

Right, lots of stuff to sort, but at least parts are fairly available. After all, around 5.3 million Minis were made between 1959 and 2000. A bit of welding, a few mail-order parts and Bob’s your uncle. All you need are tiny little hands and a basic set of spanners to enjoy slow, reasonably opulent, exceptionally well-handling classic motoring.

So here you go, two oddball European motors, both with their own foibles and delights. They’re perfect for the sort of person who uses Koss PortaPros, wore plastic-framed spectacles before they were mainstream again, and have a fixation on things both nostalgic and dramatic. While the Elf’s $10,000 Canadian ($7,741.90 at the time of writing) is almost double that of the XM’s, list price is only the down payment on any shitbox. What sort of brave are you feeling?

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29 Responses

  1. “…eight valves per cylinder…”

    Um, no. You mean two or four valves per cylinder (depending on which engine version), don’t you?

    To my knowledge, the engine fitted to the Honda NR750 motorcycle built from 1992 to 1993 is only non-racing engine to have eight valves per cylinder. This engine has oval-shaped pistons with two connecting rods, which allowed the space for eight valves.

    The highest number of valves per cylinder for the passenger car in production is five valves. Audi, Ferrari, and Toyota are amongst the manufacturers that offered them.

    Please amend your article.

  2. But I want both. If I have to choose I guess I’ll go with the angry elf but if rather take that one for me and hand my wife the wierd french thing, I think she’d enjoy it.

  3. The XM looked like the future in 1990 and, somewhat sadly, still looks like the future today. Probably the last true Citroën with the Xantia. If I had a larger garage, I would be voting with my actual checkbook…

  4. XM!
    I owned one some years ago, just such a cool stylish car, which drove great and had loads of room. One of the best interior features were the oil dampers on the glove compartment and the big stereo hatch in the centre, so they just opened silent and gracefully. I loved that car! Since we also have salty winters over here (DK) it failed inspection due to rust in the fron upper suspension mounts and I sold it off cheap, to keep my ’67 DS running at least.

    The Riley is just an ugly mini with some strange bits stuck on. Almost as overdone as a Mitsouka or something. English badge engineering at it’s worst. It’s very rare, but I would just go for the original Austin one.

  5. I like the Elf but the list of things wrong is far too long for that money.

    The Citroën is priced appropriately or a bit low.

    If I get an XM, I’m trading it for the first SM, CX or DS I can get my hands on, but I expect it would be an excellent first venture for someone who likes these things.

    1. I voted Riley, but I think I would find a decent, $5K XM in Europe and import that instead. Oh wait, no, I could get a Xantia instead – sleeker. There are a lot of options for the person willing to spend $10K on something Weird.

  6. As a member of a household that owns a Taylor, Bobby, Lizzie, and Vanessa, I couldn’t turn down a Katy. I’m a sucker for cars with names and cool backstories so it’s the Elf for me.

  7. I remember seeing XMs on the regular when I was a kid and always thought they looked cool. Haven’t seen one in any condition in years. But I would never own one. I wasn’t aware they came in any flavour other than fuel injected, unless I misunderstand the copy?

    Neither of these particularly float my boat, but based on looks, I’ll vote for the Citroën.

    1. Oh, you could get a carburetted one for the first few years at least. Large French cars were always available in fleet specs, as the French government was 70 percent of the market (statistic made up on the spot).

  8. I have a rough Majorette XM in a box in my office, I don’t have a rough Matchbox Riley Elf. My allegiances are with the French space wedge.

  9. The obvious truth is I can afford neither the financial or especially time requirements of either of these cars. The only reason I voted for the XM is that if it should ever actually function properly I’d like it. The Mini’s “proper” functioning isn’t anything I want to put up with. A coworker recently finished customizing a Morris, and … that driveline? The HVAC? the one good thing is they’re light. The rest of it ruins it.

  10. I’m 65 years old and don’t have enough time left for either. That being said, I want someone to take on both and show me the results before my eyesight goes.

  11. Ah, the XM, hands down.
    It’s fixable quickly and on the cheap, getting parts will be at least as easy as for the Riley, will be supremely comfortable to drive to the end of the world.

  12. “a two-liter fuel-injected model with eight valves per cylinder”

    Well, there’s a very interesting engine for which I’d like to see a tech writeup – or, a correction indicating it’s a 4-banger with two valves per cylinder and eight valves total…

    I want to like the Riley but I think I’d rather just have a proper Mini – especially for that kind of pricing and the fact that some joker put in the autotragic.

    The XM is an exotic temptress that would break my heart and I’d like it!

  13. I voted for the Mini because it just looks cooler. The Citroen is just weird for the sake of weirdness, and not the kind of thing I enjoy. And they’re both too expensive for me to be remotely interested in either. But yeah, they’re both shitboxes, no question.

    1. It’s not weird for the sake of weirdness, it’s just French. It’s just the sort of thing you end up with when you let the French build things.

  14. I want both those cars, but the Riley might be a bit too rusty for that price. The Citroen is such a cool thing and if you know hydraulics, the suspension isn’t as complicated to service as it seems on paper. and they’re lovely cars to drive.

  15. I’ll take the Rover SD1 Thanks, what do you mean that’s a Citroen? J/k XM for soo many reasons!
    Especially cause the elf just makes me cringe!

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