An interview with people who own classic cars. What does it take to get them on back on the roads after the cold winter months? Marco Sales and Hans van Tongeren tell about their experiences.

Summertime is something special. The sun is back, nature emerges from hibernation, birds start singing and the world is recolored by fresh shades. It’s beautiful, but there is something car enthusiast are even more excited about: classic cars are rolled out of the sheds again! Time for a good conversation with people who add variation to the roads by driving classic vehicles.

Marco Sales is one of the guys who brighten up the public roads. He has driven a Citroën HY for over nine years. ‘I first came in contact with a HY-van in my studentship, a couple of students collectively owned one. That image kept circulating in my head ever since.”

The beauty of ugliness

After graduating business management automotive, Marco wanted to buy a van to go road-tripping with his girlfriend. The search went trough VW-vans and a Bedford. “That one was too big, I just wanted to be able to park next to the palm trees, put on my swimming pants and run into the sea.” Marco found his great love just a few miles from his hometown; ‘the car that’s beautiful of ugliness,’ a Citroën HY! It was an empty delivery truck with a fully enclosed body. Thanks to the low loading floor, Marco (who isn’t a small guy) was able to stand upright in it. That low loading floor is also one of the reasons why the HY-van has become a very popular food truck. Marco’s first adventure started after putting a mattress in the back, supported by a piece of wood on top of the wheelarches. The first trip to South-France and the Alps generated amazing experiences and lots of smiley faces. “I still remember driving up the mountains at 30 mph.”

Learning the ropes

Marco hired a workspace to work at his van. “In one season the HY was stripped, welded and restored. After that, it got a layer of bright red paint.” Over time, the car was extended with a small kitchen and a front tent, which added some comfort to the camping adventures with his wife and daughters. Thanks to his study, Marco knew the basics of automotive technique. But to learn the ropes, Marco participated in special courses, organised by Citroën HY Team Holland. The club provides access to the world of HY enthusiasts, and together they’ll do anything to keep the ‘ridged van’ at the roads. “Thanks to this club, the threshold to start the hobby is very low. Particular problems require specific knowledge and special tools, which you can get easy access to via the club.”

The hibernation

The H-van enters the storage in september and it stays there till april, when  Marco wakes it up. “When the red van is back in the driveway for the first time, my first daughter is jumping of excitement. The other daughter is too young to jump, but she loves the Citroën too.” The length of the hibernation varies per person. “Some club members retrieve their car from the storage earlier, to participate in the Easter weekend meeting. I heard about someone who uses his HY during winter time only, in summer months he rides his motorcycle.”

The ridged van

The Netherlands set a mandatory suspension for cars between 25 and 40 years old. If your car is older than 40, it is tax free and you’re allowed to drive it all season. Still, Marco decided not to use his 40+ years old car all year long. “HYs are prone to rust, the body is made of three layers of steel.” The ridged bodywork gave the Citroën HY its own personality. The Dutch even nicknamed the car after this feature: ‘Ribbelbus’ – which litteraly means ‘ridged van’. “Citroën did this to improve strength and it was easy and cheap to produce.” This technique was earlier applied to aircrafts, during World War I.

Before Marco hits the road in his H-van, the car is checked from top to bottom. Oil and brake services are most important. Beneath that, winter time is perfect for maintenance jobs. “There is plenty of time to do preventive replacements. Or just for entertainment. One time I changed the water pump. It wasn’t broken, but I just felt like changing it. It is a way of learning about the techniques.”

More details

Hans van Tongeren, a British car enthusiast, told me more about the activities concerning his cars during winter time. When the weather gets worse and autumn hits the country, Hans rolls back his vehicles into the garage. He puts them on jack stands and overinflates the tires a little. This prevents the tires from getting a flat side if they don’t move for a long time. Every now and then, Hans turns the wheels, to keep them manageable. To maintain the quality of the batteries, they are connected to a trickle charger. After cleaning the vehicles completely, there is time for maintenance jobs. Hans maintains all cars by himself.

A glimpse of Hans' collection

One of the most important things is to make sure the brakes work, before you hit the road again. “I rub the brake shoes and do a brake fluid service. It requires three people to get that job done. One to pour the brake fluid, one to pump the brakes and one to check the color of the fluid. Last time the mailman pumped the brakes. It is a very accurate job, because you don’t want to get air into the brake lines.”

When the cars leave the garage fort he first time, Hans runs a special test drive. “The first time you’re back on the roads in an old car, you have to continuously press the brake pedal. I do this to smoothen the brakes. If you wouldn’t do it and you’d tap the brake at the traffic lights for example, the brakes would block the wheels instantly.” That’s very unpleasant for both car and driver.

More stories

When Hans told me about his winter time habits, he was a little sceptic about the words he shared. “Everyone who owns an old car probably knows about these rules already. It could be interesting for the younger audience though.” Hans had a lot more interesting stories to tell, which will soon follow in another post.