Why I’m Not Converting Another Citroen Xsara Picasso into a Car Camper

I really loved my Citroen Xsara Picasso as a campervan, especially because you can pretty much do anything to kit it out, and not worry about wrecking it. In December, the famously unreliable French mechanical engineering let me down when the Picasso’s gearbox and engine broke so I had to give it to the scrap merchant for £20, and I bought a Rover 75 because it was cheap. Some plans I’d had for this summer for the Picasso were to put vents in the sides (by drilling holes in the non-petrol side) and to fix the storage situation.

I want to talk today about why I did my car camper conversion the way I did it, why I will probably not buy another Citroen Xsara Picasso to camperify (it was great for what I wanted but it does have a lot of limitations) and I also want to go through some of the considerations you need to think about whilst planning your camper conversion.

When I bought the Citroen Xsara Picasso to convert back in 2014, nobody had done such a thing before and the only mentions of it on the internet were people joking about what a stupid idea it was. I feel proud that I started something that (it turns out) so many people are interested in doing, and I am glad that my posts about how I converted the Citroen Xsara Picasso and my review of the Picasso are helping other people achieve their dream of having a car camper. This did mean though that when I did mine, there was absolutely no information specific to the Citroen Xsara Picasso to give me any idea about how to go about converting it. I took inspiration and ideas mainly from Toyota Previa Delica Lucida conversions, obviously the Citroen Xsara Picasso is much smaller and there’s a limit on how much space 2 human beings (6’2″ and 5’6″ respectively) need. If you are 5’4″ or under, you can convert a Citroen Xsara Picasso and have acres of space because your clothes, shoes, sleeping area etc all take up less space. Even in the most practical Previa Delica Lucida conversion that I’d admired and used as guidance, the tallest occupant was 5’8″, so perhaps car camper conversion is a sport more suited to shortarses rather than longshanks.  We had great times in it, although in hindsight I think we would have had a better shot at a more complex conversion in a Previa Delica Lucida (a Toyota’s a Toyota).

The main stumbling block I came up against (I did everything myself) was we were just too tall for this vehicle to be our ideal camper conversion. Yes, you can fill the back of a Citroen Xsara Picasso with a wooden framed bed, a nice coloured fitted “kitchen” unit etc, but you won’t actually have enough headroom to use this stuff because human beings bend at the middle to sit up. I measured us. I need 83cm to be able to sit up in a vehicle, and my husband needed 91cm. Since my husband is 6 foot 2 inches tall, we needed that length to sleep in, so the Picasso was not long enough for us to add a kitchen unit at the back (so you can cook with the boot open) either. From a ventilation and safety point of view, there was absolutely no point in fitting a kitchen but again if you’re short or single you won’t have this problem, you can kitchen away.

Add to that, when you’re not actually camping (which is most of the time, unless you’re retired, in which case you probably aren’t going to convert a Picasso when you could drive one of those hulking great motorhomes at 20 miles an hour around the Derbyshire Dales), having a kitchen unit in a Picasso is generally stupid for most people. It adds weight and stops you from a) carrying people in your people carrier when you want to and b) using it as a van to transport large items.

The main thing I really loved about the Picasso was its sheer versatility. There was the time I gave a ride to three people with a sick cat they found on the street, who needed to get it to a vet’s across town. There was the time when my dad died 400 miles away and, because his sister has Narcissistic Personality Disorder and thought it was all about her, I had to clear his flat in the dark on a Bank Holiday (when all the van rental places were shut), and if I hadn’t had the Citroen Xsara Picasso I would not have been able to save my antique 1920s wardrobe (four foot wide, six foot long, two foot six inches deep) from my bedroom, the only thing my dad ever bought me; it would have been taken to landfill by the council instead (crammed it in on its side, filled it with mementos, photos etc that we salvaged). There were the (countless) times I needed to take garden waste to the tip, the time my husband decided to take 500 bricks off someone’s hands (thanks Freecycle), all the large pieces of wood we transported home for furniture projects, that all made the ability to have a completely empty loading area an absolute essential. To put it into perspective, last week we bought some new fence panels and had to walk home with them because the Rover 75 blatantly couldn’t fit them inside or on top. If we’d still had the Picasso, we could have either attached them to the roof with rope through the windows (put a big towel on your roof, nothing gets scratched) or crammed them into the back to get them home. If we’d put fixed furniture in the Picasso, its storage space and passenger capacity would have been more limited.

I’d like to add something about effort vs benefit because a lot of people lose sight of this when they’re spending 6 months to a year converting a vehicle (during which time they don’t go anywhere on holiday in it). Allowing for the possibility that there are people in the world small enough to fit in the vehicle afterwards, it still takes a lot of effort to build a bed/storage unit and a kitchen/storage unit because you have to custom size it all to the vehicle and it has to be safely attached somehow so you don’t kill everyone in the vehicle in a crash.  Unless you very specifically want that exact vehicle for many years to come, you are putting a lot of work into making custom camper furniture for a car that you probably won’t be cooking in very often, or storing camping equipment in, compared to the number of times you will drive it to work (in our case we had it for 15 months, August 2014 to November 2015, and used it for four different long-distance holidays, where we slept in it for more than two nights apiece. We would have used it for more trips but I was a bit preoccupied with my parents both dying last year). I decided that since we bought the Picasso as an experiment in the fusion between Bangernomics and Campernomics, and that it was only going to run to its next MOT, there was no point in going to that much expense, effort, and time, to do something to a vehicle that was going to be scrapped in a year. I did want to work out how to put air vents into it before I scrapped it, but I was very ill at the time, in and out of hospital, so that never happened (2015 was a shit year. But I did buy the plastic air vents from Homebase and find out how to do it, although there’s no schematics to confirm that I wouldn’t have drilled through a wire or something). I also wanted to put a roof rack on top, but when I tried to get one fitted on the day I had to clear my dad’s flat, Halfords kept me waiting for ages then said it was too late in the day and that I should come back tomorrow. The store was empty of customers the whole time. I got let down at a time when something terrible was happening, so I didn’t bother going back. I’ll spend my money elsewhere thanks.

Other important considerations are a) the law b) visibility c) weight distribution/fuel consumption and d) access to and from doors.
a) I have talked about international window tinting laws for driving around the world previously. They haven’t changed, and they do also apply to any obstructions to visibility. I drove my car camper to Rome and this year I’m going to drive (whatever vehicle I end up with by July) to Spain. For me, putting anything in the back of the Picasso that would affect visibility is a hard “no.” Additionally, there’s no point making a camper that sleeps more people than it seats with a seat belt. Where are these extra people going to come from? How are you all going to breathe?

b) Visibility. The positioning of those front driver pillars (and the fact that there’s two of them) is really stupid. The car looks lovely from the outside but from the inside? Really hard to see where you’re going. In the blazing sun in Italy, the reflection from the top of the dashboard made it virtually impossible to see out of the front window. The heat was over 40 degrees celsius and my car’s fans were blowing even hotter than the ambient air because my car was a scrapper. If I hadn’t been able to see clearly out of my back and side windows, I would have had an accident. That means the only place to put a fixed kitchen/storage unit would have been behind the driver’s seat (where I can’t see anyway) and it would have had to come no higher than the window for aforementioned legal reasons.

c)The petrol tank is on the driver’s side, then it goes under the vehicle on that same side. It takes 40 litres. If there’s a fixed heavy piece of furniture behind the driver, that’s another 10-30 kilograms of weight on the same side. An uneven load distribution, being driven around in the same place all the time, in addition to anyone or anything else you put in the car, is going to affect the car mechanically.

d) I wanted all the doors to be openable and to permit access to the vehicle. This meant I wasn’t limited about how/where I parked and there were two examples of this being invaluable: firstly, when I couldn’t stop vomiting on my first day in the Highlands in August 2015, I was *really* glad of this because I could just open the door, do my vomiting, close the door, without having to disturb my husband who was trying to get to sleep. Secondly, when we came across an unexpected nudist beach in Belgium, we were able to park the car and change into swimwear whilst avoiding getting our shoes in the back of the car by opening the door behind the driver seat.

Another thing to be aware of is cabin fever, especially on a long trip to Europe or further afield. You will want to be able to go to sleep with more than two inches between yourself and the person next to you.

I think when looking at converting a Citroen Xsara Picasso, or any other smaller vehicle, into a campervan, it’s important to keep perspective of the best possible function and use of the vehicle, rather than being able to go “ooh ooh look at me it looks like a real caravan inside I designed it to be popular on PINTEREST” (seriously, why do people do this) whilst compromising on the most important things in any vehicle you sleep in – bed length and comfort, privacy and safe air flow.

Things I didn’t like about the Citroen Xsara Picasso:
1. There’s nowhere to put a freaking drink on the driver’s side, and seemingly nowhere to attach a place to put a drink because every surface is curvy and “futuristic” (from the Picasso’s design vision in the late ’90s).

2. Ours was petrol. I liked the 1.6 litre engine, but I disliked the really tiny petrol tank that was NOT designed for long distance journeys, and I really disliked having nowhere (in the curvy futuristic exterior of the vehichle) to store a jerry can. Add to that, some countries don’t allow you to carry petrol but everywhere lets you take diesel. You don’t want to sleep in the vicinity of a petrol can (I’ve done this, it’s horrible) leaking fumes everywhere, so it has to go outside the vehicle, but there’s nowhere on the Picasso to put it. This means you’re forced to fill where you can, which means sometimes you’re pushing the car to the petrol pump, and always you have the knowledge that you didn’t get a good price on fuel.

3. The lights on the Picasso we had just never worked properly. By the time I scrapped it, one headlight would not even do a side light let alone anything else and the suspension was terrible. Yes, you can fix these things, but there’s only so many times you can get it “fixed” before you just want a different car.

4. The spare wheel being under the boot seems like a great idea but it reduces the ground clearance – which in general was not shockingly bad (not a lowrider) but wasn’t fantastic either.

5. The fans blowing air didn’t work at all and the temperature control didn’t work, so when the ambient temperature was hot, the car was hot, and when the ambient temperature was cold, the car was cold. You may remember cars of the 80’s often had this problem, and this might make you think “who cares?” but when it’s 40 degrees in Rome when you wake up and sub zero in the Alps when you go to sleep, it really is important to have some sort of controllable warm/cold air coming into the car.

6. The off road capabilities were less than impressive, the cruising speed was sub-par which especially pissed me off in Germany where I wanted to be going at over 90 mph and was stuck at 75, and the brakes were nowhere near as good as on the VW Golf.  Adding weight of a full-on camper conversion to make it look like a Citroen Romahome on the inside will ONLY make this worse.

I did a hell of a lot of research into a lot of different vehicles before I bought the Picasso, and it was the perfect car to get some experience of campering with.  If you’ve never converted a vehicle and you’re not tall and you don’t buy a £600 category-C write off, you’ll probably have many happy years in this.  As for me, I am hoping that this summer I can buy a Land Rover to convert, so I’ve got a vehicle that’s a) wide enough for actual luggage storage and b) has 4 wheel drive capacity for when we’re campervanning in the snow or end up off-road both of which happened in the Highlands and in Austria. I want to take it to the Sahara (amongst other places), after all, and a Picasso was never going to be appropriate for that.  I also like the fact the Landie has a flat roof with excellent potential for luggage storage.

Advertisements

From the ashes… The Rover 75

So today, despite being barely able to stand, I had planned to go to the nearby Big City and look at cars at 2 used car lots. Then we saw a totally inappropriate vehicle that was being sold at the car place nearest my house, that was nothing like what we’d wanted, that nevertheless was £20 less than the cheapest ones we’d got lined up at Big City and not only that, we could save the train fare, making this car £50 less than the others in real terms (and £150 less than the ones we’d been most likely to actually buy).
My car budget was in the region of £500.
I really wanted a Land Rover but I couldn’t afford a whole one, so I could only pay for half, which would get me … a Rover.
I saw this Monster for £575. The Rover 75:
Rover 75 light blue

Here’s a rear view:
Rover4
Did I mention that because many of these cars were sold to elitist fascist dictators high ranking members of the government, it’s not uncommon for them to be reinforced to be bullet and bomb proof. Which of course improves the Kerbweight which means you can tow a larger caravan with it.
Because that’s how towing laws work.
Seriously, I test drove this, then I test drove a Vauxhall (Opel) Corsa for comparison (because I know where I am with a Corsa, I’ve owned 3 and had a 4th on long term lease while my VW Golf needed repairs), then I thought about the two cars for several long minutes.
The Corsa had a smaller engine at 1.2 litres, therefore tax would be at least half and I’d look forward to a refund on this year’s insurance premium. The Corsa had all the usual things a Corsa should have, everything was in decent nick, it had done 31,000 fewer miles than the Rover. The Corsa was previously owned by the sister of a mechanic. The Rover apparently had “a couple of receipts” for its service history.
The Corsa’s boot wasn’t wet and filled with sand residue, which strongly implied someone had perhaps committed suicide in the Rover, since the back seats were also soaking despite a dearth of rust, implying an acute watering rather than chronic leakage.
The Corsa was fresh in today, the Rover’s been sitting on the lot for a while.
The Corsa was a manual and was easy to drive, it doesn’t need a Cam belt change because it has a Cam Chain which means (in theory) it never needs changing.
Vauxhall Corsas are bountiful in the UK as are their parts, their manufacturer is based in Luton and parts are easily substituted without damaging the vehicle, I can do most repair work on a Corsa by myself. The (also British) manufacturers of the Rover went bust.
The Corsa had manual transmission but the Rover was an automatic, we all know if the transmission fails on an automatic, you can’t tow it and the car can quickly become scrap.
The Rover’s door mirrors weren’t working, the Corsa’s worked fine. The Rover had a tape player where the Corsa had a CD player.

So of course I bought the Rover.
I believe there’s a Banana Republic Dictator somewhere waiting to get his car back. It’s stupidly, inappropriately large, it’s basically a rebadged Jaguar and when I’ve seen these on the road, I actually thought they were Jaguars.
It looks like the horn should play something stately, perhaps the Liberty Bell March (popularized by Monty Python’s Flying Circus for irony, but that probably doesn’t stop particular people getting their flags out when they hear it). It should be leading a ticker tape parade.
Instead it’s currently parked outside my 3 bedroom semi on a council/ex-council estate where the people over the road recently sold their L-reg Nissan for £100 as a “good runner” (well the people that bought it agreed once they’d push started it) and they used the profits to buy 16 more hours of weed (and an electric card to play loud music for the duration).
At least it’ll keep next door’s BMW company, you know, the sort of BMW that screams “I’m A Respectable Businessman Who’s At Home A Lot During The Day, Not A Drug Dealer, Nope, That Smell And All Those People Coming And Going Are Businessmen Too.”
The thing about this Rover, is that it had soul, where the Corsa felt like driving a cheap mass produced transport method, the Rover felt like I was experiencing a brief and now-extinguished piece of British motoring history.
I can’t explain it, I certainly couldn’t justify the extra £130 that my insurance company hit me with, and when I fill ‘er up my credit card will cry tears of blood because, five miles down the road, I’ll be filling ‘er up again as all the carefree Corsas overtake me on their way to wherever people drive them to.
Comparing the Rover to the Corsa is like trying to compare a fine steak dinner at Claridge’s to a Big Mac. There’s nothing wrong with a Big Mac per se and they’re certainly more popular, as shown by the number of Corsa drivers queueing at any British drive thru, but if the Rover driver took the fast food option, you know they’d have a jar of English Mustard ready in the cup holder to give their meat patty some refinement and taste.
The Rover has gravitas, it has pomp, it has style and panache. I don’t know why this car manufacturer died a death and I think it’s a tragedy to the British motor industry, but this car looks, feels, drives and has the optional extras of a Jaguar from the same year.
I understand why they’re so cheap now – Rover went bust in 2005, one of the first pre-recession victims, and horror stories about availability of parts, poor build quality, unreliability and, of course, worst of all (and they whisper this one in case there’s any of *them* around), the people who made it spoke with a Brummie accent.
As someone who pronounces “cook, book and look” as “cuuuk” “buuuk” and “luuuk” (a la Scottish and Staffordshire people) under stress, I must say that’s shocking. Everyone who makes cars should speak with a Home Counties accent. Hell, everyone per se should speak with that fake British accent that American actors feel so compelled to put on, the one that sounds like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, which is to say, no British person ever spoke like that.
The car should have little flags on the bonnet and I would like a chauffer uniform so I can transport my passenger. I’d love to dress one of the rabbits up in a shirtcollar and tie and get them to wave out of the window.
The back of the front seats appear to have plastic tray-like compartments in them. I think that’s where the Ferrero Rocher’s supposed to go.
I can see why government officials had them.
The automatic transmission is beautiful and far more comfortable than the Peugueot 605 which was officially my first ownership of a car (I was 15, but my mother had to do some tax avoidance; I drove it once, on private land), but which used to jump forward every time it changed up or down the ratios. Since the Picasso’s cause of death was a total gearbox failure on a dangerous junction at rush hour, necessitating me to force the car to continue to safety at the expense of the engine which was too damaged by what I forced the drive shaft to do, I no longer believe that there’s any advantage to a cheap old manual car over a good, newer automatic at the same price now but which retailed for a lot more brand new, because in EITHER type, it’s bloody expensive to repair anything to do with the transmission so why not go automatic? And with a top speed of 121mph compared to 96mph, the Rover might actually get taken to the Nurburgring when it thaws out next year, if the car still works by then, to have a go at setting a time.
The steering is stately and glorious, despite this being the longest car I’ve ever driven, and having never driven a car with an arse longer than the back window (I’ve had hatchbacks and my Picasso, which is really a big hatchback), the parking was actually smooth like a good glass of Port, and it didn’t hit my house or the neighbours car despite them having blocked my drive. The steering is divine, compared to the Picasso which handled like a drunk sailor, seeming to perpetually stagger side to side whilst actually travelling forwards.
You could get the Rover 75 with a V6 or V8 engine. One day, I’d love a V8 (although I’d probably never get anything done again, because I’d just have the bonnet up and be staring at it in rapt adoration whilst asking someone to rev it for me over and over). In the meantime, I won’t be surprised if Augusto Pinochet decides to drop by for tea. I still wouldn’t let him in the house. I’ve just vacuumed those carpets. Actually even if I hadn’t, it’s the principle of the thing.
I’ve applied to join the owners club as their buyers guide was invaluable and their site is a wealth of information.
So at least something good has happened this week, although I am afraid to jinx it and will need to drive the car some more before I’m happy that it’s going to be a reliable motor. It’s put to rest a stress I’ve been carrying about vehicular failure for the past 6 months. I *knew* I should have got rid of the Picasso before I went to Aberdeen. Now I just need a job to pay off the car I just put on my credit card, and to pick a master’s course to apply for. And people wonder why I did some of the jobs I did in the past. I’ve been considering it again. But I swore I’d got out. That I’d make something of myself. That I’d go straight. Then I phoned an agency yesterday and booked for an interview next week.
I swore I’d left it behind me.
I just don’t want to teach high school science again.
I leave you with the following public service announcement from Alexei Sayle:

And I can confirm that there’s life in Peckham, but reports are mixed as to whether it’s intelligent or not.