I just returned from my old homestead in Connecticut a couple days ago and while there I finally got the Citroën I imported last September legally registered here in the U.S. of A. A few of you may have seen my post on Oppo about the adventure of buying and importing it.
The car is a 1981 Citroën LNA and I bought it at the end of last summer in France while on a trip there with my father. I then drove it to Jobjoris’s house in The Netherlands and then back across Belgium to a port where it sailed to New Jersey.
Since I live in California where everything made after 1976 has to pass emissions no exception, I decided to register it in Connecticut at my parents’ address and then ship it out here. No way would Connecticut be as strict about these things as pinko California. Well...
It whizzed through customs no problem. It’s more than 25 years old and I hired a broker to take care of all the paperwork for me so I could be sure every “i” was dotted. Things got a little rocky however when it came time for the next step.
The LNA was Citroën’s badge engineered version of the Peugeot 104Z, a “supermini” 2-door hatch priced at the very bottom of the of the scale. At the end of the 70's, Citroën dealers were desperate for a more modern economy car to sell next to the prehistoric 2CV, and this was a quick and dirty solution. Citroën replaced the 104's Peugeot four with the 2CV’s flat twin engine to keep it in the same, lowest tax bracket, and called the car the LN. “Le New?” I have no idea what those letters stand for, but after a couple years, they installed a slightly bigger two-cylinder engine with electronic ignition in the car and renamed it the “LNA.” “A” for Athlétique. Six more horsepower and all of a sudden it’s Usain Bolt.
I had been vaguely familiar with the LNA when it came up in a long discussion about French cars with Jobjoris one day. Then, when I saw a picture of one for sale in Belgium, I just knew I had to have one. And, now I do.
Back in December, I went to Connecticut for the holidays and to register the car. First I had to go to one DMV office and wait for FOUR HOURS to get a temporary tag so I could drive it to another DMV office an hour away so it could get a VIN inspection. Which I was expecting. They issued me the temp. registration I think just to lull me into a false sense of security because when I got to the inspection place, the train wrecked.
My dad and I drove the hour on 25 degree day which the 36 horsepower air-cooled two-cylinder just loved, and caused the meager heater to laugh and shrug. But, we made it and the car was a champ much to the amusement of everyone that passed us on the Merritt Parkway that day. It turns out the VIN inspection was also a “courtesy” inspection where they check all the lights, etc. and it was there I discovered the windshield washer pump didn’t work. And, there was something funky about the brake light switch. So, we failed. Plus, the VIN number wasn’t on the customs documents and of course they wanted letters from the DOT and the EPA stating the car was legal which wasn’t something mentioned on the DMV website. I figured it wouldn’t have gotten through customs if it wasn’t legal, so the fact it was in their presence should’ve been enough, but I guess not. It seems like the country is littered with illegal GT-R’s, so people do find ways, but who would go through the trouble of skirting the law for a car that was like France’s Chevette?
One funny thing is that the VIN on the car is 17 digits long, but there’s only 8 of them on the French title. So, that caused some consternation. So, frustratingly, the car didn’t get registered in December. I ordered a new washer pump and brake light switch (thanks Jobjoris) from overseas and spent a long time trying to get all the paperwork sorted. My broker was a really huge help now and I don’t think they went through quite official channels to get me what I needed. But, I finally had a back dated customs form stamped with the VIN on it. Now, the DOT and EPA don’t issue “letters,” but they do have forms you can fill out online, so I printed them out, checked the box that said the car was more than 25 years old, and gave them to the customs broker who got them “stamped.” I don’t know what that magic stamp is.
10 days ago, with the parts and papers in hand, I returned to Connecticut to do this thing. The car had been sitting in my parents’ barn, getting started once a week, since Christmas. When I went to pull it out to install the parts, it wouldn’t move. It started right up, but the brakes were locked. Fuck me. I figure it was the hand brake, so I jacked it up to try and loosen things, but it was the front wheels, not the back. The calipers had gotten stuck. I had a week to get new front brakes for a 38 year old French car.
Fortunately, oddball French car freaks are a tight knit group. I emailed a guy I know in Tuscon who owns a Visa which shared those same front calipers with the LNA. He had had his calipers rebuilt by a Citroën collector in New Jersey and had left a back up pair and rebuild kits with him. Holy shit! So, that guy agreed to rebuild them and trade them for my old calipers if I replace the kits, and a couple days later, I had a pair of rebuilt front brake calipers for a car which is the only one of its kind on these shores. A minor miracle really. An hour and a half drive to beautiful rural New Jersey, and I had my new brakes.
Not to keep rambling on, but with the brakes fixed, the paperwork stamped, the washer washing, and the brake lights lighting, Connecticut finally registered the little LNA. WOO HOO! I got classic plates, too.
The model is a 1:43 by Hachette and is quite nice for 12 bucks. There’s a tiny flaw in the cast on the roof, but everything else is reproduced well. And, I like how they did the chrome strip on the hatch.
Vive la France!