The red Visa

Do sensible people buy a second hand Visa, drive in it for years and then refuse to part with it? I don't know, but I did... I even decided to restore it. How did it come this far?

In the beginning, there was the 1981 metallic sea-green Visa Super E of my brother Maarten: his first car. Although Visas were notorious rusters those days, my brother's car is known to have lasted for about ten years.

Maarten traded in his Visa I for a bright red 1986 Visa 11 RE in 1989. By then, I drove a blue Lancia Delta, which was reputedly a car for the real conoisseur. I had never been impressed by the Visa. Hence, Maarten's choice was treated to a good laugh. But when the Lancia kept losing parts and became totally immobile by a definitive failure of the terrible electrics (the car was six years old, remember...), I was forced to look for a quick solution. Maarten was very content with the Visa en his dealer. And so it occured, that I found myself behind the wheel of a Visa in the same shade of red as my brother's. PL-41-HK, as the number plates indicated, was meant to be a means of temporary transport. I was wrong. The Visa grew on me, faster and intenser than I could have imagined.

Maarten and his first Visa. Today, he drives a Toyota Prius...

A certain drawback was that the cars of Maarten and me differed so little. The only difference was, that his car had a five speed, and my car a four speed gearbox. On the outside, it did not show. Even the keys were almost identical. You could enter both cars with one key. Ignition, however, only worked with the original key. If you wanted to be funny, you could go to a voluntary Visa and unlock it. I tried once before the eyes of a perplexed group of collaegues. Maarten once night sat in what he thought was his own car. When starting the car proved to be fruitless failed he discovered his fault: it was mine!

When I bought the Visa, there were about 60.000 kilometers on the clock. With each year, the kilometrage grew and grew. My girl friend Monieke and I travelled a lot each summer, and the humble red car proved to be an excellent companion.

The Visa, May 1990. Although almost four years old,
it still looked like new.
With Maarten near Flensburg (Germany) in a traffic jam, on our way to Denmark, August, 1991. At camping "Osebos" near Gulpen (Limburg), June, 1993.
Reflecting an impressive evening sky, Epen (Limburg), July, 1995.
At the race track of Spa-Francorchamps,
(Belgium) after breaking the track
record, August, 1993.
  A faithful companion in summer
and winter. Icicles decorate the
Visa, early 1996 (photo © Monieke
During the crossing of the river IJssel with a ferry near Dieren, June 1996.

The Visa remained a steady partner for many years, but around 1995, when the car had covered 200.000 kilometers, more often problems arose. Especially the carburettor became troublesome. Accelerating became tricky: when you did it wrong, the engine stalled. People who did not know the car could actually not drive it.
In 1996 we planned a holiday in Denmark. The carburettor problem was worse than ever. We doubted: was the Visa still reliable enough, or should we buy something else? Under the pressure of time, we nearly bought a Skoda Felicia... Happily, the Visa was repaired in time, and we set for the journey.

After many doubts, in the end our Visa arrived in Denmark, July, 1996.

Our home journey from Denmark was quite thrilling: after a short distance, the light switch gave up, causing the lights to fail. We drove very fast to reach our home in time before dark. We hardly succeeded.

In the end, a new car finally had to come. It became a metallic blue Citroën Saxo with five doors, just like the Visa. But, how strange: I had become attached to my own little Visa. Even the new car could't take the fondness away (although the Saxo is really a much better car than the Visa, which has become rather out of date). So I donated the car to Monieke's mother, who drove a very old Volkswagen Golf at the time.

  After a fast drive from Denmark home again. Our cat
Duckie tries to solve the problem.

But, after two years, disaster struck: the car was declared unfit and had to be taken off the road. There were various problems: rust in vital places, defective brakes, bad shock absorbers, and more. The engine was worn out. Was there any other road than the road to the breaker?

November, 1998: abandoned! Does really nobody love me?
Visa and Saxo together like sisters, December, 1996.
People around me must have frowned when I laid up my Visa, with the intention of a future restoration. I had the car registered on my name again. Many people thought it was a silly car, not at all desirable. Unworthy to spend any money on. However, I had made my mind up... After a year the restoration started. The work is carried out by a small garage in my dwelling place Alphen aan den Rijn. The workers there are not really used to restoring cars like the Visa: most of there business is stuff like Mercedes and British sports cars. The sheet metal is very thin, thinks panel beater Juan. The restauration will probably take some time: times are busy, and the Visa is only a long term project.



A Visa can be dismantled quickly and easily: in the picture left after a few days in the workshop. below after a few weeks when, effectively, there had been worked on the car for only a few hours.

Just after arrival in the workshop, October 1999.    


When the Visa was dismantled, it appeared that rust had done more harm than expected. The front doors were obviously very bad. It seemed appropriate to look out for better ones, but doors without rust, unless brand new, were hard to obtain. When no alternatives came up, another strategy was chosen. Juan, known as the best panel beater in the world, made in a couple of hours the most wonderful replacement panels one can imagine.

    The Visa, totally undressed, waiting for things to come, December, 1999.


The bottom of the car looked reasonable, with only a few tiny holes to repair. The most unpleasant surprise was near the left rear wheelarch. After the last technical inspection, we knew that somewhere in that area something had badly rusted. The size of the gap, however, really appalled us: it measured about nine inches. On the right side, strange enough no rust was found. Large as it was, this final gap was closed too in February, 2000.

The right front door before and after the treatment.
Bottom was relatively sound .
The gap near the left rear wheelarch (left), after removal of the rust (second from left), and after new sheet metal
had been welded in (second from right and right).

Besides the rust mentioned, ther were numerous other spots of rust: at edges, in the engine compartment, at the bottom of the doors, and so on.

The engine could be overhauled, but in view of the cost, it seemed more sensible to search for a good donor. My Visa never performed very well, and was also quite thirsty on petrol. So, when it comes to swapping engines, we plan to fit an engine with a five speed gearbox.

Frequently, people are amazed to see a humble Visa in a restauration workshop. They think the owner must be out of his mind. Who ever is so crazy to invest in such a worthless car?


February, 2000: the rust has been cut out, new metal has been welded in. Now is the waiting for the moment the bodywork will be prepared for spraying.

PL-41-HK, ready for the final work.  


The engine has seen enough after
250.000 kilometers.
Between February 2000 and April 2002, nothing really happened with the red Visa. This was not a big problem: it was intended that it would be a long term project. In October 2001 we got Polleke, and soon afterwards I bought GerriT, so there was no real need to hurry. However, in April 2002 the work on the red Visa was taken up again.
The final work on the bodywork will be carried out by a specialised firm in my home village Alphen aan den Rijn. They will do the flattening, priming and respraying. The Post Uiterweer company will do the refitting, retrimming, and all the remaining technical work on the car.
The Visa after welding the remaining holes and priming. I suppose we have to call this story "the grey Visa" for the time being.
After two years rest, there were some second thoughts about the reparation of the doors. The welding had certainly been a good job, but preparing it for a respray was another story. After all, it made more sense to put in some new doors and a new bonnet. There were dings in both front wings as well, so these also made way for new panels. Underneath one of the wings, a large rust hole was discovered. Finally, in the roof another rust hole was found.
Some more impressions of the 11 RE, awaiting its respray in rouge vallelunga.
Discarded old doors, wings and bonnet ln a corner of the workshop (left), and shiny new ones, intended to replace them (right). Original hatch will be used again.
Left: rust free bonnet was obtained from well known Citroën breaker Bart Ebben. Right: new front wings (imitation) would not fit properly, so the original ones are prepared for refitting. Luckily, although slightly dented, they were not particularly rusty.
And then, in June 2002, a new landmark was reached: the red Visa turned red again. However, it is not the wobbly kind of paintwork you would expect: the quality is better than I have ever seen on a Visa. The photos are only able to hint the actual standard of the work. And, although it was not cheap, Auto Colpa certainly did a great job!
Left, right, end below left: some more photos of the freshly painted red Visa.
Right: drilling holes and popping in the nipples for the plastic strips.
Above, left and right: in September 2002, the black parts of the red Visa returned. After that, the glass was put in.
Left and far left: the car was extensively rustproofed in November, 2002.
The red Visa, ready to be towed to my storage space, November 2002. Brakes are almost totally gone by now, which turned the short drive into a highly adventurous event.
Red Visa awaiting finishing, November 2002.
Cover will keep the Visas expensive paintwork free from scratches.
At last , I found a good interior for the red Visa. In November 2003, another Citroënist offered me an as new grey interior. He delivered it to me with his Ami 8 Break. The interior came from a very neat 1985 Visa, which had lost its registration and was therefore scrapped... It is not quite the original colour, but it will do.
red visa April 2008: at last the Visa is taken to the workshop to be finished... red visa
  red visa red visa
red visa in the workshop ...where the final work starts
bottom Left: underside of the Visa was Dinitrolled very carefully. Exhaust was replaced completely by a new system. Right: the Visa, awaiting the engine of the brown donor car. in the workshop
Right: there it comes... Far right: ... and in it is!
engine to go in engine is in
dirty interior red and brown Far left: dash was reasonably intact, but had become very, very dirty. Left: brown donor car was very useful.
small parts Left: parts of the car where stored in various places, but all surfaced when needed. Right: red Visa says goodbye to his brown brother, who is about to leave.. red and brown
Right: the red Visa with the engine. Dirt in the carburettor was minor initial problem, which was quickly solved. Far right: with the grill fitted it immediately looks far better.
engine running on the bridge
new radiator looking better The red Visa still getting better with a new radiator (far left) and freshly sprayed wheels (left).
mechanics done Left: the mechanics are done, the car moves to another part of the workshop. Right: more complete with plastic trim and interior fitted. strips fitted
July 16, 2008: the red Visa returns home. Still small work and polishing to be done, but tested and roadworthy.
back home 1 back home 2
back home 3 The red Visa never had a name, but after the restoration we decided to christen him 'Hiawatha'.  
red and blue with Hosto Far left: Hiawatha and Polleke. Left: Hiawatha ready for the 'Fête des citadines', early September 2008.
On arrival for the 'Fête des citadines' in Groesbeek.
FdC 1 FdC2
FdC3 Hiawatha meeting family at the 'Fête des Citadines'. FdC4
red in green Leiden Doesn't he look good...?
broken Left: ...but looking shiny is not enough and with these cars you never know. Rear suspension domes looked good when covered in Dinitrol and passed the test, but were rotten after all. Only a few weeks after the restoration was finished, both had to be replaced. Right: Hiawatha says hello to GerriT. with gerriT
All together now: GerriT, Hiawatha and Polleke
three of them  
March 2009: Hiawatha returns to the place where I once bought him, in Zuidoost-Beemster. Garage Lanting has left the village, there are new houses where the workshop was. Garage Lanting is situated in a new and much larger building in Purmerend.
Left: with other examples of the 11 RE at CitroMobile, May 2009. Right: polished to star at the show for 90 years of Citroën in Amsterdam, Alphen aan den Rijn, October 2009.
Hiawatha making a good appearance at the show for 90 years of Citroën in Amsterdam, October 2009.

Coming soon: Hiawatha in his second year after being reborn

Last updated: April 11, 2010.

All photographs © Okke Groot, unless stated otherwise.