I’m not one to get overly excited about automobiles, despite coveting the odd Alfa, Ferrari, Maserati and others. In particular, the efforts during the thirties were when most of the technical innovation took place as well as stunning looks.
I find that advancing years change the way I look at cars – it is more of a utilitarian outlook on them now, brought about by a desire to turn the key for it to start and take me where I want to go in reasonable comfort and relative ease so I do not notice what a chore with the sheer numbers of cars on the road and all the modern day restrictions that it has all become.
Modern vehicles largely fulfil this role quite well and provide modern comforts that we could only dream of a couple of decades ago, but mostly they are computer generated models to suit all markets and as soon as one manufacturer finds a niche, all the rest hurry to plug the gap in their model ranges.
For me, the ‘joy of the open road’ a la toad disappeared a long time ago.
Nevertheless, occasionally one can be forgiven when reminded of something special in that field. It happened the other day when coming from a local company that restores cars appeared, what I think (and yes it has been written about many times before) is not just a milestone in automotive progress but for me one of the most beautiful cars ever made and one that has stood the test of time like no other – the Citroen DS.
For a car that made its debut in 1955 and was in production twenty years, it has no peer,. When this car appeared, we thought the cutting edge in automobiles for the masses was a Morris Minor. The DS was simply sensational, styled by an Italian sculptor and industrial designer Flaminio Bertoni – there was nothing like it at the time and to my eyes since.
Technically in addition to its hydropneumatic, self levelling suspension, it was the first production car to have power front disc brakes, mounted inboard, and had a fibreglass roof to aid weight distribution. Slightly later models had directional headlamps as another first.
The DS or Goddess as it became known, a french pun on stretching DS to deese was an icon from the start, becoming the standard getaway car for any self-respecting continental gangster film and more, DeGaulle owed his life to one after an assassination attempt blew one of the tyres and the DS kept going, as only it could, on three wheels with the suspension compensating.
It still appears in films – The Mentalist being the latest.
Different models appeared, the Break or Safari estate car being the best known and one was used in the Total Oil ads of the period. The same was purchased by a friend of mine and I did many miles in it around the country, pursuing a hobby of the time,. It was unmatched as a tourer and for those who like that sort of thing, towing caravans or swallowing large/heavy objects, all of which failed to outwit the suspension. The most coveted model and the rarest is the cabriolet
I defy anybody to name a more gorgeous ragtop.
Personally I never owned one, I chose another direction when almost purchasing one but I’ve owned two other Citroens with the hydropneumatic suspension and even had one with the directional headlamps.
The suspension does spoil you, as opposed to ordinary vehicles and its strengths can be seen as the antecedent of the Safari model that became THE ambulance throughout a large part of Europe and could be seen strutting its stuff for the BBC as the mobile base for cameras in outside broadcasts , such as following horseracing,
Yes, it had faults. The manual models had heavy controls, rust was also a problem, as with nearly all cars of the period, especially with the door sills that overhang the chassis to give it those clean lines.
I don’t care, for to me, as a massed produced car, it’s in a class of its own.