Citroen DS

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.

[All but one pic is Wiki Commons and that last is not known.]

14 comments for “Citroen DS

  1. JD
    March 13, 2012 at 15:49

    I have a toy one of those which I got free when filling up with petrol in France somewhere…..

    when I was driving down to Monaco for the Grand Prix, says he casually 🙂

    ….it rained for the whole race 🙁

  2. JD
    March 13, 2012 at 15:51

    oh and the local dealer once demonstrated that famous suspension by taking off one of the rear wheels and blasting around the local rallycross course
    that was quite a sight 🙂

  3. March 13, 2012 at 16:14

    You are being a bit hard on us poor people who can only afford a Morris 1000 as our classic car. http://grumpologist.blogspot.com/2011/03/motoring-nostalgia.html. Ok, it’s not quite as sexy.

  4. Wiggia
    March 13, 2012 at 17:08

    JD as i said i never sadly owned a DS, but i had a CX estate and remember leaving London one rush hour evening when there had been a huge accident and we were stuck in a jam for an hour, the car alongside had several small children in it and i amused and amazed them by lowering and raising the suspension, one child opened the window and called across ‘its a magic car’ not quite but it helped pass the time.

  5. March 13, 2012 at 19:44

    Glad you included the vid, which I’ve just watched. Don’t know why but I never thought it was as special as it was but now I see it. The cost and the rust is a pity but restored, it’s certainly a class car.

  6. microdave
    March 13, 2012 at 19:45

    IIRC there was a TV advert for the later, smaller, GS model which featured a test track and two trucks driving together about 8 ft apart. The GS was driven the opposite way, directly at this gap, and at the last moment one of the tyres was blown out by remote control. It simply carried on between the trucks as if nothing had happened….

    Motoring/Motorcycling writer LJK Setright (featured in the clip) used to enthuse about the Hydropneumatic suspension system, and its extremely low effective spring rates. This was only possible by virtue of the self levelling function, other wise the car would have been un-driveable.

    Michelin XAS tyres were specifically developed for the DS, and some models had different widths front & rear. I used them on my Mini back in the early 80’s. I think they were a requirement of the DS warranty, as Michelin had a large financial stake in the company (or was it the other way round?).

    Citroen re-pressurising valves came in handy when my old Austin Maxi started riding badly. This had similar, but factory sealed, Hydragas units, and I decided that they COULD be repaired. As far as I know, I’m the only individual to have done this. I was lucky to get hold of one of the Dunlop technical bods, and he said they used a similar method when developing their system…

  7. March 13, 2012 at 19:57

    Why then did the technology not continue on into the present day? Cost? EU?

  8. March 13, 2012 at 21:14

    It was used by Rolls Royce, and for all I know may still be. My R reg Xantia diesel estate used it and had a height control.
    It was also used by Rolls Royce: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rolls-Royce_Silver_Shadow. Also here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydropneumatic_suspension

  9. microdave
    March 13, 2012 at 22:07

    Cost was probably part of it, but another pressing consideration these days is fuel economy & CO2 emissions – having an engine driven pump running a lot of the time will have some negative effect. You are also totally dependent on that pump – loss of pressure means no suspension AND no brakes…

    The “spheres” used also loose their nitrogen filling over a period of time, and need re-pressurising or replacing. Failure to do this will lead to expensive damage as your wonderfully compliant gas suspension gradually becomes totally unyielding fluid. The same thing occurred (over a longer period) with the BMC Hydragas units I spoke of earlier.

    In contrast, conventional springs, dampers & brakes are less complex, and generally easier to work on. They also come from a variety of sub contractors, which gives the car companies some leeway in terms of supply contracts.

  10. Wiggia
    March 14, 2012 at 08:46

    The Citroen C5 has an upgraded version of the suspension, so it is still in use,as to the degrading well it was not the problem non owners made it out to be, i had my wifes Xantia repressured once in the five years she owned it and my CX was never required to have it done in three years i used it and it was already a couple of years old, the problem was not that it was complex to repressurise or even replace the spheres,it was that no one other than Citroen specialists would touch it, mainly as they did not understand or it wasn’t worth the bother for what was a fairly rare car at the time. I was lucky to have a specialist look after mine and replacing spheres was not a problem with the right equipment.
    Just a small add-on for the technophobes, Citroen did introduce a radical version of the hydropneaumatic suspension, at the end almost of the Xantias production they introduced a Xantia Sport this 2lt had a version of the suspension that had been in developement with a race car manufacturer(i cant remember who) this incorporated latitudonal hydraulics and ment there was no body roll when cornering and kept the tyre profile flat with maximum contact at all times, i test drove one of these, and it was quite difficult to accustom to after a normal car, but it worked and the end of the Xantia and the costs involved put an end to it being seen again.

  11. JD
    March 14, 2012 at 09:14

    Mention of Leonard Setright got me thinking.
    Whatever happened to motoring journalism? Once upon a time we had the erudite and very intelligent LJKS as well as Henry J Manney III and Denis Jenkinson (world sidecar champion with Eric Oliver and co pilot for Moss in the Mille Miglia)
    Now we have to suffer the perennial schoolchild Clarkson! 🙁

  12. RobinHood
    March 14, 2012 at 12:11

    Your article reminds me of the time I was taking a photograph at the border between Western Australia and South Australia. The bitumen ended at the border into South Australia before crossing the Nullabor plain back then and I noticed a Citroen coming at me at a very high speed. I think the driver had some fun because just as he hit the dirt road where I was standing the car lifted up from its ground hugging profile and proceeded, without any change of pace, with the wheels bouncing up and down dementedly on the washboard in the dirt road. It was an astounding site and the memory remains with me still. I was driving a forward control Landrover at the time and after about 100 miles of dirt I had to tighten up all the bolts holding down the cooling fan propellor shaft it was so rough.

  13. Wiggia
    March 14, 2012 at 14:02

    Just to finish up on the suspension history, the Activa 2 suspension was the one with the latitudonal control, it had two extra spheres and a computer to eliminate roll, it was used on other models and i believe a form of it is on the current C6.
    The original form was introduced on Xantias in 1994, Colin Chapman pioneered a similiar system in the 80s for race cars and a production Excise ? was fitted with it but never made it to the public.
    And in answer to Robin Hood, i @borrowed my wifes Xantia and whilst returning home on country lanes overdid it on an s bend and went straight on over a ditch, through a rough field and out the other side with nothing more than wheat in the rad, in anything else it would have been smashed to bits, i never did tell her the truth.

  14. Wiggia
    March 14, 2012 at 14:03

    Just to finish up on the suspension history, the Activa 2 suspension was the one with the latitudonal control, it had two extra spheres and a computer to eliminate roll, it was used on other models and i believe a form of it is on the current C6.
    The original form was introduced on Xantias in 1994, Colin Chapman pioneered a similiar system in the 80s for race cars and a production Excise ? was fitted with it but never made it to the public.
    And in answer to Robin Hood, i borrowed my wifes Xantia and whilst returning home on country lanes overdid it on an s bend and went straight on over a ditch, through a rough field and out the other side with nothing more than wheat in the rad, in anything else it would have been smashed to bits, i never did tell her the truth.

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