Citroën DS

Ah, the Citroen DS, that gem of automotive audacity! I mean if humanity ever decides to flee Earth, and ship just ten cars to our new home among the stars, the Citroen DS would be there, casually rubbing fenders with automotive royalty, as only a French avant-garde wonder can.

Now, for those born post-1980, Citroen might seem like just another carmaker churning out hatchbacks and crossovers, sprinkled with those endearingly odd Airbump panels. 

Sure, they’ve dabbled in mainstream mediocrity, but let’s not forget, this is the brand that’s rollercoastered between design brilliance and, let’s say, financial… letdowns. 

Ahem, the Mehari, Traction Avant, and the SM—names that echo with avant-garde audacity. Yet, amidst this hall of fame (or perhaps infamy), stands the indomitable DS. It’s like the Tesla Model S of its time, minus the Silicon Valley fanfare.

The teardrop shape, the round headlights – a visual feast unveiled in 1955 at the Paris motor show, a mere blip after World War II. Oh, and the name ‘DS’? A cheeky nod to ‘déesse,’ French for ‘goddess.’ Subtle, right?

15 minutes after the grand revelation, 743 orders flooded in. By day’s end, Citroen had amassed 12,000 deposits. In the blink of an eye (well, nine days to be precise), over 80,000 enthusiasts declared, ‘Yes, I’ll take one!’ A record-breaking spectacle in an era where internet pre-orders were but a whimsical notion, especially for a post-war front-wheel-drive family car.

The Citroen DS was a technological maestro ahead of its time. In an era of steam trains and luxury being defined by black-and-white televisions, and in strolls Citroen with the DS, a four-wheeled harbinger of the future.

Let’s start with the suspension – hydro-pneumatic, automatically levelling, and capable of defying the whims of France’s notoriously uneven roads. Need more ground clearance? No problem, the DS could lift itself up, a feat that would make Range Rovers blush with envy, except they hadn’t even graced the automotive stage yet. The Range Rover? Oh, it was still a good 14 years away from existence.

But wait, there’s more – power steering, a semi-automatic gearbox, a lightweight fibreglass roof, and front brakes tucked away inboard to trim down unsprung weight. Citroen, was already championing radial tires and widening the front track to combat understeer. And all of this? Conceived in the automotive Stone Age of 1955.

Fast forward a bit, and the DS continued its technological tango with mechanically-pivoted headlights that winked around corners as the driver twirled the steering wheel. The DS ‘Break’ estate joined the party, and from its robust chassis, the exquisite DS Decapotable soft-top emerged.

Now, the DS bowed out in 1975, making way for the SM coupe, a Maserati-powered beast. Yet, the DS’s legacy endured, its ‘magic carpet’ suspension and cornering headlights living on in its flashy successor. The DS, an icon in its lifetime, a stylish time-traveller from the past with a suitcase full of tomorrow’s innovations.

The Detailed Breakdown of Citroen DS

The experience of driving a Citroen DS is like a symphony of comfort, elegance, and a dash of idiosyncrasy. Forget the shudders and shakes of other classics from the Fifties and Sixties; the DS is not your average vintage ride. 

While others may succumb to the ravages of time, the DS holds its ground, offering a driving experience that lives up to the legend. I mean even if you picture yourself at the helm of a Jag E-Type or an old-school American muscle car—yeah, the DS is nothing like that.

Comfort? Check. Handling? Double-check. Once you’ve mastered its quirks, the DS becomes your charming companion on the road, effortlessly blending relaxation with a hint of beguilement. 

Ignore those speed bumps; the hydraulic suspension laughs in the face of such minor inconveniences, leaving you in a serene bubble of comfort. Modern luxury giants like the Mercedes S-Class or BMW 7 Series can only dream of achieving the DS’s level of ride comfort and control. You’d need a Rolls-Royce for a taste of something similar.

Ever witnessed an elephant or camel gracefully rising under your weight? The DS’s hidden spheres, filled with oil and compressed nitrogen, replicate that sensation as the car slowly lifts itself upon ignition and gracefully squats when turned off. 

Now, the semi-automatic transmission adds its own layer of charm. No clutch pedal, but a slender stalk sprouting from the dashboard lets you manually select gears. It’s a dance, a delicate ballet that requires patience. 

Lift off the throttle, nudge the lever, wait for the engine’s contented hum, and then accelerate. A tender partnership that builds a unique bond with the DS, making you respect the car’s regal demeanour.

So, what’s it like to drive a DS? It’s not just a drive; it’s a rendezvous with automotive royalty, where comfort, elegance, and a touch of whimsy converge on the open road.

Venture into the world of the ID19, a more economical sibling crafted between 1957 and 1969, and you’ll immediately notice its subtle yet distinct differences from its more powerful counterpart, the DS19. With a modest 51bhp under the hood, the ID19 offers a manual gear-shifting experience, complemented by an unconventional column shift that adds to its vintage charm.

Navigating the ID19 requires a touch of finesse, especially when it comes to the brake system—a button you delicately squeeze to modulate stopping power. 

The idiosyncrasies of hydraulic pressure mean that mastering a brisk stop without locking the rear wheels might require a few initial attempts. Yet, this nuanced driving experience aligns perfectly with the ID19’s overarching ethos of graceful, unhurried movement.

Despite its quirks, the ID19 surprises with its responsiveness, thanks in part to its impeccably engineered suspension that minimises roll and enhances stability. While it may not be the ideal companion for spirited drives on winding B-roads, it exhibits a willingness to navigate roundabouts with a touch of enthusiasm when prompted.

Under the bonnet, the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine delivers a performance best described as adequate. It’s evident that a significant portion of its horsepower is devoted to managing the car’s intricate hydraulic systems, leaving a modest reserve for propelling the vehicle forward. 

Yet, such considerations fade into insignificance when you settle into the ID19’s luxurious seats, encouraging you to embrace a leisurely pace.

Step inside the Citroen DS

Stepping inside the DS, you’ll find a blend of timeless elegance and gradual updates that marked its evolution over the years. As the DS model progressed, it begrudgingly adopted more conventional features, departing from its avant-garde origins. 

The horizontal speedometer gave way to round instrument clocks, and the steering wheel, though thicker, retained its distinctive single-spoke design. The dashboard design became more conventional, and the vents easier to operate.

Seated within the DS, you’ll notice a more upright and statesmanlike driving position, facilitated by plump seats positioned close to the large steering wheel. Despite this, comfort remains a hallmark of the DS experience. 

The wraparound front screen, almost like a visor, offers a unique perspective, while the slim pillars contribute to a panoramic view, creating an immersive driving environment.

In the rear, the DS provides a surprisingly spacious experience, comparable to a modern compact sedan like an Audi A3 or Mercedes A-Class. Passengers are unlikely to voice complaints about space, thanks to the thoughtful design. While the rear visibility is affected by a thicker pillar and a falling roofline, the DS’s wider front ensures a lack of intimidation when manoeuvring through urban gaps.

Practicality is not compromised in the DS, as the ingeniously packaged spare wheel under the bulbous bonnet allows for a generously sized boot. This combination of aesthetic allure, comfort, and thoughtful design makes the DS an enduring icon that transcends mere transportation—it’s a journey through time and style.

Navigating History, Pitfalls, and Passion

Owning an old French car, particularly an iconic one like the DS, comes with its share of peculiarities, but it also boasts a rich history, a devoted following, and a legacy of endurance spanning over half a century. 

Despite being susceptible to typical vintage car issues, the DS has proven itself in prestigious events like the Monte Carlo rally, earning a stellar reputation in long-distance rallies. With over 1.45 million units sold during its production, the DS has left an indelible mark in automotive history.

When delving into the world of DS models, choices abound. The original DS19, accompanied by the ID19 in 1957, offered a more economical option by omitting power steering and an automatic gearbox. 

The 25% price reduction for the DS19 made it a popular choice. The introduction of the DS Break estate version in 1961, featuring a Volvo-esque boxy roofline and a steel roof to support cargo, expanded the lineup. The rare Decapotable cabrio, using the Break’s chassis, added a convertible option with only 1,365 ever sold.

Despite the allure of these models, historical pitfalls abound. The 1967 DS marked a significant year with a sharknose restyle and changes to the hydropneumatics system’s fluid. 

The switch to a mineral-oil-based fluid in 1967 aimed to address previous issues, and checking the system’s functionality is crucial when considering a purchase. 

The peculiarities extend to right-hand-drive models assembled in Slough, Berkshire, with distinct features like leather seats, a chrome front number plate holder, and unique dashboards.

Maintaining a DS can be challenging, with intricate servicing requirements such as disassembling components to replace worn brakes. 

Rust, particularly around pillars and the windscreen frame, is a common concern. On the positive side, the engines are noted for their durability, emphasising the need for regular use and maintenance.

Owning a DS is not just about transportation; it’s an invitation to engage with a piece of automotive history. The reward lies in the commitment to regular care and driving, ensuring that this iconic car continues to enchant its owner for years to come.

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