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Celebrating Citroën’s divine ’50s creation, the DS

It is said that during the development of the Citroën DS, engineers hung a quote on the door to the research department from the French novelist, playwright, and filmmaker Marcel Pagnol. Translated, it read: “Everyone thought it was impossible, except one idiot who did not know it, and did it.”


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2019/11/20/celebrating-citroens-divine-50s-creation-the-ds

“Much has been written about the DS, and some of it is wrong…”. And in this article also :).

The DS did not have ‘self centering’ steering. That system, know as DRAVI, was introduced in1970 with the Citroen SM. Now the DS did have a heart shaped cam with a spring loaded cam follower attached to the steering column. But it was there only to help keep the car in straight ahead trajectory as the DS’s power steering system has virtually no center play. However if one turns the steering left or right and releases the wheel it does not return to a straight ahead position. The DRAVI system does. Big, big difference.
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Another “Wrong” that was actually “Right” and that is that it could be driven on 3 wheels and not only driven slowly. John Love, a Rhodesian racing driver that also introduced advertising on F1 cars via “Gunston” cigarettes, drove a DS on 3 wheels very fast around the Belvedere Airodrome Racing circuit in Salisbury way back in about 1959/60. I watched him but still couldn’t believe it.

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Can’t keep them all, but wish I still had my 72 DS21. Great car. Foolishly figured it would never become ‘collectible’ because it wasn’t US made, so sold it in the 1980’s.
Also had an SM, which was amazing, but had too many rust issues.

I always thought(still do)that that was the ugliest car I have ever seen.

Used to be a ton of these parked all over Berkeley California, but they seem to have all disappeared some time ago.

Our family owned a 1965 DS 19 and 1972 DS 21 Pallas. Returning from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia the trunk was often filled with numerous 40 lb boxes of tree fruit. The self-leveling suspension received a workout but never faltered. Didn’t realize how amazing it was until a later trip in a '70s station wagon. Nose pointed to the heavens!

After a 33 year gap I returned a Citroen to my garage. Looking to cruise next summer in my “pretty blue” D Special.

In high school the typical reaction to my 1965 DS 19 was “uhew, yuck, …what is that!”.

This summer the universal reaction to my 1972 D Special was “what a pretty car!” The ladies just love her.

I always liked the looks of those cars. My mother always reminded us that Citroen means “lemon” whenever we saw one.

So it is a Lemon Goddess…very poetic.

I saw some newer models of Citroen’s in Italy a few months ago and they weren’t bad looking.

We all have different tastes on what looks good and what doesn’t. I have a 47 Fiat Topolino and most women that sees it say it’s “cute”. I don’t see it as cute but see it as a good lookin car.

When I lived and worked in Algeria near Oran 1979 - 1983 I purchase a neglected 1974 GS 1100 $1000.00. It needed a lot of work, the suspension spheres, connecting rod to the hydraulic pump, brakes, all those small diameter hydraulic hoses needed to be replaced, CV joints and seat covers, maybe a $2000 worth. Most of the work was done in Melilla Spain, 4hrs drive and 6hrs of border crossing. I drove the car to Taghit Algeria, the edge of the Sahara a 12hrs drive never missed a beat, ambient temperatures 118’f. I loved the car especially once it was all repaired, I drove it like I stole it, it handled like a sports car, and with that 3 level of suspension I never got stuck on the beach. I would have brought it back to Canada but parts were not available. I sold it for $1000.00, I wish I would have kept it. Cheers.

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I was hoping you could tell me what type of frame was under the car, unibody? The reason I ask is that when I was stationed in Germany in the early 70s I experienced what I thought was a new model Citroen going 100+mph around a curve on the Autobahn crash into the rear of a slow moving Semi. The car separated at the cowl leaving the front end stuck between the low European bumper and Sem’s trailer box, while the rest of the car went off the road backwards. The occupants still sitting in the front seats staring out in dismay, but uninjured. Still the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen!

@llkloefkorn - I can’t see the DS being a body-on-frame design, but I can’t quickly find any confirmation that it is indeed unibody. With how low-slung the body is and the interior space, I would say quite confidently it is unibody construction.

When I was a young serviceman in the RCAF in the 1960’s a buddy had a DS19 which he bought for a pittance. It was just an old used clunker to him (and all the rest of us). Too poor to repair the complex hydraulic system, he carried a 5 gallon drum of hydraulic oil in the back to frequently replenish his total-loss system. To have it now!

Indeed the DS can be driven far and fast on 3 wheels. André Garnier, who owned a Citroen repair shop in Buffalo in the 1960s, was so intrigued by the abilities of the suspension that one day he removed the entire right rear suspension arm, sealed off the suspension and brake lines, and drove the car around town on 3 wheels! The car’s balance was so good he thought Citroën management was missing a great way to advertise the car. To get them thinking about doing an ad of the car sans a wheel, he drove from Buffalo to Citroen headquarters in New Jersey on only 3 of them! Seems management didn’t cotton to his bold idea – possibly thinking André was a nutcase, or that they’d get in trouble promoting driving the car unsafely – short one wheel, so they rejected his idea. Disappointed, he drove back to Buffalo the same way, then kept driving it around town. Of course he got pulled over by the local police for “driving an unsafe car”. He had to appear in court, but since the cops didn’t have any hard evidence against him, the judge dismissed the case. However, he continued to use the car that way, and kept getting harassed by the cops. Ordered to appear in court this one time, he got a lady judge who couldn’t believe André’s Citroën could drive around on only 3 wheels. So he invited her to go for a drive in it, and she accepted! They ran around the block, the car didn’t tip over or have a problem, and when they all got back in court, the judge reprimanded the arresting cops and told them to stop badgering him!

Thank you, I have my money on that also😊

Love the Buffalo mechanic story! I got my license in one of these in Ohio back in the mid 70’s. The owner was a family friend, a brilliant industrial engineer who fell in love with the car’s engineering. During driving lessons he had me take it up to speed on the interstate, let go of the steering wheel and step on the brake button. The car stopped VERY quickly, in a perfectly straight line, no skidding at all. I don’t know how it worked but apparently Citroen had a version of ABS figured out.

The car was aging, and he often had to take it 50 miles to Cleveland for service, so he decided to rebuild it and “get it right”. He rebuilt every mechanical component, and painted each system under the hood a different color. It was quite a sight! The internal engine specs were too “loose” in his opinion so he reduced some tolerances, requiring a lot of custom machine work etc. It was a sad day when the newly rebuilt engine soon failed. (Oops - he was not an automotive engineer.)

I LOVED that car - to this day the most comfortable car I’ve driven, and handled like a dream. It got stares wherever it went - most people thought it was ugly but not me - it was futuristic, like what I thought cars would evolve into. Now we live in an age of design by bumps, swoops, scoops and monster-face grills. Maybe someday we’ll get back to functional design?

No, it is a proper name and not pronounce citron - the correct pronunciation is cit-ro-en. And far from ever being a lemon. From a technical standpoint that car was so far ahead of its time it was almost scary. When introduced in August of 1955 it boasted FWD, inboard dics brakes (reduced unsprung weigth at the wheels), a steering system with basically zero play, and an superbly designed braking system that had no ‘pedal travel’ but use a pressure feed back system with it’s revolutionary ‘brake button’ as well as using separate hydraulic circuits for the font and rear brakes. And that rear circuit had a feed back system that adjusted, instantaneously, the proportion of front to rear braking force based on the weight at the rear of the car. In addition there was a ‘fail safe’ feature for the brakes that in an event of system hydraulic pressure, pressure to the braked had an independent pressure reserve that would isolate brake pressure from the rest of the system.

The real problem with the introduction of the DS was that the design of the hydraulic system needed a rubber compound for total reliability that was not invented until 1961 :).

My parents bought a 62 !D19 in 1963. And it had some leakage problems until my Dad and I started replacing the original rubber seals with a new compound from Dupont called EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer) that was and still is just about the only real rubber compound totally immune to hydraulic brake fluid. And it was the introduction of that rubber compound that eliminated the failure of car master brake cylinder failure all to common to all cars of that era.

During the mid-70’s I was fortunate enough to own a low-mileage ‘65-66 DS21 Pallas, black with a white roof and beautiful tan leather interior. It had the best combination of smooth ride and good handling of any car I’ve ever owned. And quiet - the carpeting had a 2 or 3-inch thick layer of foam padding. At 70mph it felt and sounded like you were only doing 45 or so. Truly an amazing machine!