She may be 64 years old, but the Goddess looks as good
today as she did when she stole the show at the 1955 Paris Motor Show.
So, by way of a tribute to one of the greatest cars of the 20th century,
we felt compelled to celebrate the life and times of a French
masterpiece. The Citroen DS: this is your life.
Launched at the Grand Palais des Expositions, Paris
The Citroen DS stopped people in their tracks when the covers were
pulled off at the Grand Palais des Expositions in Paris. Quite simply,
it was a revelation.
Causing a stir.
The Citroen DS was unveiled to a packed Paris Motor Show at 9am on
Thursday 5 October 1955. At the same time, a number of DSs were being
driven through the crowded streets of Paris. They caused quite a stir.
Within minutes of its unveiling, Citroen had received over 700 orders
for the DS. By the end of the day, that number had increased to 12,000.
The Citroen DS had arrived.
By the time the Paris Motor Show was over, Citroen had received 79,000
orders for the DS. - to my knowledge not surpassed ever.
These figures are even more impressive considering the
company was selling the DS for the lofty price of 940,000 francs and
asking all buyers to leave an 80,000-franc deposit. Furthermore,
customers were told they’d have to wait about a year and a half for
their brand new DS to arrive. Everyone wanted to be associated with the Goddess and
its film star looks. But this beauty was more than just skin deep. .
Replaced the Citroen Traction Avant
It replaced the hugely successful but ageing Citroen Traction Avant.
Like the DS, the Traction Avant – which is French for
‘front-wheel-drive’ – was a landmark car. But unsurprisingly, some 20
years on from its launch, it was in need of replacement.
DS is French for Goddess.
Step forward the Citroen DS, which stands for ‘Déese’, which in turn is
French for ‘Goddess’. It’s pronounced “day ess”, which could be an
important thing to remember if you’re at a dinner party discussing the
most important cars of the past 100 years.
One of the greatest cars of the 20th century?
It can lay claim to being one of the most significant and perhaps
greatest cars of the 20th century. In most polls, the Citroen DS is
placed in the top 10, more often than not in the top five.
Third in the Car of the Century awards
Indeed, the Citroen DS came third in the Car of the Century awards,
beaten only by the Ford Model T and the Mini. It was also named the most
beautiful car of all time by Classic & Sports Car magazine.
The DS was a true show-stopper.
But just what makes the Citroen DS so special? Let’s remember that the
DS arrived in 1955, a time when Europe was still recovering from the
effects of World War II. Here was a car quite unlike anything that had
gone before – this was a true show-stopper.
Work had begun on the Citroen DS soon after the launch of the Traction
Avant in 1934. It was codenamed VGD, which stood for ‘Voiture á Grand
Diffusion’, or ‘mass-produced car’. Developed alongside it was the Toute
Petite Voiture (TPV), or very small car.
It was World War II that saw the VGD project being mothballed in favour
of the TPV, a project that would culminate in the arrival of the Citroen
2CV in 1948. Two cars of equal significance but hugely different
Transforming the hippopotamus
By the early 1950s, work had restarted on project VGD. Flaminio Bertoni,
Citroen’s chief stylist, was responsible for transforming early
prototypes that had earned an unfortunate hippopotamus nickname into
something worthy of the Goddess name tag.
Tested on the roads of southern France.
The development of the Citroen DS was a closely guarded secret and
Citroen’s bosses went to great lengths to keep things under wraps. Early
prototypes were spotted on the roads of southern France, much to the
annoyance of Pierre Bercot, Citroen’s managing director.
No teaser campaigns for the Citroen DS.
Angered by the test cars being spotted in the wild, Bercot heightened
security and ensured no further leaks would occur. Unlike today, there
would be no teaser campaigns and no pre-show images. The world would
have to wait until the 1955 Paris Motor Show.
Citroen had planned to utilise an entirely new flat-six engine for the
Citroen DS, something that would have undoubtedly matched its
forward-thinking design and engineering. It wasn’t to be, as the
development work would have proved too costly.
Instead the Citroen DS had to ‘make do’ with the 1911cc, four-cylinder
engine of the Traction Avant. It would be years before the DS received
the engine it deserved, although the public seemed unconcerned.
Aerodynamic styling of the future
The Citroen DS was a big car, stretching 189 inches from bumper to
bumper. Its aerodynamic styling was like something from the future and
motorists weren’t accustomed to seeing cars with frameless doors and
without radiator grilles.
The Citroen DS’s chief party trick was its hydropneumatic, self-levelling
suspension. The ride height could be controlled from inside the car and
it meant the DS would give its occupants the feeling they were riding on
a cushion of air.
But that wasn’t all. The Citroen DS – known officially as the DS19 –
featured powered brakes, power steering and a powered gear selection
system. They worked by using high-pressure hydraulic circuits typically
found on an aircraft.
Nobody had a clue how these things worked.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, such complex mechanicals brought with them one
or two issues. Aside from the development team, nobody had any idea how
these things worked. Security had been so tight, Citroen hadn’t thought
to brief the Citroen workshops.
Workshop manuals were required
Many owners found themselves with no steering, brakes, gearbox or
suspension, and would have been stood scratching their heads wondering
what on earth to do to fix the problem. Under the warranty agreements
Citroen had to repair them, so workshop manuals and diagrams were
quickly drawn up.
Some cars were built in Slough, UK.
This caused particular problems in Slough, where Citroen produced a
number of UK-built DSs. Citroen wasn’t keen on releasing details of the
complex suspension system, not even to the factory in Slough. This
didn’t make things easy for Citroen’s UK arm or indeed its customers.
The UK-built Citroen DS cars were subtly different to those built in
France, most notably the number plate holder and Lucas light lenses at
the back of the car. Small changes were also evident on the inside.
Flaminio Bertoni’s interior design for the Citroen DS was nothing short
of brilliant. The signature piece was the single-spoke steering wheel,
which sat in front of a revolutionary thermoplastic dashboard. In the UK
this was created by a vacuum forming process, as opposed to the
injection moulding method used in France.
Waiting lists of 18 months
The Citroen DS19 had hit the ground running. Notwithstanding the rather
lacklustre engine and the initial problems surrounding the hydraulics,
the DS had generated a tremendous amount of goodwill. Waiting lists
extended to 18 months, with motorists desperate to spend quality time
with the Goddess.
But there was a problem. A Citroen DS19 cost £1,726 including purchase
tax, making it more costly than a Mk11 Jaguar (£1,711) and a Rover 105
(£1,696). Such a revolutionary design costs money. But what of those who
didn’t have the means to afford such a car?
The Citroen ID19 was born
Step forward the Citroen ID19, a cheaper alternative to the DS19. It
retained the engine of the DS19, albeit with reduced horsepower, but it
lacked the revolutionary dashboard and the hydraulic brakes, gears and
steering. That said, it did offer the hydropneumatic suspension.
In keeping with the approach to naming adopted for the DS, the ID was
short for ‘Idée’, or ‘Idea’ in French. Naturally, the DS19 was still the
one to have, but hats off to Citroen for making the basic design
accessible to more people.
The Citroen DS Break
The ID had arrived in 1956, but the range grew further in 1958 to
include the DS Break, otherwise known as an estate or station wagon.
These cars were aimed at commercial buyers as well as growing families.
Familiale or Commerciale
The Familiale versions offered three rows of seats, either in 7-seater
or 8-seater guise, while the Commerciale was aimed more at businesses
and artisans. Their practicality was enhanced by a roof rack and a
Citroen DS Decapotable
But the DS didn’t stop there, because in 1958 Citroen bowed to public
pressure by building a Decapotable or cabriolet version. Coachbuilders
had already been making their own versions of a topless DS, so it was
inevitable that Citroen would do the same.
A very expensive version
The DS Decapotable looked stunning, almost as though it was destined to
be a drop-top from the start. But it didn’t come cheap and a price tag
more than double that of a standard car meant that few were produced. A
total of 1,365, in fact.
Amazingly, the Citroen ID19 also enjoyed success in motorsport circles,
including a win in the 1959 Monte Carlo Rally and again in 1966 when the
disqualification of four Mini Coopers resulted in the fourth place
Citroen being propelled to the overall winner.
Citroen DS Pallas
The DS/ID would continue to evolve throughout the 1960s and Citroen
added a range-topping Pallas model. The Pallas featured a host of
external trim upgrades, including full wheel covers, chrome and brushed
aluminium trim and two extra driving lights.
Citroen DS Pallas interior upgrades
The Citroen DS Pallas also featured better noise insulation, luxury
velour upholstery and – if required – optional leather.
A car fit for royalty. Unsurprisingly, the great and the good of France
were keen to be associated with the Citroen DS.
The Citroen DS is also credited with saving the life of President
Charles De Gaulle in 1962. A group called the OAS opened fire on the car
with a hail of 140 bullets. The windows were shattered and all four
tyres were punctured, but, thanks to the suspension system, the DS was
able to be driven away from the scene.
Further engine options arrived in the 1960s, all based on the existing
four-cylinder engine. These included the DS20 and the DS21, with the
latter featuring a 2.1-litre engine capable of a top speed of 108mph.
A facelift for the Citroen DS
The most significant development of the late 1960s was the facelift of
1967. Citroen called in the help of Robert Opron, who also worked on the
Citroen SM, GS and CX. He didn’t have to work too hard on what was
already a stunning piece of design
The key development was the arrival of new headlights, with four lights
mounted behind transparent covers. The outer pair were linked to the
suspension to maintain a level beam regardless of the car’s movement.
The inner lamps swivelled with the steering, something that’s only just
becoming commonplace on cars today.
Swivelling lights were not permitted on cars in the United States, so
US-registered DSs featured a set of four exposed lights that didn’t
swivel. In truth, the DS was never a big seller in the US.
The millionth car
In 1968, Citroen produced the one-millionth DS, a car that was displayed
at the flagship store on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Later it would be
given away as a raffle prize to a lucky 22-year-old student.
Sales in excess of 100,000 units a year
By the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Citroen DS/ID remained incredibly
popular, with sales figures breaking the 100,000 mark in 1967 and 1970.
But there could be no doubt the Goddess was on borrowed time.
The final Citroen DS rolled off the production line on the 24th April
1975. A 20-year lifespan, during which time its popularity never waned
and few cars could match its blend of supreme comfort and technical
Nearly 1.5 million cars built
In total, 1,455,746 DSs and IDs were sold, including cabriolets,
commercial vehicles, rally cars, ambulances and family transport. Of
these, 1,330,755 were built in Paris. An icon of the 20th century?
It is said that the Citroen DS was built 20 years ahead of its time and,
given it remained a technical masterpiece in 1975, this much is
certainly true. Its legacy lived on in the SM, CX, BX, XM and even the
A global icon
The Citroen DS is one of a select number of cars that is recognisable
across the world. Certainly, the fact it was built in France, UK,
Belgium, South Africa, Yugoslavia and Australia may have helped this,
but few cars have enjoyed such universal appeal.
A bonafide classic car
Today, the Citroen DS is a highly sought-after classic car, with values
on the up. The complexity of the hydraulics means that specialist
assistance is often required when keeping them alive, but the rewards
are plain to see.
The automotive hall of fame
Where does the Citroen DS sit in the automotive hall of fame? Up there
with the likes of the Mini, the Beetle, the Jaguar E-Type, the Ford
Model T and the Land Rover. Revolutionary cars that shook the world.
A technical masterpiece
In the UK, the Citroen DS is viewed as a technical masterpiece and a
stunning piece of design. But in its native France, things were
different. To the French, it was simply a form of transport. Bargains
can be sourced if you’re prepared to look for them.
The DS was simply a working machine
Let’s not remember, the Citroen DS didn’t showcase options and
accessories for the sake of it. The DS featured useable technology that
served a real purpose. For all its majesty and grace, the DS was simply
a working machine.
LENGTH: 189.4 in OR 4811 mm
WIDTH: 70.5 in OR 1791 mm
HEIGHT: 57.9 in OR 1471 mm
FRONT/REAR TRACK: 59/51.2 in OR 1,499/1,300 mm
WHEELBASE: 123 in OR 3124 mm
GROUND CLEARANCE: 6.3 in OR 160 mm
DISPLACEMENT: 1911 cm3
POWER: 53 KW @ 4500 RPM
71 HP @ 4500 RPM
71 BHP @ 4500 RPM
TOP SPEED: 87 mph OR 140 km/h
ACCELERATION: 0-62 MPH (0-100 KPH)-
Front Wheel Drive GEARBOX Sequential, 4 Speed
FRONT Discs REAR Drums
TIRE SIZE 165 X 400