“Tout le monde croyait que c’était impossible, sauf un imbécile qui ne le savait pas et qui l’a fait”
Marcel Pagnol (1895 - 1974)
All that was great about Citroën was the DS. The Déesse, Goddess, ID, D Special, Super… call it what you will. Even those who say they don’t like cars have probably had their head turned or crossed the street to look at a DS parked up on the kerb. So unique is its styling, so individual its personality and so intertwined its identity with all the icons of French culture that it almost forces a stereotype in the people who own them, and a certain type of behaviour… as if no example would be quite right without a packet of Gauloises on the dash.
The DS was the ruthless ideal of designers Flaminio Bertoni and André Lefebvre. The detailing is beautiful. From the swivelling headlamps of the later models ('68 onwards) and bonnet treatment surrounded with the detailing of the stainless steel bumpers that fit like a modern car, into the body – to the trumpet-tips on the rear that double as indicators, and the roof sitting atop slim and delicate pillars. The single spoke steering wheel fronting a sculpted dash that could almost be a product of today. And although the DS has been constantly remarked upon for being “ahead of its time”, that cliché is probably not as significant as the fact that it was built until 1975 – and its shape was largely unaltered in that time. In the first week of its launch in 1955, Citroën took almost 80,000 orders for the car… an incredible accomplishment, as these days, if a car is so different to its contemporaries when launched, it would take some time for the market to get used to the idea.
Almost one and a half million examples were produced and sold around the world. The DS is a mechanical and sculptural thing of mystique; a car for some, rolling art for others. It gave Citroën a cult-car, icon and symbol of France’s industrial capability. A truly pioneering motor car, ranked amongst the most influential and widely imitated designs ever produced, the DS remains today a uniquely impressive industrial achievement, prized by collectors and acclaimed by critics as a style icon and cult object.
Rust was the principal killer of most these cars, not so much mechanical failure. Considering the numbers produced, there are very few good original examples to be found. Those that have been saved should be treasured.
When you next see a DS parked up on the kerb, sitting low and concealing its wheels, take a look inside and remember that it is 40 years old at its youngest and 63 at its oldest.