The Citroën DS (also known as Déesse, or Goddess, after the punning initials in French) is an executive car that was produced by the French manufacturer Citroën between 1955 and 1975. Citroën sold nearly 1.5 million D-series during its 20 years of production. The DS is well-known for its futuristic, aerodynamic body design, styled by the Italian sculptor and industrial designer Flaminio Bertoni, and for its innovative technology, including its hydropneumatic self-leveling suspension system.
The DS advanced the achievable standards in terms of ride quality, roadholding, handling and braking in an automobile. The DS came in third in the 1999 Car of the Century competition, recognizing the world's most influential auto designs. Winner and second place went to the Ford Model T and the Mini.
Far from being just a fascinating technology in search of a purpose, contemporary journalists were effusive in noting how the DS dramatically pushed the envelope in the ride vs. handling compromise possible in a motor vehicle.
To a France still deep in reconstruction after the devastation of World War II, and also building its identity in the post-colonial world, the DS motor car was a symbol of French ingenuity. It defied virtually every automotive design convention of that era.
It also posited the nation's relevance in the Space Age, during the global race for technology of the Cold War. Structuralist philosopher Roland Barthes, in an essay about the car, said that it looked as if it had "fallen from the sky".
The high price tag, however, hurt general sales in a country still recovering from World War II 10 years earlier, and a cheaper submodel, the ID (another pun: in French, Idée, or Idea), was introduced in 1957. The ID shared the same body with the DS, but had more traditional features under the hood. It had no power steering (though this was added as an option later), and instead of the hydraulically controlled manual transmission and clutch, it had a conventional clutch and transmission. Interestingly, the first model series was called 11D, a clear reminder of the last model of the Traction Avant, the 11C. A station wagon variant, the ID Break, was introduced in 1958.
Outside of France, the car's radical and Cosmopolitan design appealed to non-conformists. A United States advertisement summarised this selling point: "It takes a special person to drive a special car".
Throughout its model lifetime, the DS managed to remain ahead of its time. It featured power disc brakes, a hydropneumatic suspension including an automatic levelling system and variable ground clearance, power steering and a semi-automatic transmission, and a fiberglass roof which reduced weight transfer. Inboard front brakes (as well as an independent suspension) reduced unsprung weight. Different front and rear track widths and tire sizes reduced the understeer typical of front-engined and front-wheel drive cars.
As with all French cars, the DS design was affected by the tax horsepower system, which effectively mandated very small engines. Unlike the Traction Avant predecessor, there was no top-of-range model with a powerful six cylinder engine.
Despite the rather leisurely acceleration afforded by its small four-cylinder engine, the DS was successful in motorsports like rallying, where sustained speeds on poor surfaces are paramount, and won the Monte Carlo Rally in 1959 and 1966.
The DS placed fifth on Automobile Magazine "100 Coolest Cars" listing in 2005.
At a time when few passenger vehicles had independent suspension on all wheels, the application of the hydraulic system to the car's suspension system to provide a self-levelling system was an innovative move. This suspension allowed the car to achieve sharp handling combined with very comfortable ride quality, frequently compared to a "magic carpet". The system used – hydropneumatic suspension – was pioneered the year before, on the rear of another car from Citroën, the top of range Traction Avant 15CV-H.
The DS was a large, expensive executive car and a downward brand extension was attempted, but without result. Throughout the late 1950s and 1960s Citroën developed many new vehicles for the very large market segments between the 2CV and the DS, occupied by vehicles like the Peugeot 403, Renault 16 and Ford Cortina. None made it to production. Either they had uneconomic build costs, or were ordinary "me too" cars, not up to the company's high standard of innovation. Because Citroën was owned by Michelin as a sort of research laboratory, such experimentation was possible. Citroën finally did introduce the clever Citroën GS in 1970, which sold a spectacular 2.5 million units.
Citroën invested enormous resources to design and launch an entirely new vehicle in 1970, the Citroën SM, which was a thoroughly modernized, much wider, version of the DS.
The SM construction was conceptually similar to the DS: a platform frame with many pieces spotwelded together, mid-engine, front wheel drive, detachable front fenders, hydropneumatic suspension, rear fender skirts, and trailing arm rear suspension. On the SM, the roof and rear quarter panels were welded on. Few parts are directly interchangeable between the two cars, but the DS and SM were both assembled on the same production lines in Paris. Unlike the DS, the factory never authorized a convertible model, since Citroën felt the roof was integral to the structure of the SM.
The SM had to fulfill another purpose beyond just upgrading the DS however - it also had to launch Citroën into a new Grand Touring market segment. This meant that unlike the DS, the SM was not designed to be a practical 4-door sedan suitable as a large family car, the key market for vehicles of this type in Europe. Typically, manufacturers would introduce low volume coupés based on parts shared with an existing sedan, not as unique models - a contemporary example being the Mercedes-Benz SLC-Class. The SM's high price, driven by the Maserati engine and limited utility of the 2+2 configuration, meant the SM as actually produced could not seize the mantle from the DS.
The DS was finally phased out in 1976 after 1,455,746 cars were produced. The DS was replaced in the model range by the CX.
Australia constructed their own D variant in the 1960s at Heidelberg, Victoria. These are identified as the ID 19 "Parisiene." Australian market cars were all fitted with options as standard equipment like the "DSpecial DeLuxe" that were never available on domestic European models.
British built cars are distinguished by their leather seats, wooden dashboards, and Lucas made electrics.
Within some parts of the former Yugoslavia, DS sedans are still in normal use as taxis.
While the DS was a hit in Europe, it seemed rather odd in the United States. Ostensibly a luxurious car, it did not have the basic features that buyers of that era expected to find on such a vehicle - fully automatic transmission, air conditioning, power windows and a reasonably powerful V8 engine instead of a relatively modest 4-cylinder inline engine. The DS price point was similar to the contemporary Cadillac luxury car. Also, people at the time wanted only the newest models, which changed every year, like fashions, while the DS appeared vaguely derivative of the 1950 Hudson Hornet step-down design.
Outdated US legislation also banned one of the car's more advanced features, aerodynamic headlamps, now common in US automobiles. The first year of aerodynamic glass enclosing the DS's headlights, along with driving lights turned by the steering, was also the first year those features were outlawed in the US. The VW Beetle and Jaguar XKE had aerodynamic faired glass over their (fixed) headlights until the same time.
The DS was sold in the United States from 1956 to 1972. Ultimately, 38,000 units were sold.
A station wagon version was introduced in 1958. It was known by various names in different markets (Break in France, Safari and Familiale in the UK, Wagon in the US, and Citroën Australia used the terms Safari and Station-Wagon). It had a steel roof to support the standard roof rack.
In September 1962, the DS was restyled with a more aerodynamically efficient nose, better ventilation and other improvements. It retained the open two headlamp appearance, but was available with an optional set of driving lights mounted on the front fenders. In 1965 a luxury upgrade kit, the DS Pallas (after Greek goddess Pallas), was introduced. This included comfort features such as better noise insulation, leather upholstery and external trim embellishments.
In 1967, the DS and ID was again restyled. This version had a more streamlined headlamp design, giving the car a notably shark-like appearance. This design had four headlights under a smooth glass canopy, and the inner set swivelled with the steering wheel. This allowed the driver to see 'around' turns, especially valuable on twisting roads driven at high speed at night.
However, this feature was not allowed in the US at the time (see World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations), so a version with four exposed headlights that did not swivel was made for the US market.
The station wagon edition, the Break (called the ID Safari on the UK market) and "Familiale", was also upgraded. The hydraulic fluid changed in all markets (except the US) to the technically superior LHM (Liquide Hydraulique Minérale).
Rarest and most collectible of all DS variants, a convertible was offered from 1958 until 1973. The convertibles were built in small series by French carrossier Henri Chapron, for the Citroën factory. The DS convertibles used the break (station wagon) frame, which was reinforced on the sidemembers and rear suspension swingarm bearing box.
In addition, Chapron also produced a few coupés, non-works convertibles and special sedans (DS Lorraine for instance).
The DS did not have a jack for lifting the car off the ground. Instead, the hydraulic system enabled wheel changes with the aid of a simple adjustable stand. To change a flat tyre, one would adjust the suspension to its topmost setting, insert the stand into a special peg near the flat tyre, then readjust the suspension to its lowermost setting. The flat tyre would then retract upwards and hover above ground, ready to be changed. This system, used on the SM also, was superseded on the CX by a screw jack that, after the suspension was raised to the high position, lifted the tire a fraction of an inch off the ground. The DS system, while impressive to use, sometimes dropped the car quite suddenly, especially if the stand was not placed precisely or the ground was soft or unlevel.
Briefly illegal in the United States (US federal law required motor vehicle brake systems to use DoT approved brake fluid - an exception had to be granted to Citroën), LHM has since been adopted by manufacturers like Rolls-Royce, Jaguar, BMW, and Audi under various labels, like "Total," "Pentosin," and others.
LHM required completely different materials for the seals. Using either fluid in the incorrect system would completely destroy the hydraulic seals very quickly. To help avoid this problem, Citroën added a bright green dye to the LHM fluid and also painted all hydraulic elements bright green. The former LHS parts were painted black.
Several different hydraulic pumps were used. The DS used a seven-cylinder axial piston pump driven off two belts and delivering 175 bar of pressure. The ID19, with its simpler hydraulic system, had a single cylinder pump driven off an eccentric on the cam.
The mechanical aspects of the gearbox and clutch were completely conventional and the same elements were used in the ID 19. The gear change control though, consisted of: a hydraulic gear selector, and clutch control. The speed of engagement of the clutch was controlled by: a centrifugal regulator sensing engine rpm and driven off the camshaft by a belt, the position of the butterfly valve in the carburettor (i.e. the position of the accelerator), and the brake circuit. When the brake was pressed, the engine idle speed dropped to a rpm below the clutch engagement speed, thus preventing friction while stopped in gear at traffic lights. When the brake was released, the idle speed increased to the clutch dragging speed. The car would then "creep" much like automatic transmission cars. This drop in idle throttle position also caused the car to have more engine drag when the brakes were applied even before the car slowed to the idle speed in gear, preventing the engine from "pulling" against the brakes.
The DS was designed around an air cooled flat six based on the design of the 2 cylinder engine of the 2CV, similar to the motor in the Porsche 911. Technical and monetary issues forced this idea to be scrapped.
Thus, for such a modern car, the engine of the original DS 19 was also old-fashioned. It was derived from the engine of the 11CV Traction Avant (models 11B and 11C). It was an OHV four-cylinder engine with three main bearings and dry liners, and a bore of and a stroke of , giving a volumetric displacement of 1911 cc. The cylinder head had been reworked; the 11C had a reverse-flow cast iron cylinder head and generated at 3800 rpm; by contrast, the DS 19 had an aluminium cross-flow head with hemispherical combustion chambers and generated at 4500 rpm. Apart from these details, there was very little difference between the engines: even the locations of the cylinder head studs were the same, so that it was possible to put the cylinder head of a DS on a Traction Avant engine and run it.
Like the Traction Avant, the DS had the gearbox mounted in front of the engine, with the differential in between. Thus the DS is a really a mid engine front wheel drive car. It initially had a four-speed transmission and clutch, operated by a hydraulic controller. To change gears, the driver flicked a lever behind the steering wheel to the next position and eased-up on the accelerator pedal. The hydraulic controller disengaged the clutch, engaged the nominated gear, and re-engaged the clutch. Manual transmission control was a lower-cost option. The later and simpler ID19 also had the same gearbox and clutch, manually operated. In the 1970s a five-speed manual and 3-speed fully-automatic Borg-Warner gearbox were introduced, in addition to the original four-speed unit.
The DS and ID powerplants evolved throughout its 20 year production life. The car was underpowered and faced constant mechanical changes to boost the performance of the four-cylinder engine. The initial 1911 cc 3 main bearing engine (carried forward from the Traction Avant) of the DS 19 was replaced in 1965 with the 1985 cc 5 bearing motor of the DS 19a (called DS20 from September 1969).
The DS 21 was also introduced for model year 1965. This was a 2175 cc, 5 main bearing engine. This engine received a substantial increase in power with the introduction of Bosch electronic fuel injection for 1970, making the DS one of the first mass-market cars to use electronic fuel injection.
Lastly, 1973 saw the introduction of the 2347 cc engine of the DS 23 in both carbureted and fuel injected forms. The DS 23 with electronic fuel injection was the most powerful production model, producing .
IDs and their variants went through a similar evolution, generally lagging the DS by about one year. ID models never received the DS 23 engine or fuel injection. The DS was offered with a number of transmission options, including the "Hydraulique" 4-speed semi-automatic, 4-speed and 5-speed manuals and a 3-speed Borg-Warner full-automatic. The full-automatic transmissions were intended for the US market, but as Citroën withdrew from the US in 1972, the year of highest US sales, due to constrictive road rules, most automatic DSs, being the DS 23 EFI sedans with air conditioning, were sold in Australia.
In the post-World War II environment of the 1950s, the DS was a significant advertisement for French manufacturing and ingenuity. President Charles de Gaulle praised the unusual abilities of his unarmoured DS with saving his life during the assassination attempt at Petit-Clamart on 22 August 1962 planned by Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry — the shots had blown two of the tires, but the car could still escape at full speed. This event was accurately recreated for The Day of the Jackal.
Other famous owners of the DS include actor Alec Guinness, painter Marc Chagall, Pope John XXIII, historian the 3rd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, singer Jane Child (who wrote a song about her own DS, entitled "DS21"), and actress Brigitte Bardot.
The iconic shape of the DS continues to lead to its use in a number of popular music videos, TV series and films; the car is the titular subject of the film The Goddess of 1967.
The DS's beloved place in French society was demonstrated in Paris on 9 October 2005 with a celebration of the 50th anniversary of its launch. 1,600 DS cars drove in procession past the Arc de Triomphe.
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