The French are known for doing things their own way, even if their way seems unique to the point of inscrutability. Though eating snails is fine for some, giving French engineers a blank check to rethink the automobile might have proven a dangerous proposition. But that’s just what Citroen did when they developed an all-new sedan in the early 1950s.
Set free to reinvent the car, Citroen engineers and designers set to work on a blank sheet. They didn’t disappoint their hopeful bosses. Some sixty years later, their creation still looks like it’s straight out of tomorrow. Is there another car besides the DS that can make that claim?
Advanced features of the 1955 Citroen DS:
- Low drag aerodynamic body
- Height adjustable suspension—raise it for fording streams, lower it for highway runs
- Central hydraulic system for steering, transmission, suspension, and brakes
- Unique hydrolastic liquid suspension
- Safety recessed single-spoke steering wheel
- Front wheel drive
- Power disc brakes – first on a mass produced car
- Weight-saving fiberglass roof
- Rear turn signals mounted at eye level on C pillars
- Rear track narrower than front for reduced under steer and improved aerodynamics
Complete with its Flamio Bertoni designed, wind tunnel refined body, Citroen’s DS became famous for a "floating on a cloud" ride due to its unique hydro-pneumatic or as Citroen called it, a “hydrolastic” suspension. Introduced at the 1955 Paris Motor Show, the radical new sedan garnered 12,000 orders the first day. It was so startlingly new that philosopher Roland Barthes wrote a rhapsodic essay describing it as looking "as if it had fallen from the sky."
A DS saved the life of French President Charles De Gaulle when he was attacked by assassins who shot out two of its tires, the car’s unique suspension allowed it to maintain its attitude and drive him to safety.
Over its twenty years of production, the DS was built as a coachbuilt convertible, station wagon, and de-contented "ID" model. It was named most beautiful car of all time by Classic & Sports Car magazine in a poll of top auto designers and placed fifth in Automobile Magazine's list of 100 Coolest Cars. The DS placed third in a 1999 "Car of the Century" competition that judged the most influential designs. Nearly a million and a half DS were produced before the Citroen CX replaced it, starting in 1974.
Citroen's DS remains an affordable classic for collectors with long production run that ensures parts availability. However, the DS’s complex, unique engineering makes maintenance and repairs specialized endeavors. Early on, the DS was nicknamed "The Goddess.” That’s appropriate, as owning one can expose owners to the glories and challenges of marrying a deity.
Written by Jim Cherry