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Citröen DS: In suspension - the really completely different car

Citröen DS in the driving report
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E s is the hiss. That unmistakable hissing sound that sounds familiar and instantly brings back memories. Pfffft sounds from somewhere in the depths of the steering column as soon as the steering wheel is turned a little. And pfffft again when the wheel then returns to its center position.

Anything but ordinary

The last drive in a Citroën DS was ten years ago, more than 20 those first. And with the first puff, the feeling of being on the road in one of the most extraordinary cars that makes every kilometer an experience is there again. Certainly, such superlatives usually thrive on the breeding ground of egoism, can almost always be exchanged at will and are in truth more wish than reality. But if a series car - which has been produced millions of times - is extraordinary, it is the Citroën DS. Or the DS for short, as the extravagant vehicle is called by its enthusiasts - perhaps because in France cars are basically female. And because the abbreviation DS sounds like the French word Déesse, in German the goddess. Well, female. And also a little divine.

Pfffft it sounds again the next time you turn the steering wheel, gender-neutral, neither male nor female. With every hiss, the DS tells its driver about its wondrous technical inner workings, which the engineers at Citroën called hydropneumatics 50 years ago - a hydraulic high-pressure system that supports almost all essential assemblies except for the engine.

High-pressure brake and strange balls

It was a DS of a good friend who was allowed to serve as one of the first vehicles shortly after passing the driver's license. That friend didn't tell me about the steering wheel back then, but he did point out the brakes. As an example of the late DS generation, its goddess already had a conventional brake pedal, but the high-pressure brake only allows a minimal, barely perceptible pedal travel. How hard you brake does not depend on the pedal travel, but solely on the pressure on the pedal.

Unusual, yes, but also easy to get used to. Even the novice driver quickly found his way around the DS. A lot is extraordinary in this car, and the 1966 DS 19 Pallas, which is ready for the anniversary photo session, makes this clear again: the strangely upright seating position, the huge bonnet in front of theWindshield stretched out towards the next bend, the steering wheel gearshift and the elegantly curved instrument panel.

And, of course, the driving comfort. With almost arrogant ignorance, the chassis of the DS soaks up annoying bumps, hardly allows them to penetrate to the occupants and does not answer even a common pothole with a startling hop, but only with an acoustically audible blow from the depths of the chassis. Meanwhile, the body of a DS remains stoically balanced in such situations.

To make this happen, the Citroën designers said goodbye to conventional chassis construction half a century ago. The cars from France in particular were not uncomfortable before. But the DS set a new standard. Instead of screws or leaf springs and shock absorbers, strange balls were used in this car for the first time. A membrane in the balls separates a gas from the oil filling. Using a piston and hydraulic lines, this, together with the trailing arms of the wheels, ensures freedom of movement during compression.

Shift lever starts the engine

Hydraulic pressure not only supports the suspension and steering, but also the braking system and even the gearshift. This requires some rethinking in terms of operation. For example when starting. The ignition is still activated in DS 19 via a key, but nothing more. To start the engine, you need the gearshift lever - and it protrudes like a slim fountain pen from the tin console that surrounds the steering column.

If this lever is pushed to the left, the starter starts, then the gear changes are made using the same lever. But not as usual either, because the clutching and engaging of the gears are hydraulic. For every gear change, the little stick, combined with a short release of the accelerator, only needs to be moved a few millimeters further, and the next gear engages. Even when it comes to handling, convenience is the focus: you can easily switch between levels with two fingers without taking your hand off the steering wheel.

Driving like on clouds

The driver and front passenger are not only happy about the soft and comfortable seats at the front, the best place is in the rear: the legroom at the rear is simply great. And if, as in the luxurious Pallas version, particularly soft carpets are laid on the floor, the passengers feel as if they are on clouds as soon as they get on. The incomparable comfort of the DS does not only benefit the occupants, as I know from my uncle Willi. He visited the family frequently in the sixties, and as a driver he provided the material for his own story, which the scripts of this world can hardly write more beautifully.

Uncle Willi was a sales representative. For chinaware - and that's why Uncle Willi drovea DS. The hydropneumatics will have prevented many a pile of broken glass in the trunk, not to mention the convenience for the busy sales representative. Uncle Willi, the porcelain dealer, and his DS are an example of how cars become part of stories that are passed on over decades and create associations. Beyond personal life there are countless examples: What would the legendary Fantomas crime series from television be without the DS, with which Louis de Funès, as Commissioner Juve, started chases after the crook Fantomas? And where once the DS was even given wings so that the goddess should soar effectively into the air?

Blender par excellence turns into a splendid specimen

During the photo session at the Westphalian Industrial Museum Heinrichshütte in Hattingen, however, the DS should stay safely on the ground. The light blue-gray painted copy is flawless. As if it had just come out of the window of a Citroën dealer. But that was 39 years ago, and when Jan Dersch bought the DS 19 Pallas in the early 1990s, the reality was different.

Bought by phone on recommendation, the limousine turned out to be a blender par excellence. Actually, the then black limousine would hardly have been suitable for cannibalizing. But the disillusionment sometimes leads to an unexpected thirst for action. 'I had been looking for just such a specimen for a long time,' remembers Dersch - and didn't want to give up. The special feature: the limousine from November 1966 belongs to a series of the DS 19, which is equipped with a classic front section with simple headlights, but the newer generation of hydropneumatics with green hydraulic fluid.

Price of Perfection: Ten Years Work

Together with an acquaintance, Dersch started restoring . It was the beginning of an odyssey that lasted ten years and that would have driven many others to despair. Not so the DS owner, who restored the DS 19 true to the original with the utmost meticulousness. Even the rear axle is painted in exactly the same color as it was in the Citroën production hall on the Quai de Javel in the west of Paris.

That this DS devoured several times its actual market value during the restoration can be seen probably only bear it if you've burned the double angle in your forehead like Jan Dersch. Even as a child, his dad transported him in the DS.

Presentation to the bosses of Renault, Peugeot and Panhard

And the DS was not a car like the others - as it was already shown at the premiere 50 years ago. At that time France had experienced the test flights of the Caravelle, the Grande Nation's first passenger jet. The politicians in Paris also made the fundamental decision to introduce a motorway toll. Citroën had understood the new model until shortly beforeParis Salon to be kept a secret at the beginning of October 1955. Three days before the salon, those responsible even got out for a psychological knockout blow of a special quality. They invited the gentlemen of the valued competition to a presentation in a small, exclusive circle.

Jean-Pierre Peugeot was there, Paul Panhard and Pierre Lefaucheux, the Renault boss at the time. Unfortunately, what the three gentlemen said at the time about Citroën's latest coup has not been passed down. That may be because they were simply speechless.

12,000 orders on the day of the presentation

Then the DS was presented to the dealers - with vehement reactions. A salesman from Dreux, armed only with a brochure, collected 50 sales contracts from his customers within five hours that same evening. When the Paris Salon opened its doors on October 6, 1955, 12,000 orders were received that day; at the end of the exhibition there were 80,000 - which car has ever made such a brilliant start at its premiere?

This was followed by 20 years of production, which did not change the character of the DS, but made the competition more modern. 30 years on, the DS remains an experience that brings back many memories. It's great that they created this car 50 years ago, with its characteristic hissing sound in the steering, funny rubber mushroom on the floor and unique suspension comfort that made not only porcelain dealers like Uncle Willi happy.


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