current model Citroens exported to the U. S. are the result of constant
evolution of the DS model in existence now for over fifteen years.
French auto companies are not given to change for the sake of change
and normally when an all new model is introduced it is meant to sell
for a minimum of ten years with only scant changes. The Citroen Car
Company was one of the pioneers in the industry and also one of the
first to use front wheel drive. In the thirties, the front wheel drive
Citroen was introduced and saw duty for many years as everything from
state limousines to Paris taxicabs, When continental industry recovered
from World War ll the venerable square rigged model was due for
retirement after twenty years of production, and years of study went
into the new model. The inventive French engineers are happily blessed
with far more freedom in design than their domestic brethren.
Unhampered by yearly model changes and Madison Avenue's idea of what
good looks are, the French invariably come up with a radical design
predicated on people packaging and performance suited to the needs of
When the Citroen DS 19 was introduced in the
mid fifties, it was truly an all new car. The startlingly different
aerodynamic body design, the revolutionary air/oil suspension system,
the total reliance on hydraulics to move all working parts, and the
continuation of front wheel drive evoked mixed emotions in everyone;
from press to potential customer. The DS came to these shores in 1956.
Distribution points were not plentiful and the model suffered some from
U. S. driving habits and the strangeness of its mechanical components.
Servicemen called it a cross between an engineer's dream and a
plumber's nightmare. The plumbing of course referred to the extensive
piping and series of pumps that kept the hydraulics moving It also
needed a special type of hydraulic fluid and early service problems
were often related to the use of ordinary brake fluid in the rather
sensitive system. But the cadre of owners grew gradually as the Citroen
Car Company expanded its dealer network and service facilities. Today,
of course, the Citroen has been improved vastly from the first DS, but
it still retains the many charmingly different features that first
endeared it to the very loyal and enthusiastic owners.
Who Are The Owners?
The road test survey does not query the owner on his geographical
location or occupation. But the postmarks on the replies indicate
owners in the cities and in the countryside. About 15% of the response
came in with Canadian postmarks and nearly half the replies indicated
residence in the snow country. Citroen owners appear to be an affluent
group: the vast majority listed two or more other cars owned in the
average household of three people. Other makes of cars owned varied
considerably from VW to Cadillac and a high percentage listed the
Citroen as the "First" car, or primary family transport. The most
outstanding clue to the owners was in the response to the query on most
owners enjoy excellent fuel economy with the big car. At the infrequent
gas stops, underhood checking is simple, although the major working
parts are well hidden by the plumbing.
owners appreciate the luxury of the make. An example of these features
is the well padded rear door armrest, the individual ashtrays on the
front seat backs and the extensive padding of the seat back to protect
the rear seat passenger.
Under "Reasons for choosing present car" the ride quality was
the most mentioned factor. Not one survey sheet mentioned cost factor,
although the Citroen is well above the economy level of cost for a new
car. Other reasons for choosing the Citroen include economy of
operation, size, safety factors, unusual appearance, exceptional
comfort, advanced design and functional styling, front wheel drive,
interior spaciousness, disc brakes, and prior ownership of a Citroen.
One reply listed the "Consumers Reports" analysis as a motive for
buying and several owners listed favorable road test reports from
enthusiast magazines as the reasons for investigating the purchase of a
new or used Citroen. An overwhelming 67% had bought their cars new,
while 33% were happy with the used Citroen.
Nearly 22% of the new car owners were driving their second Citroen, and
many of these had first bought a used model and later traded for the
current series of DS Citroens. While a few mentioned the fact that the
car lost a great deal of trade-in value in the first years of
ownership, they still said they would probably buy another Citroen.
These latter replies usually included the fact that Citroen dealers
gave generous trade-in allowances on the older models. It appears that
Citroen owners have a very high degree of loyalty to the car, and as
further investigation proves, they can be fanatic about some of its
features being superior to anything else on the road.
Automotive service is perhaps the biggest gripe today of the American
consumer. No matter what the brand of car, new or used, readers
constantly write about lack of service for their vehicles at the local
dealer. These problems are not confined to either imported or domestic
makes, rather it seems a universally poor situation for any customer. A
few years ago. the owner of a European built car with its metric
sizings expected long delays on parts acquisition, and infrequent
service shops with fewer than half being competent to work on his car.
With the age of computers, parts move with equal ease from Europe,
Japan or Detroit. But the availability at the customer level of parts
and decent service is not much better for the Chevy owner than it is
for the man with a Ferrari. The situation has driven many an owner to
do-it-yourself activity in order to keep his automobile roadworthy. In
light of the current state of automobile repair, how does the Citroen
owner rate his dealer service? His is a highly specialized vehicle with
an abundance of bits and pieces shared with no other conveyance. The
life lines extend to France also, and overseas shipments have been
plagued with various strikes for the past several years.
Citroen has a small but effective network of dealers and authorized
service shops across the nation. An astounding 64% of the survey
replies listed the use of dealer service. Of the 36% that did their own
service, most listed the primary reason as non-availability of service
in their area. The replies often stated that the nearest dealer was
over 100 miles away. Then too, many owners enjoy tinkering with their
Citroen and several listed rather proudly that they did all their own
service although a dealer was nearby. Of those using the dealer
service, 37% rated their Citroen dealer facilities and mechanics as
excellent, and 13% gave it the rating of average. In between these
extremes, 35% said service was good, and 11% commented that service was
A minority 4% listed dealer service as shocking. When queried about
problems with the car, the answers varied. A good percentage,
particularly those with late model Citroens, listed mechanical problems
as very minor or nonexistent. Early replacement things included items
like water pump, hydraulic pump seals, starter motor and generator
(earlier models). Far and away the biggest service problem seemed to be
brakes. Nearly 20% of the replies listed problems with the front disc
brakes. Several mentioned that the front brake pistons seized in under
20,000 miles, but most said that the dealer replacement work was done
under warranty and no further problems had occurred. It is apparent
from this survey that the hydraulic difficulties common to the early DS
and ID models have virtually been eliminated. The replies that listed a
pump problem in particular all listed ownership of a car at least seven
So the dealer service for Citroen Cars receives a very respectable
rating from the owners. Although the very nature of the beast does tend
to bring the owner to the dealer for major repairs, the higher than
average ratings for dealer service are encouraging. Owners complained
about the high cost of the specialized parts, but it didn't seem to
affect their enthusiasm for the vehicle.
Likes And Dislikes
The heart of an owner survey on a given type of car is what they like
and dislike about their choice of transportation. It is an established
fact that the unusual features of the Citroen attract a special breed
of buyer. A discriminating soul; he likes the car for its advanced
ideas and unique appearance. He dares to be different from the herd and
his car resembles nothing else on the U. S. highways. He has considered
other cars in the four to six thousand price range too. Owners list
cars ranging from domestic full-sized, and fully equipped, sedans to
the Mercedes range as other makes under consideration before purchase.
It is interesting that 66% of the owners polled listed Volvo as one of
the makes considered before the final decision was made on the Citroen.
That fact indicates a desire for comfort, roadability and reliability
in the choice of the new car.
It is to be expected that owner's likes follow the trend toward the
features that drew them to the car in the first place. The exceptional
ride and extreme comfort is the most liked feature listed by 32% of the
replies. Then 21% listed the fuel economy, particularly good for a big
car, as their primary joy. The front wheel drive is often mentioned,
the disc brakes and the long wear on the Michelin radial tires are high
points too. Along these lines, owners praise the excellent handling
qualities, fine visibility, the safety of the braking system, and the
high degree of stability on the road. Many mention the engineering of
the air/oil suspension as a most desirable feature. Replies from the
snow belt indicate that owners there are well pleased with the car in
the snow, claiming that it goes over roads easily while most cars are
trapped in their driveways. The luxurious appointments, the fine and
extremely comfortable leather seats, the overall high level of quality
control, the enormous trunk, in short, the total comfort and
convenience of the car are major items for the owners. One
correspondent attached an note to his survey sheet stating, "If Citroen
leased the ID to traveling salesmen for 30 days, 90% of the salesmen
would be driving Citroen exclusively." That note is typical of the
unabashed enthusiasm the owners have for their car. They exhibit almost
missionary zeal in describing the ride and handling qualities. Many
replies list the excellent lights as a big plus and some owners,
obviously Canadian, enthuse about the swiveling headlights that see
around corners. These items are standard on the Citroen in its native
land and some other countries; but vehicular laws in this country
prohibit the use of the device, which is a real pity.
Gasoline mileage is a major consideration for many people today.
Normally if one has a big car, he pays the penalty of poor mileage and
frequent stops for fuel. The Citroen not only has a big 17 gallon gas
tank, but owners report excellent mileage figures as well. They average
23 miles per gallon in town driving and 29 miles per gallon or better
on the open road. Both are exceptional figures for a full size sedan
resting on a 123 inch wheelbase. One item that brought out mixed replies was the question on the car being
weatherproof and dustproof. While 85% said the car was weatherproof.
the 15% that said no were quite expressive as to the leaks. Over 60%
responded that the Citroen was dustproof while 20% replied that
dustproofing was reasonable. Citroen owners were as voluble in their
dislikes as they were in their praise. Nearly half of those polled felt
that the car is under-powered. has poor pickup, and lugs in 4th gear.
Many went on to explain that 4th gear was just not suited for in-town
driving. A high percentage of owners, again undoubtedly from the snow
belts, complained bitterly about body rust and poor paint on the
earlier models. The crowded engine compartment and inaccessibility of
major components for service were cited by owners too. They felt these
factors related to the high cost of repair work. Frequent brake
maintenance and related problems were voiced by 35% of the owners too.
Over 40% mentioned poor ventilation as a disliked factor also. On the
average. the complaints were tempered with an explanation on how the
problem had been cured. The body rust factor apparently is the main,
non-corrected complaint over the years.
The problems of owning a unique vehicle with limited distribution does
not seem to bother the vast majority of Citroen owners. Their
enthusiasm for the car seems to outshine the majority of complaints and
many of the favorable comments would make good ad copy for the company.
In response to the query on probable choice of next car, the incredible
majority of 89% replied that a Citroen would definitely be the next new
car. One fellow commented that his Citroen was an unbeatable road car
and fantastic for winter motoring. A few mentioned the NSU R080 as the
next choice of car, which illustrates the owner's desire to drive
something that is just a bit different from the masses. Many mention
the hope that a higher horsepower engine will appear in the car soon,
but they still list a DS as the next car for the family.
The picture we get of the average owner boils down to a man with more
than one car and a small family. He has a desire for a functional and
comfortable mode of transport, he is above average in income, and
perhaps a bit offbeat in taste. He is eager to describe the attributes
of his choice of car and enjoys communicating with other owners or
people interested in Citroen. Oddly enough, the 11% that would not buy
another Citroen list poor service and mechanical woes as the
outstanding cause of their disillusionment rather than the non-standard
features of the car itself. To further investigate some of these
features, check the road test of the current model Citroen in this
issue of Road Test