CITROEN DS 21
Subtle Changes Update The Classic Gallic Grand Coach
headlights for American consumers fit nicely into the space designed
for the swiveling driving lights ﬁtted inboard on the Citroen in other
countries.Smooth nose is an aid to high speed stability.
Over the years a lot of words have been written about the
weird and wonderful Citroen DS series. The French automobile company
has never been the type to stick to conventional forms when designing
new models. A new car from Citroen is generally expected to have a
model run of at least ten years and most of their vehicles go much
further in longevity on the market. The majority of French cars are
somewhat different that the accepted styling of the moment and French
designers seem to have a free hand with innovative concepts as applied
to cars destined for production. Therefore when Citroen introduced the
revolutionary DS line way back in 1955 it appeared to be far ahead of
its time in concept and actual appearance. From the odd looking, but
aerodynamic body to the heart of the complicated hydropneumatic
suspension system the car was truly new.
Evolution of the model over the years has brought many refinements, but
little actual change from the original ideas. And the DS is still as
different from its competitors in appearance and operation as it was
fifteen years ago.
The current model has a bit bigger engine than the original, but it
remains the four cylinder design that many consider inadequate to power
such a hefty sedan. The nose design has changed a bit too. First, it
was lowered some and lately the single headlights have given way to a
faired in dual set-up that is enhanced by a unique driving light
installation. The driving lights are not legal for use in this country
so domestic consumers are denied the use of the directionally
controlled quartz iodine lamps that swivel about to pick out roadside
hazards. Inside the original Helenca nylon upholstery has given way to
leather coverings on the massive armchairs in the export models. And
for 1970 the rectangular dash panel window and adjacent light switches
and knobs have been supplanted by three round dials that inform the
driver of all conditions in a more conventional manner. Other newer
items are changes in the hardware that operates the seating positions
and the addition of flashers, brake warning lights, three way harness,
etc., to conform to the U. S. federal safety requirements.
Generally speaking though, sliding into the plush surroundings and
sinking gratefully into the deeply cushioned seat reminds the driver of
visiting an old friend who just bought a more modern suit of clothes.
The familiar hiss or sigh from the suspension adjusting to the new
weight load is more like a whisper than an audible annoyance. The view
over the long sloping nose is little changed and the car retains the
really fine visibility factor with its slim door and windshield
pillars. For our test model we chose the manual transmission version of
the 21. The Citromatic model was last tested here, so we returned to
the less costly model for the 1970 evaluation of the current crop of
Citroens. After a brief checkout by the genial folks at the West Coast
Citroen depot, we glided away on the super soft suspension to tackle
the horrendous hazards of the Los Angeles freeways.
fifteen years the Citroen has a classic profile. The body is a good
aerodynamic exercise, and the engineers wishes came before the
designers when the body shape was ﬁnalized.
What's Under The Hood?
In the Citroen, just about everything that moves is under the long
hood. The complete power train for the front driving car is neatly
packed into the nose with space left over for the spare tire, tool kit,
battery, and a spare can of hydraulic fluid. Of course the back of the
engine does protrude into the cockpit forming a neat divider between
the driver and passenger, and it is restricting on leg room should one
want to carry a third party in the front seat. The engine is barely
visible under the maze of plumbing that accommodates all the proper
piping for the hydraulics and the federally required anti-pollution
devices. Servicing does require some special tools, and a plug wrench
is supplied with the car. The quick checks done in a service station
are simple though, since the dip sticks and so forth are right on top
within easy reach.
The engine is a conventional four cylinder, overhead valve, in-line
unit, water cooled with wet liners in a cast iron cylinder block and it
uses a husky five main bearing crankshaft.
the Citroen DS 21 is not designed especially for back country trails,
the adjustable suspension gives it the capability of traversing the
worst roads at reduced speeds.
The latest engine has pushrod operated opposed valves in the light
alloy head and hemispherical combustion chambers. This engine also has
the increased displacement of 2175 cubic
centimeters (132.7 cu. in.) and is over square with a 90 mm bore and an
85.5 mm stroke. The compression ratio is 8.75 to 1 and induction is by
a single dual throat Weber carburetor. Twin exhaust manifolds pair up
ports 1 and 4 and 2 and 3; the pipes meet at the muffler and split to
twin pipes at the rear of the car. Maximum SAE horsepower is listed at
115 at 5750 rpm and the torque figure is 126 ft/ lbs at 4000 rpm.
The four speed manual transmission is fully synchromesh on the forward
gears. The gear pattern is the standard H, and the shift lever is
located on the steering post on the right side. The drive axles have
three-armed homoscinetic universals at the inboard ends which are
a Citroen design; the outboard universals are double Hooke-type joints.
The inboard universals were new just a few years back and replaced a
very complicated and expensive expanding cone center-lock device for
the front wheels. The change called for new stub axles, and the single
lug nut assembly was replaced with a five lug pattern for the wheels
The hydropneumatic suspension system is relatively unchanged by the
years and the mechanics of it have been well explored before. Briefly
the conventional metal springs are replaced with air cushions. Each of
the four independently sprung wheels is linked to a suspension sphere
in which a variable flow of liquid is used to compress a volume of gas.
Automatic height correctors maintain a constant ground clearance
regardless of the load being carried. Also in the cockpit, on the left
side near the floor, is a manual control for the ground clearance. By
moving the lever into various slots the car can be raised and lowered
depending on the conditions of the terrain.
Citroen was one of the first manufacturers to use disc brakes in
production, and to operate the full power system from an engine driven
pump. The car is equipped with inboard discs on the front and outboard
drums on the rear, as it has been since introduction. Presently the
front main caliper is fixed and has a self-adjusting piston at each
side. It is quite a simple matter to change disc pads now. The brake
system has the usual twin circuit and is fully power operated. Special
cooling ducts route extra air to the front brakes and a dash light
signals when excessive pad wear occurs. The parking brake has
independent pads and linkage. The ten inch rear wheel drums are of the
leading and trailing shoe type. Hydraulic pressure is taken from the
rear suspension units and in this fashion it is automatically reduced
as weight is transferred to the front wheels during heavy braking, and
varied in proportion to the load being carried in the car. The power
assisted steering is of the rack and pinion type with a positive feel
under most conditions.
Styling And Appointments
The styling on the Citroen is now classic and as delightfully different
as ever. The body shape has been called everything from beautiful to
downright ugly, and it does remain a matter of personal taste. The
strikingly different body shape is a result of the desire for
aerodynamic smoothness and low drag. The drag coefficient is quoted to
be the lowest of any four door sedan in the world. This is no doubt
true, and it is a function not only of the body shape, but the complete
underpanning of all the underpinnings. For those who express horror or
worse at the strange looks of the Citroen, there is a saying around
automotive circles to the effect that the car gets better looking each
time you drive any distance, motoring along in the solid comfort
afforded by its unique design.
The DS has an integral steel chassis and body frame, but all the body
panels are unstressed and easily detached, a handy feature for major
maintenance or in the unhappy event of a fender smash. In fact, the
entire rear fender must be removed to change the rear tire, and the
whole works slides off with the removal of a single bolt on the rear.
As noted before, the body has changed very slightly over the years, but
the quad headlights do give it a more attractive and purposeful look.
The DS has a new dash panel for the seventies. Round instruments
replace the earlier rectangular panel. Dial on left depicts various
warning lights by use of Gallic cartoons, center speedometer also lists
stopping distance in feet, per federal regs. The tachometer, on the
left, is a welcome item for the enthusiastic driver, and badly needed
for some years.
The interior appointments of the sedan are far more luxurious
in many ways than far more expensive brands of cars. Deeply padded with
foam rubber, the carpeting extends wall to wall and up the firewall.
The leather seats with wrap around head rests on the DS 21 seem to be
lifted directly from some exclusive men's club in London. The padding
is extensive and seats are massive. Fully reclining and adjustable for
height and rake as well as fore and aft, the seats are marvelously
comfortable for anyone regardless of the physique. The rear seats are
done in the same expansive fashion and a center arm rest can be put
away when three people travel in the rear. Usable sized ashtrays are
attached to the outboard ends of the front seat backs, and the whole
rear side of the seat is lavishly padded for the added safety of the
rear passengers. The clever door handles encompass a safety lock on the
opening mechanism and are the same on all four doors. Also on the doors
are huge and heavily padded arm rests and the front doors have leather
covered pockets that hold a good bit of odds and ends. Nice leather
straps hang from the center door posts for the use of faint hearted
The big, ventless windows are well fitting and rattle free. The shape
of the windows is a contributing factor to the lack of wind noise at
highway speeds. In fact, the design there is so well thought out that
one can drive fast with the front windows open and not a hair will be
out of place. If the windows are half up the car must be slowed before
the windows will wind all the way up and fit properly into the rubber
stripping. The windows tend to bow out slightly at speed.
An elaborate heating and ventilating system has the controls' strong
all over the cockpit. Air ducts with adjustable blades are positioned
on the ends of the dash panel. Air flow to the windshield or the body
of the car is controlled by two levers on the hump caused by the back
side of the engine. A round dial is just below the levers to control
the amount of desired heat. There are extra ducts at the base of the
windshield pillar to deliver defrosting air to the side windows, and
the rear window is fitted with impregnated electric wires for quick
defrost in cold climates.
The dash panel is molded in the familiar shape, but British style,
white on black, round dials have replaced the square instruments of the
past. On the left dial are a series of warning lights clued by small
pictures of their function in the Gallic style. The center dial
contains the speedometer with a trip and total mileage counter and the
braking distances are marked in feet on this instrument. On the left is
the long awaited tachometer, and below, depending on the model, is the
usual line-up of toggle switches for windshield washers, wipers, test
lights and so forth. Both the manual or the Citromatic shift lever are
attached to the right side of the steering post, and just in front of
the gear lever is another stalk that actuates the road and parking
light switches, and the high beams; a hefty punch inward on this stalk
produces a raucous blast from the town and country horns. Over on the
left is the turn indicator stalk which sadly is still not a
self-canceling unit. The ignition key slot (key goes in either end up)
is just behind that on the left, and the rather antique starter button
is on the right side of the post. The steering wheel is space age
looking with a single spoke; it is quite a safety item and part of the
original design. The good sized ash tray and cigarette lighter are
located near the center of the panel and on top of the right hand
section of the dash is a smallish but adequate glove box.
Three point shoulder harness is installed on U.S. bound cars. We found
it to be comfortable, which is rather rare these days. Of course it
took a while to get the hang of the relatively tricky adjusting
mechanism on the belts, but they could be made to fit quite well. On
the DS most of the controls are well positioned for the driver's use,
but it does take a bit of orientation to become accustomed to all the
knobs that are labeled in the Continental fashion with pictures of
their function. One of the most unusual features of the Citroen is the
foot controls. The semi-automatic, of course, has no clutch pedal, but
our manual shift test unit had the ordinary clutch pedal in the usual
place. Over on the right a skinny metal faced accelerator pedal is
perfectly usable too. But between these two pedals is an odd, round,
rubber faced button that looks like an oversized dimmer switch. This
folks, is the brake pedal, and with the power boost it is overly
sensitive at first feel. It does take only a bit of pressure from the
big toe to stand the 21 on its nose. The driver does get used to the
brake pedal after a bit, but most drivers would prefer a more normal
device for such a critical function.
On The Road
Most of the desirability of any car for the thinking driver is in its
performance. How does it go on the road and in traffic, and does it
have enough power to cope with domestic demands in driving. Many
imported cars are viewed as a handy second car for running to the
market, taking the kids to school, and other similar chores. But the
family car must hold the whole clan in comfort, hold enough luggage for
the vacation trip, and handle the interstate highway speeds without
complaint. There are not many of the larger sedans from foreign shores
that are equal to these demands. The Citroen effects a compromise
between the two worlds. Now the DS with its curb weight of nearly 3,000
pounds and a small four cylinder, 115 horse-power engine is not a
sparkling performer at the drag strip by any means. The standing
quarter mile, on the manual shift model, comes out in the middle 20
second bracket. Top speed also is around 100 mph, but it does take a
fair amount of time and road to get there, especially the last 10 mph.
However, the average driver of a four door sedan seldom runs it on the
drag strip and he rarely has the occasion to cruise at 100 per. Still
the accelerative values of a car are important in the hectic day to day
driving of the average motorist. In acceleration the DS 21 is neither
close to the best or absolutely the worst. Like many relatively
underpowered vehicles, the DS must be
Suspension height adjuster is handy for the driver. Lever is pictured
on "normal" drive height. The extremes of low and high settings are
used only in extremely rough terrain (high) and changing a tire (high
stirred vigorously through the gears to get the best performance from a
dead stop. But, once rolling the car performs admirably and its low
drag body contributes heavily to effortless cruising at turnpike speeds.
The DS is right at home on secondary roads. Remember that most French
roads, other than the Autoroute, are really poor by American standards.
On less than perfect surfaces the Citroen really shines as its
suspension soaks up all kinds of road shocks. The handling is really
fine too. There are few cars of any size as sure footed as the Citroen.
The front drive and the good weight distribution coupled with the
standard equipment Michelin radial tires combine to give the car
excellent handling on twisty roads, on any surface, and in any kind of
weather. The power steering can feel a bit notchy on really tight
turns, but on the whole the car handles without the very heavy feel so
common to many front drive vehicles.
Braking action is quite good also in the wet or dry. The power system
for the brakes, suspension, and steering has a built in security
device. The system is phased so that in the event of failure,warning is
given first by heavy steering, second by the suspension sinking, and
finally, after a number of applications, failure of the power
assistance to the brakes. Of course there is the brake warning light to
also warn of low pressure, but Citroen's progressive system ante-dated
the lights by many years. Another kind of nifty safety device is the
button under the handbrake ratchet bar: it can be turned to lock the
brake so that anyone merely trying to release the handle would ﬁnd the
hand brake unmovable.
A nice feature of the DS on the road is the restful, bounce and pitch
free ride enjoyed by the rear seat passengers. The exceptional
directional stability of the car and the suspension compensation keeps
all the occupants comfy regardless of the type of road. There is little
tire roar or road noise either, but the engine is quite audible when it
is working hard.
There is another handy item in the huge trunk with its enormous
carrying capacity. Unhampered by a rear drive unit, the entire space is
devoted to luggage and the seventeen gallon gas tank is located forward
of the trunk under the rear window. Speaking of the rear window,
another slick thing about the Citroen is this: when the trunk lid is
open, it is still easy to see through the rear window using the center
mounted rear view mirror.
Foot controls are certainly different from most. Clutch pedal is
somewhat standard, but accelerator is skinny and metal faced. Center
button is power brake pedal and quite sensitive.
ABOVE Safety feature on the hand brake is positive,. unreleasable lock when tiny screw is turned to the left.
|ABOVE Fresh air vents on either side of the dash have myriad adjustments to control air flow.
RIGHT Front doors hold husky
armrests and a handy door pocket for small items needed on the road.
Bright metal kickplate protects the leather upholstery.
The DS 21 Citroen is certainly a controversial vehicle, loved wildly by
its devotees and scorned by many as too radical to be practical
transport. Naturally its many strange engineering and design features
are the very things that endear it to the loyal fans and owners. The
real buff revels in the very differences that can make service a hard
to find and expensive proposition.
We found the car to be practical transport. It holds five adults and
their impedimentia in exceptional comfort, performs with reasonable
spirit on the road, rides like nothing else on four wheels, and gets
over 23 miles to the gallon of premium gasoline. After a week behind
the wheel of the Citroen, any other automotive seat begins to look and
feel like a sixteenth century torture rack. But the drawbacks to owning
a sparsely distributed vehicle heavily laced with highly specialized
parts are something to be considered. Depending on the options the
Citroen costs between four and five thousand five hundred bucks. That
is a considerable investment for any car buyer. The DS is a big car
even by American standards with its 123 inch wheelbase. But the overall
length is near to the domestic intermediates at 196.5 inches. There is
not much overhang on the Citroen which makes it appear smaller than it
is from some angles. The performance is adequate, but less than most
sedans in its price range. However, inside there is spacious head and
leg room, and the rich trim gives an aura of luxury beyond its price.
The lasting impression gained from the DS 21 is of the great comfort
and the complete "differentness." Everyone likes the car much better
after becoming accustomed to its many oddities. It is packed with
strange and wondrous details, and offers the very best in relaxed and
level ride motoring. It is truly one of those cars that must be
evaluated by the individual, and it must be driven for a goodly
distance before it can be fully appreciated.
The huge trunk will accommodate golf carts or grandmother’s trunk.
Electric defrost is standard on the rear window, and notice the
visibility out the back window with the trunk lid raised. Lights on the
roof are the highly visible turn indicators.
RIGHT The Citroen has many
unique mechanical features. For instance the front disc brakes are
mounted inboard, and the brake is accessible for service from the top.
In fact the pad can be changed in just a few minutes without ever
getting under the car.
BELOW LEFT The engine compartment is stuffed with plumbing. The engine itself
rides back toward the firewall. Large air cleaner and air injection
pump (over the alternator) handle the air pollution controls. Entire
power train is up front as is the spare tire and tool kit. Large
cannister, bottom left is fluid raservoir for extensive hydraulics.
BELOW RIGHT The DS 21 is
completely underpanned, a feature that adds to its aerodynamic
qualities and quietness of operation. The air intakes for the radiator
and brakes are visible under the nose and the rest of the car's
underbody is smooth except for the exhaust system.
Citroen DS-21 Data in Brief
Overall length (in.)
Tread (front, in.)
Tread (rear, in.)
Fuel tank capacity (gal.)
Luggage capacity (cu. ft.)
Turning diameter (ft.)
four cylinder, in-line, water cooled, OHV
Displacement (cu. in.)
Horsepower (at 5750 rpm)
Torque (lb./ft. at 4000 rpm)
WEIGHTS, TIRES, BRAKES
180 x 15 Michelin XH radial
Brakes, front (inboard)
Brakes, rear (outboard)
independent , parallel semi-leading arms, hydropneumatic struts with height control anti-roll bar
independent , single trailing arms, hydropneumatic struts with height, anti-roll bar
Standing 1/4 mile (sec.)
Speed at end of 1/4 mile (mph)
Braking (from 60 mph ft.)
don't know who wrote this piece but his command of English, even by the
standards of the day, strikes me as being odd. Prepositions
followed by commas, British spelling of 'cigarette', misunderstanding
of how the car operated and errors like "hydropneumatic struts with
height, anti-roll.." in the data table, coupled with the badly cropped
profile picture and the Citromatic dash picture when the car being
tested was a manual make me wonder whether he had actually driven the
1970 Road Test/2017 CitroŽnŽt