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A highly subjective view of the DS


The DS has become something of a style icon, representing as it does, the optimism experienced in post-war Europe. It was built at a time when technology was seen as the solution rather than the cause of the world's problems. The DS was also a manifestation of the pride which France took in her desire to be seen as one of the major world powers, able to compete on an equal footing with the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and China. The legacy of the DS includes the SM, GS, CX, BX, XM and Xantia, all of which feature high pressure hydraulic systems which are employed for the suspension and, according to the model, to provide assistance for the brakes and steering. Hydraulic control of the clutch and gearchange was not carried forward into any of these other models however. As far as styling is concerned, there have been no imitators although nearly all motor manufacturers have followed CitroŽn's lead in placing varying degrees of importance on aerodynamics. The DS's roadholding and handling have become legendary and it is only in the last decade or so that other manufacturers have managed to catch up.

The DS was not without its faults. A heavy foot and heavy hand resulted in uncomfortable progress - the very soft suspension caused pitching under acceleration and braking; that beautiful shape rendered the car's extremities invisible; the interior mirror, mounted as it was on the scuttle impeded forward visibility; the semi automatic gearchange could be ponderous; the engines had a reputation for longevity but were low on power and refinement; the bodywork was rust prone; the complex lighting arrangements on the later models could easily go out of adjustment and yet despite all this, there are few cars that are its equal when the going gets tough (and most of those that can equal it are also CitroŽns). In its homeland, the DS was not considered to be a piece of auto exotica - it was normal transport for the enlightened. 

On the deserted, poorly surfaced roads of France in the fifties and sixties its lack of acceleration was not a problem; lesser cars would be obliged to slow for corners and potholes where the DS would serenely glide past travelling some 50 kph faster than cars with greater straight line performance. Andrť CitroŽn himself realised that the key to high average speeds is not power per se but roadholding and predictable handling. If the car was lacking in power, its superb aerodynamics allowed it to achieve a top speed far higher than one might imagine possible. Furthermore, the cruising speed was the same as the top speed. 

The DS has won the hearts and minds of people all over the world in a way that few others have managed - the others being the CitroŽn 2 CV, Volkswagen Beetle and Jaguar E Type (XKE). And this is perhaps the unique attraction of the Goddess - she appealed, indeed still appeals to both the intellect and sense of aesthetics of her worshippers. The DS was way ahead of its time - indeed were a car to be launched today featuring all the technology introduced in 1955, it would be considered to be avant-garde. 


Features included:-
  • Self levelling, variable rate hydropneumatic suspension (this allows consistent suspension behaviour irrespective of the load carried or its distribution, a constant angle of attack which means that aerodynamic efficiency and headlamp beam aim do not alter according to load). The suspension system also featured a variable ground clearance facility which enabled the car to traverse surfaces normally denied to all but 4 x 4 vehicles and also facilitated wheel changing
  • Fully powered braking system with automatic compensation of braking effort determined by weight and distribution of load
  • Fully powered steering system (there was no mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the steering rack except in the event of a loss of pressure in the hydraulic system)
  • Powered clutch - no clutch pedal
  • Powered gear change
  • Centre point steering geometry whereby the pivot point coincided with the centre of the contact point between tyre and road (this allows for lower steering effort and more importantly the ability to stay on course irrespective of road surface or even a front tyre blow out) 
  • Inboard front disc brakes (this reduces unsprung weight, allows the centre point steering geometry mentioned above and ensures better cooling for the discs than is allowed when they are mounted inside the wheels) 
  • Aerodynamically efficient bodywork allowing for high performance and good fuel economy plus low wind noise
  • Single spoke steering wheel designed to collapse in a progressive manner - in the era before airbags, this was a major safety feature
  • Plastic dashboard featuring extensive padding designed to minimise injuries in the event of a collision
  • Air vents at either end of the fascia in an era when ventilation was normally provided by opening quarter lights
  • Very thin windscreen pillars set far back in order to maximise the driver's field of vision coupled with frameless side screens
  • Roof mounted rear indicators
  • Windscreen wipers that parked below the bonnet thereby minimising the chance of causing injury to pedestrians
  • Plastic roof and alloy bonnet to reduce weight
  • Self levelling headlights on post 1967 cars
  • Long range headlamps connected to the steering on post 1967 cars
  • Safety interior door handles 
  • Michelin X radial tyres (later models were fitted with the advanced assymetric tread pattern Michelin XAS tyres)