Honoring Citroen's 'goddess,' the DS

AFP
First Published: 17:14 IST(12/2/2013)
Last Updated: 17:18 IST(12/2/2013)
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One of the stars of this year's Salon Rétromobile in Paris, the Citroen DS was one of the most technologically advanced cars when it was first conceived and, 58 years after it first appeared on the road, it is still one of the most beautiful, striking and revolutionary cars ever built.
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In production from 1955 until 1975, the Citroen DS came about when an Italian sculptor called Flaminio Bertoni and French aeronautical engineer André Lefèbvre came together to create a luxury family car that would firmly re-establish France on the world map following the Second World War. And while its looks were certainly futuristic when it was first unveiled to the public some 58 years ago, what those looks concealed was equally ahead of its time. The car used self-levelling hydraulic suspension -- in fact, so smooth was the ride quality that to this day it remains one of the most comfortable cars any amount of money can buy. TV production companies still buy them to use as camera cars for filming horse races and chases over rough ground, knowing that the shock absorbers and suspension setup will keep the camera and the image tracking smoothly.

Then there was the world's first semi-automatic gearbox, using a hydraulic clutch linked to the accelerator, so that it would automatically engage every time a driver raised their foot from the gas pedal. The headlights twisted in the same direction as the steering wheel to light the bend or junction ahead and in the event of an accident, the engine was designed to slide under the car rather than breach the firewall and crush the driver and passengers.

It took 18 years of top-secret development to create the car and when it first hit the market, Citroen found keeping up with demand an impossible task. Despite securing 743 orders from an already smitten public within 15 minutes of its official unveiling at the Paris Motor Show in 1955, Citroen was only capable of building 69 that year. But little by little, manufacturing started to keep pace with public affection and from 1958-1973 sold in excess of 50,000 models a year.

Around the world, over 1.5 million were sold in total, an incredible number for a European luxury car but it was in France, more than anywhere else that the DS was adored -- so much so that it became known as the Goddess (in French, DS is pronounced 'déesse').

Citroen poured everything it had into creating the car and its success was such that the company feared it would never be able to create another blank-sheet-of-paper design, such were the standards the DS had set. This fear also meant that over its lifetime, the car only went through incremental changes, a decision that eventually alienated the US car buyer who wants to see a clear difference between this year's and last year's model.

But, like the Mini, the DS and its striking looks have aged well and its impact has been lasting. It came third in the international ballot to find the most important car of the 20th century -- losing out to the Ford Model T and the Mini -- but it was named the most beautiful car of all time by Classic and Sports Car Magazine.

At this year's Salon RétroMobile, taking place in Paris February 6-10 the DS is being honored with a recreation of its stand at the 1955 Paris Motorshow complete with a number of pristine, restored models from throughout its 20-year production history.


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