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Although somewhat unknown in the US, in the past Citroën has enjoyed a reputation for clever engineering and forward thinking. During WW1 Citroën was among the largest arms producers for the French government, and intending to take up automobile production at end of the war began development of an economical small car to mobilize post-war Europe. Citroën had met Henry Ford during a trip to the United States in 1912 and was impressed with his application of mass production, and visions of simple, affordable automobiles. Citroën’s first car, inspired in part by Ford, was the 1919 Citroën Type A.
The Type A and its successors sold well thanks to their quality and André Citroën’s marketing exploits, which included using the Eiffel Tower as a giant sign by illuminating CITROËN on its side, and company sponsored expeditions in Asia, North America, Africa, and Australia using Citroën vehicles. Despite this success, Citroën saw the need for an all new car. One so far ahead of its competitors it could remain in production for years or decades while being continually developed over its run, rather than replaced by new models (In which case Citroën would have to incur the costs associated with engineering and producing completely new cars). Born from André Citroën’s desire for a cutting edge automobile, the 1934 Traction Avant (French for front drive) featured unibody construction, front-wheel drive, four-wheel independent suspension, and modern styling with a roofline almost a foot lower than some its contemporaries.
Unfortunately for Citroën the cost of developing such an advanced car ended with the bankruptcy of his company. Control was assumed by Michelin, who had been one of Citroën’s largest creditors. Michelin continued development and had great success with the car; approximately 760,000 were produced over its 23 year run. Citroën would continue innovating after the war with the car intended to replace the Traction Avant. Citroën management wanted a successor worthy of the Traction, roomier, faster, and better-looking while remaining roughly the same weight and cost. The program started in the late 1930s, but was delayed by WWII. During development concerns were raised that the car would not be radical enough, with managing directors insisting during the process that it be the world’s most advanced car, a show of what French manufacturing could do. When launched at the 1955 Paris Auto Salon the DS was a sensation. 749 orders were accepted within 45 minutes of its unveiling, 80,000 in its first ten days.
The DS was set apart by its unibody construction, front-wheel drive, aerodynamic design, and its semi-automatic 4-speed transmission. Firsts for the DS included its front disc brakes, a first for any sedan, and the hydraulics which powered its suspension, clutch, and brakes off of a central engine-driven pump making 2,400 psi of pressure. The DS’ suspension was of particular interest, with 4-corners able to individually respond to loading. Weight added to the car would cause the suspension to stiffen and remain level. When driving, the suspension would continually adjust providing a “magic carpet ride”, while retaining good handling characteristics. Ride height was driver adjustable from inside the car. The system would be licensed to Rolls-Royce and Mercedes-Benz for use in their vehicles.
Over the course of its lifetime the DS would be available in sedan and, starting in 1958, station wagon variants. Coupe and convertible conversions were available through Citroën dealers from the Paris based coachbuilder Henri Chapron at great expense. From its inception the car was available with a 4-speed semi-automatic transmission. Later, conventional 4 and 5-speed manuals would be made available, along with a 3-speed automatic. Engine displacement would increase from 116 ci (1.9L) to 143ci (2.3L) over the model’s 20-year production run. 1,455,746 would be made in total; all but 124,991 being built in France.
- Pronounced DAY-ES in French, meaning goddess
- Intended to be the worlds most advanced car at 1955 introduction
- Aerodynamic design, self-levelling hydropnuematic suspension, unibody construction
- 3rd place in 1999 Car of the Century awards
- DS23 produced from 1972 – 1975
- DS19, 1955, first mass-produced car with disk brakes
- Price new in US $4,170