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Classic cars: Citroën DS

Known for its futuristic looks, self-levelling suspension and a ride quality akin to floating on a cloud, the DS was an overwhelming success following its debut in 1955

Citroën DS
Image Credit: Supplied picture
The DS cemented Citroën's name as an automotive innovator.

In 1955, Citroën stunned the world by seemingly moving into the space race, unveiling the outrageous DS at the Paris motor show. Looking more like a Flash Gordon space rocket than a car, the shocked public stood and gawked at this totally new take on the automobile.

Legend has it that once the onlookers had picked their chins up off the floor, the company took more than 700 orders in the first 15 minutes and an incredible 12,000 by the end of the first day.

Owners would later discover a car bristling with unheard-of technology and a ride like a magic carpet. The car would go on to sell more than 1.5 million over its two-decade production run, picking up awards and accolades along the way.

The DS boasted hydropneumatic self-levelling suspension, a hydraulic clutch and gearbox, and directional headlights. The outer headlights were self-levelling and reacted to pitching caused by accelerating and braking. Bear in mind this was revolutionary stuff in the Fifties.

Citroën continued to cash in on the DS throughout its life, producing an ill-advised station wagon that lost a lot of the je ne sais quoi of the original saloon. But pride was later restored with the stunningly beautiful convertible model.

The convertible was actually built externally for Citroën by French carrossier Henri Chapron, who also produced a few other models, including a handful of coupés and a few special saloons.

French President Charles De Gaulle owed his life to a DS after escaping an assassination attempt due to the car's strength and the fact that, even with two blown tyres, the car was still driveable, allowing him to get away.

Citroën then got a bit above its station, entering into a joint venture with Maserati to build the SM, a Maserati-engined model loosely based on the DS. Although a great car the project nearly bankrupted the company.

Today the DS still turns heads and values have crept up across the model range.

In a world where so many cars look remarkably like each other, the Citroën DS is an example of totally left field thinking.

In my mind at least, the DS remains France's most iconic car, even eclipsing the loveable 2CV.


Production: 1955-1975
Class: Mid-size luxury/executive saloon
Designer: Flaminio Bertoni
Predecessor: Citroën Traction Avant Successor: Citroën CX