The Ottawa Citroën Club

Featured Article: The Citroën DS/ID

In 1955 Citroën stood the automotive world on its ear. Already a well-reputed automaker, with successes like the Traction Avant and the 2CV , Citroën introduced the DS.
Many people believed “DS” was the French moniker for “Goddess”, although in reality it was a technical designation. The “Goddess” moniker stuck however.
The reason it stuck is simply. The car was unlike anything ever seen. The ride was the best of any car. It floated through the streets. Its sleek, aerodynamic styling was totally unlike anything else.

One doesn’t just drive a car like this. One worships it.

Powered by a 1900cc four cylinder, shared with the Traction Avant, mounted backwards, was already a engineering triumph. What set the DS apart was its hydra-pneumatic suspension.

Other car manufacturers had already been playing with adjustable suspensions. Most of these were operated with compressed air. These were problematic at best. Citroën took a whole new tack on its version.

The Bureau Des Etudes, the Citroën research and development branch, had figured out that any system using compressed air would be prone to failure. Air contains oxygen. Oxygen is a corrosive.
Research showed it would be better to pressure hydraulic oil against nitrogen. Hence, the DS had a full-blown hydraulic system, using “spheres” at each corner. These spheres contained a diaphragm, behind which was compressible nitrogen. As the fluid pressure became greater, the higher the nitrogen was compressed, which in effect, raised the car. This was all adjustable of course. By doing it backwards, and using nitrogen, the system worked reliably. Please understand, I’m simplifying the technical details, or else I may as well write a book.

The effect was unbelievable. The car literally floated. Even science-fiction writers of the day were impressed. Handling was incredible. Another interesting feature not many comment on was that the DS was designed with safety in mind. The single-spoke steering wheel, meant to collapse on impact. Seat belts were standard, the roof was designed as a tear-away in case of accident. These features weren’t well advertised, but they were there.

There were birth pangs. The red hydraulic fluid called LHS, was silicon based, and to make a long story short, it usually ended up leaking somewhere. In 1969 Citroën fixed this by switching to a mineral based oil called LHM. (Green in colour) Still, nothing shocks any DS/ID owner when that heart-sinking puddle appears underneath their cars.

The DS was followed by it’s poor sister, The ID. The ID was not as well appointed as the DS, but was nearly identical where it counted. The difference was mainly in trim and transmission types.

My father did some of the design work for the DS/ID when Citroën changed the appearance somewhat in the late 60’s. My father re-designed the dash. Other changes notable: The front end retained its basic shape, but the headlight treatment was changed. Instead of the single, round headlight, two recessed lights were incorporated. Pity the poor Americans, for the DS/ID in the rest of the world had turning headlights.

In fact, one of the primary reasons Citroën stopped exporting to North America was because the Americans continuously demanded changes. At one point, in typical French fashion, Citroën said “if they don’t like our cars, we won’t sell them there!”
The American government was suspicious of LHM and the turning headlights. The US was into “Import Fighting Mode” in the late 60’s and early 70’s and I believe there was a lot of lobbying to keep imports off the streets in the US. The DS/ID was a prime example of engineering prowess, something the Big Three couldn’t compete with. Whereas the US cars were brute strength, the DS/ID oozed sophistication, the Toyotas et al, gave economy, the Volkswagens gave reliability. The marketplace became a hard sell for The Big Three. It was an embarrassment to them. Then, there was California. California had it’s own set of rules. Citroën thought it must be crazy to redo all their models just for California. Canada’s market wasn’t large enough to sustain itself. With the US market tightly regulated and the lobbyists for the Big Three working overtime, Citroën bowed out.

In 1975, after 20 years of production, the DS/ID line came to an end. The last models had 2.3L engines, fuel injection and optional automatic transmissions. A total of 1.2 million were sold worldwide. The DS/ID line was replaced with the CX series. But in mind and spirit, the Goddess lives on! The most sought-after version of the DS is the Chapron convertible. If you ever see one cheap, lemme know!!!

-Hans Asselbergs