Citroën DS buyer’s guide – floating through France
At its 1955 launch, the Citroën DS delighted the masses. Today, its appeal – whether for aesthetic or technical reasons – continues unabated.
When buying a DS or ID model, though, it’s really important to take a close look at ‘the Goddess’, as the model is known.
If you take the length of time that a model was produced as a benchmark for its success, then Citroën would have to be considered one of the greatest manufacturers. The Traction Avant and 2CV were built over decades – but one model sits above these two: the DS, the Déesse, the Goddess.
Sure, purely in terms of the production period, the Citroën DS is beaten by its siblings. But in the overall context, this model, with its hydro-pneumatics, design and associated stories big and small, beats all others. Its design and build continued largely unchanged for 20 years, which is a good indication that Citroën was ahead of its time when the model was launched in 1955, even in terms of innovation in technology and aerodynamics, and that it brought a car to the streets for the decades to come.
Imagine the first appearance of the DS: in the middle of the 1950s with its traditional, upright car styling, this spaceship bursts in. The legend of the tens of thousands of orders placed during its launch may have been spread by the manufacturer, but the polarising but also inspiring effect on the audience is undisputed. Especially since the avant-garde exterior is only one part of the story; in fact, a multitude of innovations were concealed under the bodywork.
CITROËN DS – INNOVATIONS IN SERIES
The hydropneumatics developed by Paul Magès is the most important of these innovations. A central hydraulic system controls suspension, brakes, gearshift and power steering. The innovative suspension alone was impressive enough. When stationary, the body lowers to the lowest point and rests on rubber buffers. When the engine is started, it rises several centimetres and keeps the ground clearance constant, regardless of the load and driving conditions. You have to have experienced this yourself in the interior of a car to be able to comprehend the feeling of floating.
Incidentally, the hydro-pneumatics also ensure that a jack isn’t needed when changing wheels. You just set the suspension on high, place the supplied stand underneath it and you can change the wheel. With the rear tyres hidden, the covers must be removed using the wheelbrace supplied. In 1962, the car’s ability to continue on three wheels saved the life of President Charles de Gaulle when, among other things, a tyre was shot out in an assassination attempt. But the Citroën DS brought his wife and him safely on three wheels to the airfield.
The steering and brakes also use hydraulics. With the brakes in the earlier models especially, drivers still had to get used to the new technology. Even a slight contact with the brake ‘pedal’ (a small rubber dome on the floor) caused the vehicle to stop suddenly.
Under the bonnet, only four-cylinder engines were used. Initially, at least one version with a six-cylinder engine was also planned, but was rejected. The engines varied in output from the 58 hp/43 kW of the early ID 19, up to126 hp/93 kW in the top of the range 1972 DS 23 with the injection engine.
At the beginning only a semi-automatic was available; with the change to a conventional brake pedal also came a conventional manual transmission option. A Borg Warner automatic followed later.
CITROËN DS – TIPS FOR BUYING
For 20 years Citroën DS and ID were built. Almost 1.5 million vehicles rolled off the assembly line, with numerous engine options, body shapes and equipment variations available. But which is the right one today when you choose your new car at Classic Trader?
Of course, rust is one of the big weaknesses. The sills are the most frequently affected areas. If damage is obvious there, it will have affected the structural integrity of the car. Front and rear wings and floorpans are also frequently affected, and the doors are almost always victims of corrosion – it’s rare to find an example with original, undamaged doors. Always make sure that any repairs have been carried out correctly too.
The roof is made of plastic, therefore immune against the brown plague. However, the problem is only shifted downwards. The roof, which may have become porous due to sunlight and age, often allows moisture to penetrate the steel frame to which it is bonded, especially at the join with the windscreen, and the C-pillar and the floor panels in the boot can also be affected by water penetration.
After checking for rust issues, you can take your time and dedicate yourself to the engine. All installed power units are reliable and basic units that originally descended from the 11 CV and build on robust pre-war technology. It’s strange that the Citroën DS is such an avant-garde vehicle, but under the bonnet it was built on quite old-fashioned technology. From today’s point of view, of course, this a blessing, since there is hardly anything to worry about in this area.
Except for a few oil leaks engines should do their job reliably. The ID 19 Normal, the economy model with 58 hp/43 kW is perhaps a little weak from a power point of view, but with the more powerful engines you should be able to glide along in road traffic without any problems. The strongest version DS 23 puts a little more mechanical stress on some components, so there’s a higher risk of worn out connecting rod and crankshaft bearings.
The transmission offers a choice of manual four- and five-speed steering wheel gears, semi-automatic and Borg-Warner fully automatic. The latter is considered somewhat vulnerable, the semi-automatic less so. However, not every workshop today is capable of maintaining them. That’s why you should be able to handle possible repairs yourself or have a specialist workshop on hand. The manual transmission is sometimes a bit choppy and at higher mileage the fifth gear makes noise occasionally.
The electrical system is not as complex as you might expect. However, the few electrical components are so randomly installed that it’s worth paying attention to them in order not to have to replace the complete wiring harness sooner or later. Exposed cables and glass fuses cause contact problems and corroded connections.
Surprisingly, perhaps, the innovative hydropneumatic chassis isn’t a weak point of the Citroën DS. Of course, good care and maintenance is a prerequisite, but generally speaking, it is not only innovative but also solid. Only the nitrogen-filled spheres are subject to wear. However, they can be replaced relatively easily and are available as new or reconditioned spare parts. In the case of the hydraulic fluid, the mineral one used from 1966 onwards has an advantage, because the hygroscopic one draws water and can cause corrosion problems in the brakes, among other things.
Prices for DS/ID models range from around EUR 10,000 to EUR 60,000, not counting convertibles, coupés and special bodies. Condition and demand cause the big gap. If you consider what the repair of a Goddess in need of restoration can swallow, the differences are more than justified.
Citroën DS – Conclusion
The model varieties are so wide and the diversity of the individual generations is so great that you can quickly lose track of what’s going on. Apart from personal taste and expectations of the car, there are a few points that should be considered and recommended; like the advantages of mineral hydraulic fluid from 1966 onwards or the disadvantages of fully automatic compared to manual or semi-automatic controls.
But apart from that, what is stated in almost every purchase advice applies: Keep your eyes open when buying a car! Examine the tricky points of the bodywork, check the hydraulics and the electrics and then there should still be enough good models on the market for a reasonable price, with which you can then float away nonchalantly and worry-free.
Photos Citroën Germany GmbH
France has a lot to offer in addition to wine, baguettes and the Eiffel Tower – and the other highlights undoubtedly include French classic cars. It’s no coincidence that the world’s oldest automobile manufacturer – Peugeot – is based in France and has been producing automobiles in series since 1891. Continue reading French Classic Cars
A day full of emotions for Romano Artioli and Progetto 33 AG, the current owner of the Bugatti EB 110 SS which was the personal car of the entrepreneur that revived the Bugatti brand. Continue reading More than a passion – Romano Artioli and his Bugatti EB 110 SS
The 2019 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este was, as ever, packed with extraordinary and impressive collector cars. But one of those cars was something of a secret star: the BMW Garmisch. Continue reading BMW GARMISCH – THE RESURRECTION OF THE BAVARIAN BERTONE