Mont Ventoux in Provence in southeast France reaches to 1912m (6273 ft) and is a regular feature of the Tour de France cycling race. Inevitably, it is also a regular feature on the tourist trail in what is a superb area of Europe. We took one of the three roads that go straight to the top in a FIAT 500 Twin Air (courtesy of Avis France) a couple summers ago.
The roads at the top get pretty busy, in the summer at least, where the temperature was over 30 degrees Celsius (86F), despite the wind. Mind you, it was over 40 degrees Celsius (104F) at the foot of the mountain.
I have spent many excellent summer holidays in France over the last 25 or so years, first going in 1987. Back then, seeing a Citroen GS or the GSA derivative was a fairly regular occurrence, as it was Citroen’s main mid-market until car until 1983 and production only ceased in 1986. But now they are rare, and it is always refreshing to see one.
The GS dated from 1970, and was a combination of the various distinctive technologies and solutions Citroen offered–it was front wheel drive, had hydropneumatic suspension like the DS or the SM, and an air cooled engine boxer engine like the 2Cv and its Dyane and Ami derivatives, albeit in four-cylinder format. The styling was a forerunner of the later Citroen CX, and despite Citroen’s protestations, it is always associated with Pininfarina’s studies for BMC for aerodynamically styled versions of the ADO16 and ADO17.
Its not often you see a 100″ wheelbase, five passenger car with only 1220 cc or even 1015cc (as in earlier versions). The GS is a clear symbol that before Peugeot took control, Citroen was well prepared let convention look after itself. They produced some great cars, obviously, but did go bankrupt in 1974, during the first oil crisis. To see a GS at the top on Mont Ventoux is especially unusual.
The Renault 4CV was the first post war Renault, and clearly shows the influence of the VW Beetle and Ferdinand Porsche, however much Renault might contest this. The rear engine Renaults continued until the early 1970s, concluding with the Renault 10 (CC here). That car could trace itself back to the 4CV, which like the GS is now a very rare sight on the roads of France, though easily seen at a car show or a museum.
As an aside, it is interesting to compare and contrast how various nations addressed the question of the configuration of the modern family car after WW2–was it to be rear engine, air cooled (VW from Germany); rear engine, water cooled (the French Renault 4CV); air cooled front engine, long travel suspension, very simple body (Citroen 2CV); or front engine with a emphasis on thorough chassis design (UK’s Morris Minor)?
The 4CV had monocoque construction with suicide doors and a 760cc engine, incidentally known as the Ventoux engine, and was the first French car to sell a million. Production lasted until 1961, although its successor, the Renault Dauphine, was available from 1957.
And the Twin Air? Well, it made a great noise, even if the fuel consumption was nothing like that advertised.
And it looked huge alongside the 4CV!
Wow, that GS is even a Pallas, judging from the chrome wheel trims.
Very cool Ive always liked the early 4CV for some strange reason a school friends parents had one many years ago it was nicer to ride in than anothers VW beetle without the chaff cutter sound of the Hitlers revenge.
Thanks for another great read Roger,never knew about the BL cars.If only they’d brought them out and improved quality control it might have been a different story.I’m with Bryce on the 4CV,it’s a cutie.
I consider the GS one of the more brilliant cars of the modern era, and one of Citroen’s best cars. Its excellent aerodynamics and efficient design made it a Prius precursor. It’s long overdue for a full CC.
You’re absolutely right – I need to see one for long enough to get the necessary shots!
The Cd value of the Citroën GS was 0.37 and it also looks very aerodynamic.
And yet the very boxy looking 1962 Alfa Romeo Giulia had a better Cd value of only 0.34. Some sort of optical illusion I’d say.
All about detail design, and what you can’t see. The Lexus LS 400 was the same- didn’t look overly aerodynamic, but the floor pan and suspension was set up to reduce drag as much as possible. The Alfa was probably much the same.
Yup — underbody airflow is a huge part of total aerodynamic drag and either smoothing out that area (a belly pan being the simplest way) or just keeping air off the undercarriage makes a significant difference.
More here about the Alfa’s aerodynamics.
Remember this was an affordable compact and practical family car, not some sports car or high-end top model. Note well, in 1962.
yep, the low drag of the Alfa cheated many people, I had a 1300 Nuova super, a rusty one that is the first car that did 160 Kph (100 MPH) with four guys and their luggage in it
It is still in my all time favorite top three of cars and the reason I re-visited Alfa after so many years.
It’s my favorite Citroen. If only more than a tiny handful got the rotary!!!!
Although, someone made this and it seems a bit more appealing:
A friend of mine bought a GS because it was available immediately rather than waiting for weeks. He went on a trip to Hungary. He told how his family and this car was mobbed by curious crowds who never even imagined such a vehicle “from the future”. It was very frugal with the fuel as well.
The tin worm was its enemy.
His next vehicle was an Audi 100.
The Audi 100 was a comfortable all round good cruiser. I chose one back then (a bright red ’85 model) with the 1.8 four banger and manual transmission. This was a high compression engine (10:1 from memory??) that loved being fed LPG as a dual fuel. I had the thing converted to run on both and all was good until one day during a mountain climb the carburettor gasket (a thick rubber block arrangement) ‘let go’ and suddenly a HUGE cloud of what I thought was LPG vapour POURED out from all the bonnet edge spaces and surrounded the front of the car ….”GET OUT GET OUT!” I screamed to my wife and son, expecting at any moment a gigantic explosion from the LPG vapour .. .. .. we fled the car ..and ran .. .. nothing happened ..the ‘LPG vapour’ dissipated and was no more …gingerly.. upon inspection I could see the split carb gasket had allowed gazillions of coolant (50/50 glycol) to spew out onto the exhaust manifold and hence that strange sudden big billowy thick white cloud..
…in fairness to Audi I should mention that it was the unsupported weight of all the LPG gear that had placed a significant lateral loading on the top of the carburettor causing the eventual failure of the rubber mounting gasket.. the whole thing had collapsed drunkenly to one side.. with some white packing twine I ‘tied’ the carburettor back into place as best as possible under the circumstances …we walked to the nearest picnic spot and collected water from a drinking tap ..refilled the Audi with coolant ..and off we went again …coughing and spluttering a bit with dodgy manifold vacuum and still losing what was now virtually pure water coolant through the closed-up ‘split’ ..but it got us back to civilisation ..cobbled together with string ..what a car ..lol
The GS had a very sweet willing little Weber-fed (from memory) boxer engine.. a great little car with interesting suspension ..I remember when my 5 year old 1220 (back around ’78/’79) did it’s main rear muffler it cost me the equivalent of two weeks wages to buy a new one from the agent ..outrageous! lol
My first experience with the Renault Dauphine was in late 1960. My father had flown us down from Mangere to Whitianga in a 90 hp Piper Cub. It was memorable because coming over the ranges (me in the rear seat) I saw him rise up hard with the turbulence the Cub encountered and HIT the top of his head against the crossbars at the top if the cockpit ..HE WAS UNCONSCIOUS for about 30 seconds ..as a 9 year old kid I just thought it was a bit strange… anyway sorry I divert …we landed and the local solicitor Hawea Reece picked us up at the Ferry Landing side of the river in his new pretty bright blue Dauphine with cream-coloured interior …it was a lovely little car and he said it handled the metalled NZ roads just as well as his Armstrong Siddeley Saphire and that he had just bought the Dauphine to replace a Mk11 Ford Zephyr which he said was ‘too light in the rear on the metal’.. of course the little Dauphine was rear engined and handled the rough roads very well (as did pretty much all Algiers-in-mind designed French automobiles of the era) ..such as the lovely elegant 403 with it’s delightfully shaped combustion chambers
I think Audi looked at French cars when they designed the 100 (1st generation). The French cars were designed with an extreme negative travel in the suspension. That means the wheel can drop down in huge pothole. Another thing that Citroen did was reducing the un-sprung weight by putting the brakes inboard (2CV, Dyane, Ami). So did the Audi 100. This also helped with the damping of the rebound. Even though they were incredibly comfy they provided very predictable and confidence inspiring handling. You can tell I have thing for ‘les voitures francaises’.
Big fan of the GS, ever since I read about a blue daily-driven one in Hemmings Sports and Exotic Car several years ago. There was even a Wankel-engined version, though I think all of the meager production run were bought back by Citroen.
In terms of classic Citroens, my top five are DS, SM, GS, Traction Avant and 2CV.
The GS is my all-time favourite Citroen – bar none. A very nice way to travel with the little air-cooled flat four singing away out front.
They occasionally come up for sale in Australia and I wonder about whether I should buy one. Recently there was a very nice looking early GS with the 1015cc motor for sale in Queensland. It was fetchingly pretty in light blue. Unfortunately I have too many hobby cars already.
I went to a French car show in Williamstown (Melbourne) a few months ago. There were many lovely French cars of varying vintages – but, sadly, only 1 GS. It was the estate version and (if my memory serves correctly) had the 3-speed semi-auto transmission. I think this is essentially the same as Porsche’s clutchless manual “sportomatic” but I’ve never driven the Citroen version so I’m not sure.
I’m not surprised about the fuel consumption on the twin-air. I suspect that these days manufacturers set up the cars to achieve good FE results under the (known) regulatory tests – but that are only average in more realistic driving conditions.
You want to join up on AussieFrogs- there is a small but fairly active GS community there. You can PM Bruce H once you sign up, and go from there. There’s been a couple with an active restoration thread (Lamoor is the most recent).
I adore the GS- I’ve had 2 and want another. They’re criminally underrated by the enthusiast community at large, and almost unknown here in the US. They really are a brilliant blend of 2CV economy with DS dynamics.
There was also a rotary engine version of the GS … GS BiRotor
In 1967 NSU and Citroën started a joint-venture, Comotor, to develop and build rotary engines for small cars. The only engines coming from Comotor ended up in a few (and thus very rare) Van Veen OCR 1000 motorcycles. A 1976 bike with 100 hp, still a beauty.
Actually the Gs was destined to receive a Wankel engine.
They did excessive road tests with the M 35 , a coupe based on the AMI, these M35’s were given to loyal Citroën clientele.
The GS Bi-rotor was the result, they had to try to beat Renault’s R16 and have a piece of its market.
But the energy crisis killed the GS Bi-rotor, many were destroyed by Citroën themselves but there are still quite some survivors.
The GS Bi-Rotor has the same front suspension as the later CX, to create room for the Wankel engine. It has wider flares at the wings, a different type of rim and was delivered in distinctive Bi-rotor colors only.
The Pallas was more or less a compromise between the Bi-rotor’s luxury package combined with the four cylinder Boxer engine.
That rotary AMI is actually good looking. Somehow.
Nice pairing Roger, very rare to see a Renault 4CV on the road these days. I posted a GS wagon to the Cohort page a while back, perhaps the same one Ghille saw at the French car show – there can’t be too many of those around!