The year is 1976 and the place is anywhere they drive on the left. You are in the market for a saloon, but your limited means outstrip your ambitions for a brand new model. You want something spacious, comfortable and reasonably quick, but BMWs, Jaguars or Toyota Crowns are not your bag – too square, too big and/or too thirsty. Something relatively recent in the 2-litre range, with FWD for better handling and more cabin space. You head out to a large second-hand car dealer and ask him what he has in this category.
Well, without looking at older cars (of which few match your criteria anyways), let’s see what we have that’s six or seven years old max… A second-hand NSU Ro80? Well, yes, reliability will always be an issue. The BMC Wolseley Six? The styling’s “not right”, I see… How about the Audi 100 or the VW Passat? Bit too small engine-wise, just like the Renault 16? Hmm… Any thoughts on the Lancia 2000? Not enough room? Well then, Goldilocks, that just leaves the Citroën ID / DS, preferably the post-‘67 facelifted version.
You probably don’t want the ID. It’s basically a stripper DS, with the smallest engines, optional power brakes and more plastic trim than chrome. They changed the name to “DSpécial / DSuper” in the ‘70s, but you still couldn’t get the swiveling headlamps, the leather interior or the hydraulic gearbox on these low-end cars. You want the real thing, not some jumped-up Traction Avant. A late model DS with the quad headlamps would do just fine, I should think. Those were French-built: Citroën’s Slough works closed down in 1965, well before the new nose. Here’s what we have in stock.
This is a 1970 DS 21 Pallas, in a lovely shade of gray. It has the carbureted 2175cc motor, which provides 106 hp (DIN) and hydraulic everything – including the 4-speed gearbox. Interestingly for a RHD car, one operates the little gear lever jutting from the top of the steering column with the right hand. There’s no clutch pedal, but you still get to switch gears manually. It was the best of both worlds when the DS came out, and it works very well once you get used to it, just like the hydraulic steering and brake assists. Avoid sudden moves and you’ll be fine.
A distinctive feature on this particular car is the black leather interior – this is the top-of-the-line Pallas trim, after all. The 1970 cars had a brand new dashboard but kept the older generation’s single-spoke steering wheel before that went all-plastic a couple of years later.
Yes, the wide whitewalls do look a bit out of place on this car. It’s a matter of personal taste, but the earliest DSs were shod this way back in the ‘50s, and it looked a bit odd then too.
The trunk is surprisingly big, though it doesn’t look it on the outside. The spare wheel’s location, in front of the engine, helps that quite a bit. And from this vantage point, you can admire the car’s tapered shape – quite an achievement for a mid-‘50s design. The somewhat loose-fitting panels on these cars are a product of their design. The rear wing, for instance, is only held by one bolt, right there above the reflector, so that it can be removed easily in case the tyre needs to be changed.
So that’s the 1970 model we have in store – a very nice DS, though it doesn’t have the even more desirable electronic fuel injection that debuted that year. There’s another car that might be of interest. Right this way…
This is a 1974 DS 23 Pallas – the all-bells-and-whistles big Citroën. Yes, there were even grander models, such as the Prestige with its bespoke interior, or the Chapron specials, but good luck finding one of those in RHD. This one has the typical brun scarabée (scarab brown) colour found on the last DSs.
As one of the final models (production stopped in early ’75), this is probably one of the best DS models if you want something quick. Sure, its 2347cc 4-cyl. doesn’t have the electronic fuel injection found on some other DS 23s, but the 115 hp (DIN) can still pull the car to 110mph and there’s a bunch more torque at the lower end.
As you can tell from the gear lever, this car has a traditional manual gearbox, but it’s a 5-speed. That makes for much better fuel economy on highways, and makes the car quieter at speed. You could also get the hydro 4-speed or a fully automatic Borg-Warner 3-speed, though that last one could lower your mpg to single digits if your right foot is too heavy.
That interior does look inviting, doesn’t it? The leather, the Dunlopillo carpets so thick you might lose your shoes in them, the legroom at the back… The most comfort you can get this side of a Rolls or a Caddy, really. With the added bonus of a completely flat floor.
These final models were given one last aerodynamic feature from the 1972 model year: flat door handles, which came from the Citroën GS. When the car originally came out in late 1955, only the front passenger door had a lock, just like on the Traction Avant. The theory was that one would alight at the curb via the passenger door, thereby avoiding oncoming traffic. In practice, all DSs sink to their “rest” position after a few minutes with the engine turned off, so early owners often found that the curbside door was impossible to open because they were lower than the curb. The lock was switched to the driver’s door within a few months – one of the first modifications ever made on the car.
The famous swivel lights are there, of course. They’re a terrific safety feature. And they are in keeping with the car’s animal-like nature. As they said when the new face came out in late 1967, “The DS breathes and sighs [because of the hydraulic pump], but now its eyes follow you around.” Note the little trap door near the inner headlamp, which enables you to get in the headlight cluster for cleaning and maintenance.
This car might need a little TLC to get it back onto the fast lane of the motorway. The asking price is naturally a bit higher than the ’70 model we have, but just a fraction of what Citroën are asking for a new CX. If you have kids, we’ll throw in a set of rear seat covers for free. The little ones tend to get a bit sea-sick due to the suspension, but some get used to it.
So you’ll think about it and let us know? Sure, but I urge you to make your mind up as soon as possible. These don’t tend to hang around for very long, folks have an appetite for these, particularly the Pallas versions. Brown or gray, hydro 4-speed or manual 5-on-the-tree, quick or even quicker – the choice is yours.
Curbside Classic: Citroën ID – The Goddess Storms The Bastille Of Convention, by Roger Carr
CC Outtake: Citroën DS Cabriolet – Spotted in Southfield, Michigan, by Orangechallenger
CC Global Outtakes: Citroen DS Cabrio and Sedan Lorraine Spotted Together – A Chapron Convention, by PN
CC Driving Review – 1970 Citroen ID19 Familiale – Yes, You Can Meet Your Heroes, by Roger Carr
Cohort Capsule: Pallas Is Citroen For Brougham, by Tom Klockau
CC Outtake: Goddesses, by Don Andreina
Door handles! More mouthwatering minutiae for this affirmed ccognoscento. I’ve seen a 21 and 23 both in gold around this way recently, the 23 is tattier than the 21 so its a real tossup between the two. Nice piece T87.
Cars don’t get any better than this… I loved my D Special (for all it’s jumped-up TC-ness 😉 ) Fortunately the option for power steering was ticked, and with steel indicator cornets replacing the plastic ones and seats from a Pallas who’s to know ? Wish I still had it, there’ll never be a finer car.
Drove one once. A college friend of mine’s family was DS-mad. They had three on the road, and two parked out back for parts. All of them late 60’s, if my memory holds.
A magnificent car who’s memory will always stay with me. You can imagine my feeling getting back into my Vega GT after driving one of these.
Thank you for this write up on one of the greatest cars ever.
All I can say is … viva la France.
I loved the ’58 ID19 that I co-owned with another college student in the early Seventies. We had it a year or so, and it was stone reliable. When we sold it on to the next owner, she loved it as much as we did. I saw it running around Richmond’s Fan District as late as 1976 or so.
In the mid nineties, one of our daughters was living, working, and studying in Aix-en Provence, and while there she bought an “inexpensive” worn-out DS 21 (there really is no such thing as an inexpensive older reliable Citroen, a mythical beast if one ever really exists) which gave her many interesting experiences with French garages, and secondarily gave us, back at home, much laughter. Mirthful,for us, not her, to say the least.
But when it ran, seemingly from one repair to the next, My God, when it was running, it was great. Silky is the word that comes to mind. Enjoyable, But, But!
In general the DS reminded me of Longfellow”s poem of the little girl with the curl:
There was a little girl,
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good
She was very very good,
And when she was bad she was horrid.
Ah, the DS a truly memorable car. After returning from France, our daughter has only owned and driven Japanese cars since, and is currently driving a Mazda 3, but still has fond memories of her one time Citroen and her experiences of driving it in France.
From what I gathered in Citroëniste circles, the most reliable big Citroën would be a Diesel CX (if the tin worm hasn’t attacked it too much) or XM (early models excepted). Not unheard of for those to reach the half million kms.
500,000 kms is quite normal for diesels my small version is approaching that mark, no tinworm in most of the later models they are galvanised.
Back in the early 70s when the odd one could be found running around in the US, these held no interest for me at all. Too strange, I thought to myself. But now I would really love to have either one of these. That hydraulic transmission sounds fascinating, but a 5 speed stick sounds good too.
However, I have reached the stage in life where I do not choose to go “all in” on an old car, which would be necessary with one of these here in the States, where they are so uncommon. I like the option to take a car out somewhere for service when the need arises, and I fear that finding a mechanic who would understand these would be quite a chore. So I guess I will have to admire them from afar. Your excellent piece helps.
Great and fascinating cars even to this day. As a teenage kid in the early 1970s, I tried to talk my dad into buying one of these instead of a plushmobile Mercury Marquis. He was a little intrigued at the idea, but the fact that the nearest dealer was a little hole-in-the-wall affair 50 miles away soured him a bit. Not to mention that the mechanics in our town would have shut the doors and drawn the blinds had they seen a DS rolling up for repairs. Dad ended up buying the Merc and all-in-all I suspect it was probably for the best.
The only word that comes to mind : ” un gros paquet de problèmes ” .Even in the snow here in Qc .
I always thought the facelift dash on these looked a little too Datsunish for its’ own good. The Pallas’ black leather seats don’t help – at least in photos they look so much like the shiny vinyl you’d find in a B210.
Not a fan of the later dash either. The design is still kind of quirky, but nowhere near as interesting as the 1st iteration or even the more muted 2nd version. But if you want the quad lights that see around corners, you’re likely to get the Datsun-esque panel, unfortunately.
At the time I had my 404(s), there was a guy at the tv station in LA who bought a very lovely recently repainted midnight blue DS. What a dream boat! We swapped cars once or twice, and the difference was stark, despite the 404 having a fine ride too.
But needless to say, he was challenged with “issues”, and I remember driving him more than once to the French car specialist to pick up his car after another repair. I never once had to take my 404 to a mechanic. And thus explains the basic (and big) difference between these cars, and why I drove 404s and never succumbed to the lures of the goddess.
People are scared of the hydropnuematic system, it runs everything but is reasonably simple, the brakes for instance work exactly the same as air brakes, pressure releases, them reducing the pressure applies them.o Suspension spheres go bad occasionally but they are simple and quite cheap to replace, a reasonable amount of mechanical know how is usually enough to fault find and repair.
What a culture-shock the DS must have been in ’55 ! Never cared for the narrow rear track and lack of rear overhang, but I saw one quite recently in a supermarket car-park and had to stop and marvel at the wonderfully slender “A” pillars.
Since the roof was plastic, I’m not sure how they fared if you rolled them.
Magnificent! And the cars are pretty cool too.
Just love these cars. Have wanted one for years.
And the only reason I haven’t gone down that path is the parts and service issues. In a city of nearly 3.9 million there are still less that half a dozen shops you’d trust, and none of them close by.
And since Peugeot have done their best to ignore pre-merger Citroens, finding parts is a nightmare. The Netherlands is apparently where you must look.
I guess the internet helps in the searching, but the internet cannot manufacture parts…now that’d be some technological change I could get behind!
Yes, the Dutch have a case of Citromania that is well known. Some say they are the reason behind the incredible increase in value of the DS and the 2CV, which are now both getting to be very expensive. But these are so iconic that prices were probably destined to go up in any case.
In your place (and as was commented by Paul and others above), I would never attempt running a DS in the U.S. either. Even in France many people are afraid of these. But from what I understand, the post ’66 LHM hydro cars such as the ones in the post (or the GS, the SM, the CX, etc.) are pretty reliable. So say the people who drive them, anyway…
In the US here. I’m happy to say I’m driving a D series (ID19, 1970) Citroen regularly again. It can be done! I drove one or another for significant periods as my sole transportation from the early 1980’s to the late 1990’s. Now, I admit we had a local dealer and an active regional Citroen car club into the 1990’s and that made all the difference in the world, especially before being experienced with them. The only thing I ever had done was a clutch replacement. Anything else has been in the realm of normal maintenance. The hydraulics (LHM) are reliable. The only trouble I ever encountered was with my first one which suffered from terminal rust and consequentially a hydraulic line ruptured. But that was a vehicle that was driven year-round through heavy winter road salt it’s whole life. It was purchased as a parts car– that I drove for 3 years before it serves that purpose. The other two got a good shot of rust inhibitive goo of some kind (Fluid Film or Stockholm Pine Tar) in every box section etc. I’ve easily driven 150k+ miles in my D’s and only had that one hydraulic failure due to rust. Otherwise, it’s a simple matter of recharging or replacing spheres periodically. We’re talking years of service out of a typical sphere. Removal is a matter of unscrewing it. Easier than compressing springs!
Really, these cars are simple by today’s standards. To service one only requires a change of thinking to the way they thought. Then everything is straightforward. Though an abduction by aliens speeds along the process of seeing it the old Citroen way, haha.
My first car in 79 was a 73 Wolseley Six, like in the picture, only metallic bronze with the Rostyle wheels and Automatic where the gearbox connected to the engine with a hy-vo chain like the Oldsmobile Toronado. It had masses of interior space , v smooth engine , rode and cornered well.
However, the Citroen DS is an absolute dream of a car, which I had bought one back then
Since this comes so soon after the 1962 Plymouth story–it looks like F. Bertoni’s DS incorporates the “speedboat cowl” so beloved of Exner.
Fascinating cars. In my senior years now, would like to have driven one just to see what the fuss is about. But if the $ fell into my lap, via lottery, I doubt I’d buy one. However the SM model is part of my fantasy garage, for sure. 5 speed with a/c please. Every time I see a picture of one, I become a 14 year old again Looking at a magazine with artists renditions of “future”, or show cars, 🙂
I’ve only been in the one DS, and the ride and the room were impressive. Since was a trip across town, I didn’t experience it over a long drive. It’s just the styling I can’t stand.
Never liked it, never will.
Thanks for posting this. Those are two nice cars. I had a ’72 DS with hydraulic shift and it was sweet. Had to sell that one eventually but it was subsequently restored so I’m at least happy about that. I really like the hydraulic shift but it still doesn’t solve that problem we have in modern driving: that the car needed more power and more gears. The DS 23 5 speed is a nice sequential step upwards in that direction. I always wanted drive one.
My ’70 ID 19 is the opposite. Smaller displacement, lower compression ratio (for some reason on 69-70 ID 19”s) along with a lower final drive ratio. It moves along nicely around town and is happy to travel old two lane routes all day long. But freeway travel at 70mph+ is tiresome enough for me to seek out the 2 lane routes. More power and more gears. In this instance I’d choose the DS23-5.
I had a ’63 DS19. Still the car I enjoyed the most after trying most brands from most countries available in the US. Smooth on the highway yet off road it would walk over logs with 2wd that jeeps would have to bounce over in 4wd. Remarkably comfortable on long trips. Got pulled over for speeding in California and Montana, no tickets, cops probably were just checking it out.