CC Twofer: 1970 Citroën DS 21 & 1974 Citroën DS 23 – The Goddess Is In The Details

(first posted 12/6/2017)          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 tire 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.


Related posts:

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