Curbside Classics: Citroën DS’s and ID Breaks – Four Goddesses Descend On Eugene

I’d gotten wind that goddesses had arrived in Eugene. There was a comment left here, and then Stephanie caught a glimpse of them. I assumed maybe two at most; I was not prepared for this heavenly conclave. This is a scene one would have very likely encountered in Berkeley a few decades back. Now they’re here, like so many other California refugees, including yours truly. They’ve found a safe haven.

First up is this ID 19 Break. Its exact year is undetermined, but we can pin it down to being between 1962 and 1965 due to it having the nose which was slightly changed for 1963 to make it more aerodynamically efficient. The ID Break (station wagon) was introduced in 1958, three years after the DS 19 was introduced. I’m not going to spend much time on the development and the details of its many advanced—and complex—features, as Roger Carr covered that in his CC of the ID/DS. But we’ll likely hit on many of them more casually in our walk-around.

The DS was revolutionary in many ways, but none more so than its aerodynamics, as its remarkably low, long and sloping hood makes clear. Think 1955 Buick, as a counterpoint. The DS’ aerodynamic CD of 0.36 was unparalleled for a mass production car, and made these inherently faster on the highways than one might expect, given their rather modest engine outputs. That CD number is for the sedan; I could not find one for the Break.

I didn’t lift up any hoods, so we’ll use this picture from the web. The engine, an ohv hemi-head four which dates back to the 1930s, sits way back behind the axle centerline, the configuration that was used for FWD cars almost exclusively except for the little two-stroke DKWs, Saabs and such. The ID had all of 69 hp from 1911 cc, somewhat less than the DS versions. Power was up some, and in 1965, an ID 21 with 103 hp was available for those that wanted a fast Break.

This version of the front end has these air scoops under the headlights; I assume they go to the interior heating and ventilation system.

This one has this fine badge on the front.

There’s the famous one spoke wheel. The ID had a conventionally-shifted four speed transmission, unlike the DS which had hydraulic assist for that undertaking. The overwhelming impression when I looked at these cars now—outside and in—is how small they are in today’s context. They’re crazy low, obviously, especially with the suspension all the way down, but they’re so narrow and small inside. I can’t believe these were considered to be able to sit three across.

The back seat, and the invariably missing door card.

I couldn’t really get a proper shot of the cargo area.

There were four main variants of the Break/Familiale. I had forgotten that two of the variants had rear flip up seats.

Here they are, occupied, which also reinforces the point I was making about how small these cars are in today’s context. At the time, these were very large cars for European standards.

The rear opens via a large hatch that come about two thirds of the way down, and then there’s a small tailgate that folds down.

Let’s take a look at that unusual wheel, seemingly with no lug nuts. Like so many things, Citroën had a better idea, even if it was more expensive. The single center nut pulls a conically shaped device into the split hexagonal hub, thus expanding the hub into the center recess of the wheel. The wheel is thus firmly jammed onto the hub. This system was developed together with Michelin, back then the major shareholder of Citroen S.A.

And here’s the 165-400 Michelin X tire to go with it. After September 1965, a conventional five-lug wheel in standard 15″ size replaced this because it was cheaper, not surprisingly. And it opened up a wider range of tire sizes.

The ID Break had a reinforced body and the larger rear brakes of the DS, as well as a lower (higher numerical) final drive ratio, so that it could haul the very heavy loads that it was capable of. Thanks to its hydro-pneumatic suspension, it always rode level no matter the load. This one is actually not sitting on its suspension stops.

The ID Break was the ultimate Citroën freak’s car, more so than the DS/ID sedan. I remember seeing these back in the 70s owned by some pretty far out folks. Why? Because of its greater versatility and uniqueness. If a DS owner could wax eloquently about all the features of his car, the Break owner could inherently top that. Seating for up to eight! Some 1200 lbs or more load capacity! Always a level ride! Sleep in the back! And it’s just so out-there looking.

Let’s move on to the DS sedan. As we can see, it’s donated its brush-painted purple door to the wagon. That’ll make looking into the interior easy.

Since it has the significantly-revised four-lamp front end that arrived for the 1968 MY, we know this one is from then or later.

No doubt about it being a DS. If it’s a DS 21, then its 2.1 L four was rated at 109 hp, enough to make these surprisingly quick on the autobahn. And then in 1973, the ultimate goddess arrived, the DS 23, in both carbureted and fuel-injected forms, with the latter making a whopping 130 hp. And a five speed transmission arrived too. Good for just over 180 kmh, or 112 mph. Not bad for a four cylinder back in the early 70s, and very comfortable one at that.

Someone will probably help us narrow that down with some details, like the dashboard. The engine’s intrusion into the front passenger area is all-too apparent.

If not, here’s a more detailed shot. I have to assume not all the engine noise could have been kept out.

Here’s the dash. And I assume that’s the shift lever that activates the hydraulically-shifted semi-automatic transmission. (Update: this is the shifter for the conventional transmission)

I’m going to cheat and copy this section from Wikipedia on the operation of the Transmission Hydralique or Citromatic:

To change gears, the driver flicked a lever behind the steering wheel to the next position and eased-up on the accelerator pedal. The hydraulic controller disengaged the clutch, disengaged the previous gear, then engaged the nominated gear, and re-engaged the clutch. The speed of engagement of the clutch was controlled automatically, responding to hydraulic sensing of engine rpm and the position of the butterfly valve in the carburetor (i.e., the position of the accelerator), and the brake circuit. When the brake was pressed, the engine idle speed dropped to an rpm below the clutch engagement speed, thus preventing friction while stopped in gear at traffic lights. When the brake was released, the idle speed increased to the clutch dragging speed. The car would then creep forward much like automatic transmission cars. This drop-in idle throttle position also caused the car to have more engine drag when the brakes were applied even before the car slowed to the idle speed in gear, preventing the engine from pulling against the brakes. In the event of loss of hydraulic pressure (following a loss of system fluid), the clutch would disengage, to prevent driving, while brake pressure reserves would allow safe braking to a standstill.

Unlike an automatic transmission, there is no Park position on the transmission where the wheels are locked. In addition, the hydraulic clutch would disengage with the engine stopped, so the car could not be left in gear when parked. The only way to prevent the car from rolling (for example, if parked on a slope) is to use the parking brake.

Whether the complexity of that was worth it is a question only those that have driven—and maintained—both versions can answer with authority.

The back seat minus the seat back.

Let’s move on to the next…Break. This one is sporting a trailer hitch.

It’s a bit hard to tell from the photo, but the hitch is only maybe three inches or so from the road, if that. Of course once the engine starts up—if it does—and the suspension lifts up—if it does—then there will be more reasonable clearance.

This Break has the original style of front end, so we can pin it down to between 1958 and before 1963.

This still has the original style dashboard.

And a knob and something else on the engine cover.

The rear seat is still fairly intact.

Spare parts in the cargo area.

More further back.

Time to head over to what appears to be the daily driver, or at least one that appears to run. It makes quite a contrast to that CUV next door. Turns out the DS wasn’t exactly the car of the future, at least not that far out.

What drew my attention was the large glass roof. No this isn’t stock, by any measure.

But maybe the owner wanted a Tesla-style glass roof, which makes sense, as the Tesla Model S was pretty much the most revolutionary new car since the DS.

Makes for a bright and cheerful interior. Are those seats stock? Hmm. Maybe the later ones reclined like that. Or maybe they’ve been swapped out. The covers certainly aren’t original.

The back seat has a rather crude covering too.

And those speakers are not what I typically would associate with a DS owner. Especially since big woofers like that are extremely ineffective without a housing, as the sound waves from the front and back tend to cancel each other. There’s a reason speakers are in housings.

And those twin exhausts aren’t exactly stock either, although they’re not totally unsuitable.

That ends our visit to the goddesses of Eugene. We’ve paid our respects, if not exactly prostrated ourselves in veneration. To tell the truth, while I’ve always admired these cars, it’s strictly in the abstract. There was a co-worker who bought a beautiful DS21 at the tv station in LA in about 1978-1979, with a gleaming new paint job. And I had my Peugeot 404s. And while I enjoyed my ride in his Citroën, it scared me, in terms of its mechanical and hydraulic complexity. And sure enough, he soon became quite familiar with the local French-car mechanic.

Meanwhile, my 404s were all so straightforward and easy to fix. No exotic green hydraulic oil and pumps and cylinders and actuators. The French were either Citroën lovers or Peugeot lovers, representing two different basic personality types. I figured out early which one I was.


More godly reading on the sacred subject:

CC Citroen ID/DS: The Doddess Storms The Bastille Of Convention  R.Carr

CC Twofer: 1970 DS 21 and 1974 DS 23 – The Goddess Is In The Details   Tatra 87

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