Should you meet your heroes? Many say “No, you will be disappointed in one way or another”. But what about meeting a true CC, a holder of the CC Grand’Croix de la Legion d’Honneur? The Citroen ID, the gently de-contented version of the immortal Citroen DS, is an absolute hero, of mine and of several fellow Curbivores. Arguably, this side of a Tesla Model 3, nothing has brought so much technology to an accessible part of the market at a given date, ever, and done so with so much style and enduring popularity.
CC has previously carried evidence of my fondness for the DS (the Déesse or Goddess) and the ID, spoken as Idee, or Idea. So, when at a recent members’ evening (the photographs were taken at another recent occasion) held by our local club, the Cambridge and District Classic Car Club, John offered to let me drive his 1970 ID19 Familiale, you can imagine my reaction.
This car has what can be described as a history. It was built in 1970, and was registered in France until around 2002 or 2003, before being placed in a scrap yard, to await its fate. Fate, however, intervened, and it was recovered and exported to the UK in a “running when parked” condition in 2005, and then registered in the UK, converting the lights to right hand drive standard beam patterns to achieve this.
John acquired it several years ago, and used it as a daily driver for much of that time. John now plans to clean it soon, though you could be tempted to see this as a loss of the patina of authenticity that some us of love.
Being originally registered in France, it is left hand drive in “drive on the left” UK, and as it is the Familiale version it has three rows of seats, the middle ones being small pop up seats with the main rear seat moved backwards relative to the regular 5 seat car. Only the front seats have seat belts, and I’ve no doubt they work perfectly well, of course.
This car, as an ID rather than a DS, has a conventional gearbox, rather than the semi-automatic unit fitted to the DS. In this case, as a 1970 car, it a five speed unit controlled by a steering column change, both of which were unusual in Europe at that time. Brakes are discs all round, inboard at the front.
Size wise, this car is around 8 inches longer but 3 inches narrower than a 2007-16 Volvo V70, and weighs around 3000lb compared to the Volvo’s 3500-3900 lb. Crucially, it sits on a wheelbase some fifteen inches longer than the Volvo.
Power was around 90bhp, compared with at least 160bhp for a petrol engined Volvo. So, this is not a fast car. Key competitors in Europe were the Volvo 145/165, 245/265, Peugeot 504 estate and Ford Granada estate. The Mercedes Benz W123 estate was a later car, and significantly upmarket of the Citroen.
So, what is it like to a drive a 46 year old Citroen ID? John gave a quick tour of the controls – a demonstration of the movements for the column change, look out for the brakes as they can be sharp, the umbrella handbrake (another unusual feature in Europe), turned on with the head lights with a column stalk control and we’re off into the slowly gathering dusk, and light mist.
First impressions, as we moved through a gravel car park and onto a well surfaced drive way to the main road, are of the comfort of the car and the ease of use of the column change, which worked well, much better than I might have expected and its layout was easy to master. Speaking as some one who has a preference for changing gear himself but with a floor mounted lever and whose only previous column change experience was a Toyota minibus back in the late 1980s, I was impressed by the ease of use and indeed the ergonomics of the lever itself, though the range of the movement was quite long. Given the amount of intrusion into the passenger area from the engine and the fact that the gearbox is in front of it, a column change was probably an inevitable choice, and I’d be able to accept this one.
A quick (actually quite abrupt given the sharp brakes) pause at the junction and we’re onto the main road. Going through a village, I keep the speed within the limit, and the abiding impression of comfort returns. The steering is powered of course, but still reasonably weighty and firm, and provides a reasonable level of feedback on the road surface. The steering provides significantly more feel and feedback than some modern cars, and is one of the more impressive features of the car.
Perhaps more appropriately for this car though, the front end feels well planted and secure, and, although there is obviously some understeer as we go a little faster outside the built up area, you soon get some confidence to go into corners a little more quickly than you might have expected. Certainly, keeping up with 2016’s traffic was not an issue in any way. The car was lightly laden, but there was no indication of anything wayward happening at the back.
We’re on open road now, and John encouraged me to open the car up a bit more. 70 mph in someone else’s 46 year old car for the first time and on an unfamiliar road seemed enough. Again, the ride dominates – actually it’s almost a lack of “ride” that dominates, as the car is absorbs the road surface so well you don’t think about it. Accelerating up the gears from a junction the car feels able to hold its own with modern traffic again, though the noise levels are comparatively high, if not unpleasant, and there was wind noise from the roof rack.
Into a small roundabout, for a right turn, and the roll is evident, as is the length of the car, especially compared with my Fiesta or MX-5. Nothing you would not get used to, but clearly it would be as bulky in a tight town environment as you’d expect from a large estate car. The indicators don’t self cancel but there’s a valid argument for that.
There’s also a very valid argument for the brake pedal, or rather the lack of one, with a button being used instead. Even now, many potentially life affecting injuries arise from feet mixing with pedals, something Citroen solved 60 years ago.
The most awkward feature of driving was not one of the features you might have predicted – the age, the left hand drive (I’ve driven right hand drive in Europe many times and a left hand drive Italian registered Alfa 166 in the UK as well), the suspension, the gearchange, the long wheelbase or the umbrella handbrake – but the lack of space around the throttle pedal. It’s a small pedal, tucked almost ahead of a curve in the profile of the engine cover. Several times, my shoe got caught up.
I’ve wanted to get closer to and maybe drive a DS (or an ID) for perhaps 46 years – having done so I not disappointed in any way, appreciative of John’s generosity (I’ve known him for about four years but not very well) and in admiration of the level of ingenuity and ability that Citroen provided sixty years ago, and of the enduring appeal of these wonderful cars.
I have been fortunate enough to have driven a wide range of cars, including some greats from a Mini to an original Range Rover, and I owned a 2001 European Ford Focus, but when factoring in the age and the date of the engineering the ID is arguably the most impressive car I have ever driven. Would I have one as a classic? No question there.
When I wrote a CC on the ID, I was described in the comments as a true believer, and I still am. Should you meet your heroes? Based on my experience with the ID, you absolutely should! You won’t be disappointed in this one.