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.
I’m allways curious, ’bout reasons why these Citroëns, have two license plates on rear .
Maybe the convex design on Safari models??
Clam shell gate. You could legally drive with the gate open.
??…. thanks so much for explanation!!! ?
The original Mini did something similar – the boot lid was hinged at the floor level, and the number plate would swing to hang vertically from it, with luggage sitting on the resulting platform extension to the boot.
Seems like they could have put a little bit of that technology into ergonomics. Comparing to Renault or Saab of the same era, there’s just no reason for flat bench seats, no reason to have three entirely different pedals at different heights with different shapes and movements. Feet don’t have eyes.
And certainly no reason for a mirror on the dashboard, especially in a wagon.
This is a very utilitarian variant, so I’d imagine the middle seats were flat because (a) they had to fold, and (b) they were only intended for brief journeys. The other seats were extremely comfortable – and they didn’t need side bolstering as these cars weren’t designed for high-speed cornering.
My 1972 DS20 had conventional pedals – no button, no problem with the accelerator. I agree that the five-speed column shift was surprisingly good – I never had any problem with it at all.
And the mirror was on the dashboard in sedans because the rear window was very low – if it had been in the normal position you’d have been looking down at the road behind you. I’m not sure if that applies to the station wagons, but I’d imagine it was a carry-over.
That’s a great ride report. Was it smelling as it looks? What would sprout if you’d irrigate the foot well? Seriously, though I appreciate this raw, snatched from the crusher condition.
Like a dog it pushes against the leg of its owner to show its affection. I would love to have a ride in a ID/DS. The comfort is legendary.
That’s great, Roger, glad you could partake in this, I’ve myself always wondered what they are like to drive. I’m assuming John is a smoker but if not, that pack of cigarettes on the dash is yet another perfectly “french” aspect of the car 🙂
Hah! Now I know what the owner does reaching in the car: fetch the lighter!
John is indeed a smoker, and is in the second photo putting his lighter back in the car.
France used to be bad for smoking and sometimes frustrating for us non-smokers. Great food and wine, then smoke blown all over it….but it’s a lot better now with a strict ban on smoking in covered public places. This ban does not cover John’s car though!
I’d quite forgotten that the five speed was available in these. So is the the Citroen the only car ever made with a five-on-the-tree?
Paul, I believe the Renault 16TX had a five-speed column shift.
Nissan and Toyota pickups Ive driven have a 5 speed tree shift bench seat arrangement, SR5 on a Hilux stands for 5speed and its on the tree in RHD.
Not sure, but the 74 DS23 Pallas I had in the Netherlands had it as well – I believe it was a Borg-Warner unit. As Roger notes, it was a smooth shifter but a very long movement – in city traffic, you look like you’re conducting a orchestra.
I’ve seen a few Japanese cars on YouTube with five-speed column shifts. I actually drove one once.
Sweet looking Citroen. I’ve heard of the ID, but I’ve never seen one, certainly not in the USA. I like this over the DS. I’d drive one if someone let me. It looks like a fun car to drive.
This car is just too bizarre. Everything seems like it is from another planet. I guess the French really do think differently from the rest of us. Being from Canada, where we have to deal with Quebec, I had always suspected this.
If there was one car I’d like to add to my garage it would be a DS19 sedan. When I was years from getting a driver’s license I’d look at them in the NY Times auto section and cut out the pictures. They seemed so right and cool and functional.
Many years later in Holland as I drove my friends 2CV on the highway, DSs (and others exotics such as Mercedes) would tear by me in the left lane at what seemed extremely high speeds. My little CV would shake from their wind wake (actually it shook if I sneezed). I know the DS did not have powerful engines, but they seemed to go with the wind, flashing their high beams so slow guys like me kept the high speed lane clear.
I would need to find a good French mechanic, or at least a good Citroen mechanic.
In my mind that unkempt foot well doesn’t send a good signal for the car’s overall maintenance and use. But that’s just me.
One thing for sure, my dream DS19, and I, would not look like this:
One simple thing you have to learn about French cars, once up to cruising speed there is NO reason to slow for corners and bends in the road, huge hp is not really needed.
That’s not just you. I’m all in favor of patina and everything, but with a footwell like this one I’m afraid the car has some serious underlying issues. Still it’s a very nice catch.
I wonder what it would be like to drive a Citroen 2 CV with the push in pull out gear lever coming out of the dash ?
Surprisingly normal. The shift pattern is different but it’s basically still a back/forth left/right motion. I passed my UK driving test first time in a 2CV which belonged to a workmate.
I agree with adam-b. If you had a floor shift lever attached to the 2CV umbrella handle, it would be the same movements as a 3 speed USA transmission. For R, twist to the left and forward, 1st straight back and below it (like my 71 Duster), then spring load right and forward for 2nd, and then straight back for 3rd. I do not recall a 4th gear, but then some parts of my memory have chipped off during the years from rough use.
Here’s a web site for all models: http://citroenet.org.uk/passenger-cars/michelin/2cv/gearchange/gearchange.html
Yes, the one I drove had fourth gear to the right and forward – perhaps the earlier ones had only a three-speed?
Early R5s had the same shifter. And for much the same reason: the gearbox was in front of the engine. I wonder if any other cars had this…and any non-French cars?
Other Citroens with the same engine had that different shifter too, like the Citroen Amis and the updated 2CV body that was a little more squared off. I can’t remember the model name,. Somebody will know.
Was it the Dyane? Some of my co-workers in Amstelveen had 2CVs and others had the more upscale Dyane.
Yes the Dyane , with updated styling, but didn’t have the charm of the 2CV.
And the R4 had it as well. This particular shift pattern where 4th is to the right front puts 2 and 3 in a straight line. With these puny engines you need to shift a lot between 2 and 3. Because they were in line these shifts were very efficiently done. There was a spring that kept the lever on this 2-3 line.
This is great! I’ve always admired these from afar, but cannot remember ever having actually seen one. Maybe in Nashville in a few weeks…
That wheelbase looks to be as long as a wagon track, but I’m hazarding a guess it may simply look long on a smallish car. Being accustomed to a three-on-the-tree, driving a car with a five-on-the-tree would be a distinct change.
Major kudos to John for rehabilitating this Citroen. May you continue to be privy to driving such magnificent cars.
The French Ecto-1.
Nice!! I remember riding in the back seat of one of those when I was a child in France in the 1970s. When the pop up seats in the 2nd row were not in use and folded down, the legroom in the back became just fantastic. No seat belts in the back of course, so the car was like a big playground on wheels for us kids, really (and it didn’t hurt that the parents were so far away in the front seat, of course). I’m glad to see this one escaped the scrap yard.
Nice cars, there is at least one roaming local roads and several sedans, you cant beat the ride these cars give, a friend just recently bought a hydro Citroen much newer than the ID but the cloud like ride is still there along with brillliant roadholding.
Still look amazing……and remember, this all started in 1955…Tres chic.
I enjoyed reading every word of this write-up — thanks for documenting this great experience.
I’ve always had a fondness for Citroens, even though my first-hand interactions with them have been minimal. However, there is one story about a DS that sticks in my mind.
When I was in college, one of the professors (I never figured out who he was) drove a Citroen DS. I would occasionally see him driving through campus — like many college campuses, ours had large speed bumps to slow drivers down and protect the absent-minded student pedestrians. Most cars had to slow to nearly a stop at the speed bumps, but the Citroen driver… he didn’t even have to slow down. His car would glide over the speed bumps, and the car’s body would barely move. I never tired of watching this.
The DS/ID is a car I’ve always admired, but never seriously aspired to own. All those things that can go wrong…
Thanks so much for taking us along for the drive.
What a charge you must have gotten from this! It was enjoyable to accompany you on the drive, even if the car does not call to me as it does to you.
My first thought was that this car and your experience with it There my disdain for restomods. There is something special about interaction with obsolete machinery. An old car has a personality derived from those who designed it, and that personality is something to be cherished rather than eliminated.
Exactly; I just about bit of John’s arm to just above the ankle at the opportunity.
Concours is great but there is something about patina and through it the story the car wants to tell us, and added to a design like the Citroen it becomes remartkable
What a great experience, and I’m glad it did not disappoint your expectations! Also how lucky for all of us that it was saved from the jaws of the crusher or the slow dismemberment of the pick-a-part. I’ve always loved the DS/ID sedans (rare though they are over here, I’ve seen a few) but the familiale always looks a little off to me–the rear wheel opening looks kind of like an afterthought. Maybe I’m too used to the skirted rears of the sedan, but you’d think they could have done something that worked with the lines a little more elegantly.