suspension systems suffer from the dichotomy between, on the one hand,
the need for comfort and on the other hand, the need for good
road holding and handling. A softly sprung car is comfortable but has
poor roadholding and handling and furthermore suffers from attitude
changes depending on the weight and distribution of the load carried.
A firmly sprung car offers good roadholding and handling but is
uncomfortable on anything but the smoothest of surfaces.
its inception the car was intended to use either torsion bars or
rubber suspension; the requirement being for a very supple system but
without excessively long suspension arms since these, by virtue of an
ever-changing wheelbase, would cause inconsistent handling.
solutions were achieved - that of the 2 CV and that of the D Series
and subsequent hydropneumatically
sprung CitroŽns. The 2 CV solution is a very soft suspension and works
by virtue of its front to rear interconnection and low weight. A
number of VGD prototypes were equipped with 2 CV suspension but
suffered from excessive body roll, pitching and load-related attitude
1942, Paul MagŤs had an incredible idea. MagŤs was a junior engineer
working on braking systems who concluded that hydraulic
power could be applied to provide levelling of the suspension
and operation of the steering and transmission in addition to the
brakes. Even though the principles were well understood, putting them
into practice presented numerous problems ranging from the incredibly
fine engineering tolerances required through to the choice of
materials and hydraulic fluid. Step by step these problems were
Walter Becchia was the man responsible for the 2 CV's flat twin and it
was he who was given the task of developing a new engine. He designed
a water cooled flat six of 1 806cc capacity producing 63,8 bhp @ 4 500
rpm. In 1948 following successful trials of the 2 CV's engine, the
flat six was converted to air cooling although all else remained
unchanged including power output which was adjudged to be too low. The
project was abandoned in 1954 due to lack of power, excessive thirst
and great weight despite the widespread use of aluminium. The flat six
would have been mounted ahead of the front axle as in the 2 CV.
Becchia's flat six -
here in water-cooled guise
AX scale model
By 1946, the prototypes
looked unlike anything else on the road with a plunging bonnet, no
radiator grill and an abbreviated Kamm tail. One of these protoypes
was given the inelegant nickname l'Hippototame (hippopotamus).
Aerodynamic cars like Chrysler's Airflow offered no clues at to the
shape of la nouvelle Traction. Immediately after WW2, CitroŽn's chief
stylist, Flaminio Bertoni started in secret to revise the dimensions
of the VGD, lengthening the wheelbase and improving on both
accommodation and aerodynamics.
December 1950, Pierre Boulanger was killed at the wheel of an
experimental Traction and Robert Puisseux became Prťsident-Directeur
Gťnťral of Michelin who owned CitroŽn. He handed control of the VGD
project over to Pierre Bercot, the new managing director of CitroŽn.
Bercot agreed to a redefinition of the project, believing that here
was the opportunity to create a car that would be as far ahead of the
Traction as that car was of its contemporaries in 1934, even if that
meant that the new car's launch would be delayed. Andrť Lefebvre was
given carte blanche yet again and thus was born Projet D.
Traction's styling was looking increasingly dated - indeed Renault
took to marketing its Frťgate as la 11 CV Moderne and Peugeot
with its 203 and Simca with its Aronde were making inroads into
Traction sales with their "modern" styling. The French car market was
protected from foreign competition and was totally dominated by
CitroŽn, Peugeot and Renault (who had been nationalised on the grounds
that the company had collaborated with the Germans during the war).
Second division players included Simca, Ford, Panhard et Levassor,
Hotchkiss, Delahaye and Facel Vega. CitroŽn's response was to offer
the Traction in colours other than black.
onwards, prototypes were clandestinely tested on the
deserted roads of the Midi. In April 1952, l'Auto
Journal published photos of one of these cars. In the
June edition, they published accurate technical
specifications. Bercot was furious and called in the
police but the journalists refused to divulge their
sources. CitroŽn improved security and a veil of secrecy
descended over the new car, only to be lifted slightly
with a preview in 1953 of hydropneumatic suspension in
the 15 CV H.
Sainturat, the man responsible for designing the
Traction's engine was given the task of redesigning that
engine so it could be used in the new car. He reworked
the cylinder head of the 1 911cc engine (the Traction
six cylinder was too long) and with various
modifications managed to extract 75 bhp from it. The
"new" engine was too tall to fit in front of the gearbox
so the Traction layout was employed even though this
meant that the engine protruded into the passenger
attempt to ameliorate this problem, designs
incorporating the differential inside the sump were
worked on. This meant that the engine/transmission
assembly could be shortened but financial constraints
meant that the project was abandoned.
Jaguar's 1953 win at le Mans with car equipped with
Dunlop disc brakes, it was decided to equip Projet D
with front discs.
design was still undecided six months before the new
car's launch. Bertoni eventually came up with the
definitive shape - a dashboard moulded out of plastic, a
single spoke wheel, air vents, rear indicators mounted
above the C pillars were all realised at a very late
stage as were the precise angles of front and rear
Thursday 5th October 1955
o'clock, the new CitroŽn was unveiled at the Paris motor
show. Minutes later, dozens of Projet D - now officially
named DS 19 were driven out of the factory gates and
into the Paris traffic. By 09:45 that morning, CitroŽn
had taken 749 firm orders and by the end of the day, 12
000 orders had been placed, the vast majority by people
who had never seen the car. The Traction effect
had been repeated. Unfortunately, so had the problems.
No-one had the faintest idea how these cars worked. The
workshops had no manuals. The salesmen had no publicity
material. The obsessive need for secrecy had worked
against the company. early cars were less than totally
reliable. Many was the owner who found himself stranded
with no steering, no brakes, no
clutch, no gearchange , no suspension and a big pool of
fluid under his car. The local garagiste had no
idea what to do. The company quickly mobilised itself,
providing the agents with the necessary workshop manuals
and training to allow it to honour its guarantees. But
when it was working, the DS was undoubtedly la Reine
de la Route offering novelty and modernism in
addition to unprecedented levels of comfort, road
holding, braking and safety. Little by little, the bugs
were solved. The hydraulic fluid formulation was
improved to reduce oxydisation caused by the intensely
hygroscopic properties of the early fluid and
eventually, the DS became as reliable as any of its
conventional contemporaries - if maintained properly.
its 20 year lifetime, the DS was refined and improved and the range was
extended to include numerous new variants. The DS was built in England ,
Belgium, South Africa and Australia as well as in France.
1957, a "dry" DS was introduced. The ID 19 retained the body and
suspension of the DS but was equipped with a conventional braking and
steering system and a normal clutch and manual gearchange. Despite
marginally lower power, the ID 19 offered similar levels of performance
thanks to a reduction in the load placed on the hydraulic pump. The
Traction ceased production that year. The purists at Javel considered
this car to be a "sous-produit".
In 1958, the ID Break
(estate car) was launched, available as a 7 seater, 9 seater Familiale
1960, the 6 volt electrical system was replaced by a 12 volt system.
In 1961, power output was upped to 83 bhp.
In 1962, the front end of the car was tidied up resulting in a 8 kph/5
mph improvement in top speed.
halogen auxiliary driving lamps were introduced in 1964.
engines were introduced in 1965 - a 90 bhp short stroke 1 985cc which
replaced the long stroke Sainturat engine in the DS 19 and a 109 bhp
short stroke 2 175cc engine which powered a new model - the DS 21.
front end of the car was redesigned again in 1967 with four lamps
mounted behind transparent faired in panels and on top of the range
models, the inner pair of lamps swivelled with the steering while the
outer pair were linked to the suspension maintaining a level beam
irrespective of whether the car was accelerating or braking.
1968, the DS21 gained an extra pair of horses while the DS 19 gained
thirteen. Along with the additional power came a name change to DS 20.
IDs became D Spťcials if equipped with the old engine or D Super if
fitted with the DS 20 engine. All cars gained a new dashboard too.
1969, the millionth DS was built and to celebrate, the DS 21 was offered
with Bosch electronic fuel injection boosting power to 139 bhp.
In 1970, a five speed manual gearbox was offered.
A Borg Warner fully automatic gearbox was made available in 1971.
In 1972, the DS 21 was replaced by the DS 23 equipped with a 2 347cc
engine developing either 124 bhp when fitted with a carburettor or 141
bhp when equipped with fuel injection. The D Super was available with
the DS 21 engine and 5 speed gearbox and was called the D Super 5-21.
variants included the Prestige which was fitted with a glass
panel separating the chauffeur from the owner and the Decapotable,
both of which were built by Henri
variant was the Pallas which featured superior external finish
and improved interior including leather upholstery. On 24th April 1975,
production of the DS ceased.
production of all models came to 1 455 746. Its replacement, the CX was
nowhere near as innovative, being evolutionary rather than revolutionary
and that car's successor, the XM
continues this trend, representing the refinement of existing concepts
rather than the redefinition of those concepts.
unlikely that the world will ever see such a fundamentally new car as
the DS again. It is true that many manufacturers show concept cars that
are truly innovative but a combination of international legislation and
economics ensures that these are never put into production. Had the DS
merely been such a concept car, it would have been sufficient for an
entry into any history of the automobile. The fact that it made it into
production renders it unique.
was an incredibly successful rally
car and was also used as the basis for the incredible Maserati powered SM
was sold worldwide and met with a mixed reception - ranging from
stupefied incomprehension to unalloyed adulation.
United States of America, protectionist Federal regulations imposed
fixed headlights without the glass nacelle and ultimately led to the
demise of the marque in that marketplace.