There is a reason some cars from the ’50 and ’60 are so special. I like to think it is because humanity came closer together. It rebuilt itself, moving forward, taking the knowledge of war that killed so many people, and devastated so many millions more, and changed it to better themselves, and the future. The Citroën DS20 is one of them.
The Citroën DS History
It was a time of devastation as France was still rebuilding itself after WW2. The people needed a form of transportation, something to cope with the rough roads, something “affordable” to the blue collar worker, and something the farmers could use. This was the thinking back in 1955, when the first DS20 was showed at the Paris motor show. It was a symbol of French Ingenuity. Within 15 minutes of being on display, it took 743 orders. During the full 10 days the show went on, a total number of 80,000 orders were taken. A record that stood for nearly 60 years, a record beaten by the Tesla 3.
Key trademarks of the Citroën made it one of the most recognizable cars in the world, and in many ways, laid the foundations in what is considered as comfort today.
It also saved the life of French President Charles de Gaulle after an assassination attempt. How? Simple. The Citroën was able to get away with three wheels, all while being driven by a possessed maniac trying to get the president out of harms way.
Hailed as the car of the future, the DS23 is my favorite of the series. It had a hydropneumatic suspension. Combing the best of pneumatic and Hydraulic, the Citroën was able to soak up bumps and uneven surfaces (like cobblestone roads) at speed allowing the driver such a comfortable ride his drink wouldn’t spill. (Not kidding, it really is that smooth). The hydraulics also powered the brakes, power steering, clutch (if you had a semi automatic) etc.
Then there was the swiveling head lights. Turn your steering wheel, and the brights will turn with you, pointing in the direction you are turning in. Some modern cars do this too, but this was in the 60′.
The Hydropneumatic system went even further. It powered the brakes, allowing for the best braking in that era, it allowed you to raise and lower the ride hight, and it allowed for effortless, jackless tyre changes. (a complete story on its own)
This technology was later adopted (under license) by the likes of Mercedes-Benz (recently, known as active body control), Rolls Royce (Silver Shadow), Peugeot, Maserati, and even some trucks and Military tanks (the Challenger 2, used by the British army.)
When it comes to its design, the Citroën can drop names like Italian sculptor and industrial designer Flaminio Bertoni and French aeronautical engineer and race car driver André Lefèbvre.
It was also the first production car ever to be equipped with disk brakes.
France had stupid tax laws in place for over powered vehicles. The Citroën suffered enormously form this. It was underpowered and slow, even to the standards back in the those days. It was originally conceived to have a flat 6 air-cooled powerplant, but due to this tax, and Citroën not having enough money to develop this engine, it ended up with a 4 pot 2.3l setup
There are also some weird features the DS23 sports; one being the brake pedal, or lack thereof. To brake, you would simply have to step on a small rubber pall. You have be very sensitive and careful though, because one “normal” or accidental step WILL lock up your wheels.
Relying heavily on Hydrolics, the entire setup was run by one pump generating an incredible 165 bar of pressure. The problem here, it was one pump. If it decided to break, well, no brakes, no gears, no power steering.
There is so much more that this DS leaves to be discovered, both in aesthetics and technology, but that is besides the point. The reason I love this little Citroën is because, unlike todays cars that is built to be cost effective pocket rockets which caters to every whim of the consumer, it is built to be luxurious, comfortable, and enjoyable.