In 1955, when Citroën first drove prototypes of their mold-breaking DS through Paris, they were pursued by crowds shouting “La DS, la DS, voilà la DS!”
Few other cars before or since were so technically and stylistically daring, and at its launch the DS created as many column inches as the death of Stalin. Cushioned on a bed of hydraulic fluid, with a semiautomatic gearbox, self-leveling suspension, and detachable body panels, it rendered half the world’s cars out of date at a stroke.
Parisian carmaker Henri Chapron produced 1,365 convertible DSs using the chassis from the Safari Estate model. Initially, Citroën refused to cooperate with Chapron but eventually sold the Decapotable models through their dealer network. At the time the stylish four-seater convertible was considered by many to be one of the most charismatic open-top cars on the market, and today genuine Chapron cars command seriously hefty premiums over the price of ‘‘ordinary’’ tin-top DS saloons.
The slippery, streamlined body cleaved the air with extreme aerodynamic efficiency. Body panels were detachable for easy repair and maintenance. Rear fenders could be removed for wheel changing in minutes, using just the car’s wheelbrace.
On all Dss the rear track was narrower than the front.
Past owners of the DS include General de Gaulle, Brigitte Bardot, and the poet C. Day-Lewis.
Thin rubber overrider-type bumpers offered some protection.
The DS was known as the “Shark” because of its prodigious nose.
Bertone’s asymmetrical dashboard makes the interior look as futuristic as the rest of the car. The single-spoke steering wheel was a Citroën hallmark. The dash-mounted gear lever operated the clutchless semiautomatic box.
The inside was as innovative as the outside, with clever use of curved glass and copious layers of foam rubber, even on the floors.
Smooth Bertone-designed lines have made the Citroën DS a cult design icon and the cerebral choice for doctors, architects, artists, and musicians. Customers could specify almost any stylistic or mechanical extra.
Citroën’s double chevrons are modeled on helical gears.
The DS 21’s rather sluggish 2175cc engine developed 109 bhp and was never highly praised, having its origins in the prewar Traction Avant. Stopping power was provided by innovative inboard disc brakes with split circuits.
Spare wheel under the hood allowed for extra trunk space.
A TRUE CLASSIC
Low, rakish, and space-age in appearance, the DS was so perfectly styled that it hardly altered shape in 20 years. The French philosopher Roland Barthes was captivated by the DS’s design and compared its technical preeminence to the Gothic flourish of medieval cathedrals.
A major change came in 1967 when the headlights and optional spot lights were faired in behind glass covers.
In 1962, the image of the DS received a boost when terrorists attacked President General De Gaulle. Despite being sprayed with bullets and having two flat tires, the presidential DS was able to swerve and speed away to safety.
Fully independent gas suspension gave a magic-carpet ride.
Citroën’s advertising made much of the car’s futuristic looks.
One of the Decapotable’s trademarks was angled chrome-plated indicators perched on the rear fenders. Another was the novel suspension, which could be raised to clear rough terrain or navigate flooded roads.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL Citroën DS 21 Decapotable (1960–71)
BODY STYLE Five-seater convertible.
CONSTRUCTION All-steel body with detachable panels, steel platform chassis with welded box section side members.
ENGINE Four-cylinder 2175cc.
POWER OUTPUT 109 bhp at 5550 rpm.
TRANSMISSION Four-speed clutchless semiautomatic.
SUSPENSION Independent all around with hydro-pneumatic struts.
BRAKES Front: disc; Rear: drums.
MAXIMUM SPEED 116 mph (187 km/h)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 11.2 sec
0–100 MPH (0–161 KM/H) 40.4 sec
A.F.C. 24 mpg (8.5 km/l)