The AutoGuru team is on a tour of France and last week, we introduced you to the leader of innovation, the Citroen Traction Avant. The first mass-produced vehicle built as a Monocoque chassis, contrary to the ladder on frame chassis that was prevalent in those times. It was coupled to a front-wheel-drive system with hydraulic braking and was conceived in just 18 months amidst the financial crisis, which Citroen was going through.
The Citroen Traction Avant was produced for 23 years, from 1934 to 1957 and during this time frame, a total of 7,59,111 units of the Traction Avant were produced globally.
Citroen in October 1955, after 18 secret years of development unveiled the Citroen DS 19, as the successor of the ageing Traction Avant at the Paris Motor Show.
In the first 15 minutes of the show, 743 orders were taken, and orders for the first day totalled 12,000. During the 10 days of the show, the DS took in 80,000 deposits; a record that stood for over 60 years, until it was eclipsed by the Tesla Model 3 which received 180,000 first day deposits in March 2016.
The DS didn’t just attract the buyers with its elegant speedboat like looks. Its tech was real-world relevant. The whole car was stood on hydro-pneumatic struts, automatically-levelling independent suspension that would absorb the bumps from France’s notoriously roughshod roads, and even raise the car up for more ground clearance.
It was filled with tech and innovation. It had a power steering, semi-automatic gearbox – all hydraulically controlled – and the lightweight fibreglass roof. Front brakes were placed inside – not in the wheels – to reduce the unsprung weight. At the front, the car had a larger track to reduce the understeer. Citroen was way ahead of competitors by installing a set of radial tyres, thanks to parent company - Michelin.
Citroen was also actively involved in the world of motorsports. The Traction Avant had already garnered a lot of awards and the DS, thanks to the innovations it brought, was no different.
The DS was successful in motorsports like rallying, where it sustained speeds on poor surfaces are paramount, and won the Monte Carlo Rally in 1959. Pauli Toivonen drove a DS19 to victory in the 1000 Lakes Rally in 1962. The DS was also participating in the gruelling 1974 London-Saharan-Munich World Cup Rally, where it won over 70 other cars, out of which only 5 were able to finish the rally.
Nearly after 12 years of introduction, the DS in 1967 underwent a major facelift. Not only did its sharknose restyle herald the introduction of directional headlights in a new four-lamp cluster, but Citroen changed the chemistry of the fluid used in the critical hydropneumatics system.
In 1967, the fluid was re-engineered and changed to a much less rugged mineral-oil-based fluid, and the spheres and seals were painted green to show that only this new, green-coloured fluid was to be used.
Talk about innovations and you can’t forget one of the most innovative features of all time. The DS did not have a jack for lifting the car off the ground. Instead, the hydraulic system enabled wheel changes with the aid of a simple adjustable stand.
To change a flat tyre, one would adjust the suspension to its topmost setting, insert the stand into a special peg near the flat tyre, then readjust the suspension to its lowermost setting. The flat tyre would then retract upwards and hover above the ground, ready to be changed. Innovative – isn’t it? If I had been born during that time in France, I would have happily joined the que saying – “Oui, I’ll get one!”
Production of the DS continued until 1975, when Citroen chose to replace it with an even more powerful and luxurious SM coupe featuring a Maserati V6. Many of its clever technologies, such as the 'magic carpet' suspension and cornering headlights, were inherited from the DS, which had made its status as an icon and as a legacy throughout its lifetime.
The last Citroen DS came off the production line on 24th April 1975. After nearly a production run of two decades, about 1,455,746 units of the DS were produced. After that, the DS became an iconic and legendary vintage with tons of innovation on-board.
After all these years, Citroen’s parent company – Groupe PSA in 2009 decided to resurrect the DS brand name. But, not as a product, as a brand.
Groupe PSA created a new brand in 2009 – DS Automobiles which is placed as a luxury and premium brand in the portfolio. Truly, a great comeback!