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If I chose to title my article “ CITROËN DS 1970 HISTORY OF A CULT CAR ”, it is because 1 970 marks the peak of the production of a car that went from “ simple ” industrial object to legendary status.

1970 for the Citroën DS was popular and industrial recognition. But it is also recognition for an exceptional, incomparable design that is almost a work of art. The 1970s marked both the peak and the end of its industrial career for the Citroën DS. An elitist and democratic car at the same time, it is the one that will best embody the French quality identifiable throughout the world. Car of thugs and cops, of Charles De Gaule and Louis de Funès. It is also that of everyone, young and old, workers and managers. And then in the hearts of collectors of vintage cars and enthusiasts it will continue to live and arouse passions that are sometimes a little crazy.

As a photographer who likes to work on the shapes and volumes of classic cars, photographing a Citroën DS from the 70s, such as the Citroën DS 21 and DS 23, is like following in the footsteps of Henri Cartier- Bresson, by Robert Doisneau, but also by Robert Klein or Helmut Newton. Because even the greatest photographers have fallen under the spell of the beautiful Citroën and they too have contributed to the myth. But it’s also about continuing to be amazed every time I photograph one of these fantastic old cars, both vintage and modern, both classic and contemporary. But it also evokes childhood memories. I always remember going on vacation in 1974 with the DS 21 that my father was able to find second-hand and the incomparable feeling we experienced on board. It wasn't the destination that mattered, but the almost artistic way of getting there! For me, it’s a real Proust madeleine on wheels.

What vintage and collector's car enthusiast has never had their heart beat faster when they hear the legendary names of the Citroën DS 21 Pallas, ds 23 Pallas or even Citroën DS 1970_11100000-0000-0000-0000- 000000000111_? Because among vintage cars, if there is a classic car among classic cars, it is the Citroën DS.

So how did the Citroën DS go from the status of “ simple ” car then to the car prized by collectors and finally to the legend, even to the myth ?


Citroën and the automobile thunderbolt of 1955

In 1955, the Traction-avant showed signs of fatigue and was no longer able to compete with the competition, whether national or international. The chevron brand has no choice but to react. In fact, for several years now, Citroën has been secretly preparing a very innovative project called VGD, for mass-market car. And we are talking about wide distribution here. This is how Citroën, on its virtual museum, claims the sale of 1,456,115 copies of its DS, whether in France or abroad, from Belgium to South Africa, via America of the North and even Oceania! In Europe, the DS experienced a unique craze, following the example of the Netherlands.

In any case, in Paris on October 6, 1955, the day Peugeot unveiled its bland 403, the crowd only had eyes for the new Citroën DS 19, awaited for 10 years and awaited with as much impatience as if it was the opening of a new Egyptian tomb! Indeed, when the Citroën DS 19 came out, most of the cars were simple boxes on wheels. The “ concurrentes ” are called Frégate, 404 or even Opel Rekord. An already legendary plastic object with a top speed of 200 km/h, a bitumen-crunching missile and all in the comfort of a bourgeois living room. What Citroën is looking for is to maintain the avant-garde image acquired more than 20 years ago with the release of the Traction, also ahead of its time.

A technological and aesthetic jewel 20 years ahead of the competition

The car presented by Citroën is 20 years ahead of the competition. Innovation is everywhere, technical first: oleo-pneumatic suspension, assisted disc brakes, semi-automatic gearbox and hydraulically assisted steering. Then in the design: interior with exceptional visibility, crazy dashboard, exceptional rear roominess. Finally, the handling of the Citroën DS is fantastic.

The Citroën DS will be nicknamed “ la Bombe ”, with its science fiction line halfway between the fish and the car, and even described as UFO and/or work of art by its ever-increasing admirers. It is also to Flaminio Bertoni that we owe this very stylized bodywork. It is again he who positions the indicators high and designs a discreet trunk. Note that the Citroën DS won the Industrial Art Prize at the Milan Triennale in 1957. Its futuristic aerodynamic style, at least for the time, is also the fruit of the work of engineers, including Paul Magès, the father hydraulic suspension. These engineers seem to have freed themselves from the dictates imposed by the already all-powerful marketing. This is how the interior of the Citroën DS goes against all the canons of the time, with thick carpets and soft seats which oppose the Spartan appearance of the French competition for example. As for the dashboard, it is a real exercise in very pure and very designer style. Certainly, the DS will show some aesthetic developments but which will in no way distort the magnificent line, its elegant curves and the futuristic character of the car will remain intact.

It is an avant-garde aesthetic and technological masterpiece which is offered to as many people as possible and at a very competitive price. Another risk-taking on the part of the manufacturer is to have dared to offer very daring colors with apple green or turquoise and aubergine, among others…

The driving experience of this Citroën DS is disconcerting with very soft steering, too much for some. The car is fast but it does not provide a feeling of speed, it seems to float, erasing all the imperfections of the road. Note that the prestigious luxury sedan manufacturer Rolls Royce would later borrow this hydropneumatic system by requesting a patent from Citroën. The disc brakes are remarkably powerful and a simple short press of the foot brings out all their power almost instantly. What initially disconcerts ends up gaining the support of those who will become the “ Citronistes ”, the uncompromising fans, the ultras of the brand with its rafters.

The Citroën DS is too sophisticated?

However, the car is not free from all criticism and many regret a noisy engine, which runs out of steam too quickly and reliability which is not always there. Although the car improved over the years, it was produced for 20 years from 1955 to 1975, it never benefited from the 6-cylinder engine expected for it.

The level of sophistication of the car, which required considerable development time, also caused some reliability setbacks for the first owners, particularly in terms of suspension. Delivered too quickly perhaps, the Citroën DS and its problems will embarrass dealers left without training by the manufacturer, faced with breakdowns that they do not yet know how to repair.

Sophistication for the masses will, however, scare some potential customers, more " 4ème République ", and it is with a certain relief that the manufacturer will produce a more consensual version of its flagship model with the more proletarian ID 19. What is certain is that with the Citroën DS 19, DS 21 and 23, the France of the 30 Glorieuses enters modernity, both on both in terms of aesthetics and technology.

Fed up with black, make way for color!

And is it really that beautiful in apple green or billiards green? This is because for its manufacturer, a Citroën DS is not an object like any other and must be noticed and if possible from afar. Citroën was turning a page to open a more revolutionary one and this upheaval also involved the color which was to contrast with the black before the war. Customers of the 1955 show, however, will order more subdued colors such as ivory and aubergine. But these small restrictions on the unreserved love of the public will in no way prevent the success of the Citroën DS from being dazzling with its 80,000 units sold at the end of the show.

Citroën DS 21 and 23: the marks of social success

It will become the best-selling car in France during the 30 Glorieuses. It was very successful on the second-hand market because it allows those with more modest means to acquire a prestigious automobile. Driving a DS 21 then a Citroën DS 23 is a mark of social success for its owners. Let us remember, moreover, that the car was first intended for executives. Another notable development, both aesthetic and technical, appeared in 1967 with the appearance of 4 headlights, half of which pivoted depending on the direction. Note that the Citroën DS 21 and Citroën DS 23 will never be released in station wagon version, unlike the ID 19 seen as a service ambulance in many films from the 70s.


The Citroën DS, the most beautiful car of all time, was born from the hands of sculptor Flaminio Bertoni **

The Citroën DS 19 then 21 and 23 were born from the mind and hands of Flaminio Bertoni, sculptor by trade and who was made a Knight of Arts and Letters by the Minister of Cultural Affairs André Malraux. In 1999, he even won the prize for “ Best World Design Object of the 20th century ”.

Flaminio Bertoni will be hired in 1932 by André Citroën who very quickly understands that the automobile is not just a simple production of utilitarian objects, but must also be based on a sense of aesthetics close to the gesture of the artist. This is how Flaminio Bertoni became director of the “ Style ” branch of Citroën. It is to him that Citroën owes the unique line of its DS, which still surprises and captivates today. He died of a heart attack while working on a DS sports coupe project, at the age of 61. The most beautiful tribute was paid to it when in 1999, it was named « most beautiful car of all time_11100000-0000-0000- 0000-000000000111_»_11100000 -0000-0000-0000-000000000111_by British magazine Classic & Sports Car. And what about this 3rd place acquired in 1999 during the international election Car of the Century à_11100000-0000-000 0-0000-000000000111_Los Angeles.

The Citroën DS “ Prestige ” from coachbuilder Henri Chapron

Another name is often associated with the prestige of the Citroën DS 21 and Citroën DS 23, that of the coachbuilder Henri Chapron who captivated visitors to the 1958 motor show with his DS convertible. This will also be the starting point of a collaboration between the manufacturer and the bodybuilder, which will both reduce production costs, while allowing buyers of these convertibles to benefit from a “_11100000-0000-” guarantee. 0000-0000-000000000111_constructeur ”. The special, extended model used by General De Gaule is to him. It was he who also created the first convertible DS convertible. Presented in 1958, the model was named “DS Prestige”. Chapron's convertibles will captivate collectors and the prices of these exercises in bourgeois styles will become collector's items, the prices of which are very often well beyond 60,000 euros. For example, the Citroën DS 23 IE, designed by Henri Chapron, will reach the record sum of 344,850 euros, making it the most expensive DS in history.

These cars bodied by Chapron achieve high prices due to their rarity. On the other hand, the DS “ series” are traded at very lower prices, when it is not at the price of scrap metal. Indeed, we see everything on the second-hand market with cars in very diverse states : from magnificently renovated beauty, to wreck, including the car "  as is ".

Roland Barthes and the Citroën: from the DS to the goddess

The Citroën DS 21 and Citroën DS 23 will become both cult objects and collector's cars. This simple consumer item will become the object of a cult, which collectors of vintage cars around the world are eager for. Prices are rising to dizzying heights.

Even intellectuals will contribute to establishing the myth of the Citroën DS 19 then the Citroën DS 21 and DS 23. Thus Roland Barthes notes, as if hypnotized: “ The new Citroën clearly falls from the sky , superlative and spiritual object which sublimates ustentility » . He adds: “  the Citroën is a great creation of the era, passionately designed by unknown artists, consumed in its image, if not in its use, by an entire people who appropriate it. a perfectly magical object » From the DS to the goddess finally!

1962: the Citroën DS saves the life of General De Gaule

Legend has it that the Citroën DS saved the life of General De Gaule during the Petit-Clamart attack on August 22, 1962. The valiant automobile with its chevrons continued to drive despite two burst tires, thanks in particular to its automatic clutch. Any other car of the time and in identical circumstances would undoubtedly have spun and then rolled. For many, any other model of car would have been beyond the control of its driver. This is to disregard the skill of the driver, who showed great composure. When at the terrorists' trial he was asked if the car was a special model, he replied: " it was a completely standard DS ". Two years after the attack, the bullet-riddled car was restored and then sold to General Robert-Paul Dupuy who seriously damaged it in 1971, almost a second attack! Eventually, a replica of the vehicle will be built and will end up in the Charles De Gaule Memorial museum. Note that this replica will often be presented as the real one, that of the attack!

In any case, the racing car from the chevron brand had in Charles de Gaule the most prestigious fan there is and the latter made it the official car of the French Republic. No eggplant for the general but a more republican black color.

The Citroën DS movie star

The Citroën DS will become one of the most used cars in the history of cinema. You remember the “ Valseuses ”, of “_11100000-0000-0000-0000-00000000011 1_Fantômas ». But the Citroën DS 21 and the Citroën DS 23 " will enter into the legend of the automobile and even into the legend itself with notable appearances in the cinema even after the 1980s.

we can no longer count the films in which the Citroën DS 19, DS 21 and DS 23 appear, especially from the 1950s to the 1980s. But she doesn’t only appear in French cinema. Thus, we discover her in films like Brazil, Back to the Future II, Team America or Scarface by Brian de Palma. Let’s add “ Catch me if you can ”, “_11100000-0000-0000-0000-00000000011 1_Da Vinci Code », «_11100000 -0000-0000-0000-000000000111_La Taupe ” or even “ Time Out_11100000 -0000-0000-0000-000000000111_” to name a few.

But it is above all French cinema that uses the Citroën DS the most. Of course we immediately think of Louis de Funès, with the Fantômas series, in “ Jo ”, “_11100000-0000-0000-000 0-000000000111_Hibernatus_11100000-0000- 0000-0000-000000000111_, in “ Grandes vacances ” or in “_11100000-000 0-0000-0000-000000000111_the Grand restaurant «_11100000-0000-0000- 0000-000000000111_where the DS Citroën is Mr Septime's car. “ The adventures of Rabbi Jacob ” and his magnificent black DS.

How can we not mention the legendary “ Tontons flingueurs ”, or the magnificent “_11100000-0000-0000-000 0-000000000111_Samurai_11100000-0000-0000-0000- 000000000111_» by Jean-Pierre Melville, with Alain Delon as a Citroën DS thief. “ Adventure is adventure ” by Claude Lelouch is not left out with several DS used. In “ Le Silencieux ”, Lino Ventura will use several Citroën DS. Special mention for the film “ Les Lyonnais ” by Olivier Marchal from 2011: we see several models of Citroën DS 19, DS 21 and DS 2 3 who do not are not content with furtive appearances, but are actually used and often at high speed. They are truly actresses in their own right here.

Mentioning all the films where a Citroën DS is seen is a mission impossible, at least in the context of a blog article. What is certain in any case is that the 7th art has also contributed to shaping the legend of a decidedly unique automobile.

And then the DS stolen by Alain Delon in the pale Paris of 1967, that has some real class. We feel that Melville loved filming the car. You're beautiful like a car stolen by Alain Le Samouraï the reflections of the neon lights of Paris of the time on the bodywork.

Jean Dujardin in La French and the jay black of the car is very classy too.

Gatherings of Citroën DS 19, DS 21 and DS 23 enthusiasts

Share your passion for cars

Gatherings of enthusiasts are legion with color combos often very far from the original colors. These rafters often have no intention of reselling their goddess of a car. Above all, these enthusiasts want to share their passion with their experienced peers. It is also about passing on their love of the beautiful Citroën which for many is an integral part of French heritage, in the same way as a Loire castle or a great wine.

Escape automobile formatting in Citroën DS 21

And then, there is also the idea that today “ cars all look alike ” and that therefore driving a Citroën DS 21 is is to create a club for true connoisseurs of automotive history, while escaping the ambient grayness and the conformism of the contemporary motorist. Driving a DS is a special experience, even a privilege. If I use the word " rouler ", it is because most often, DS owners use their vehicle whenever they can and do not do not intend to store them in any personal museum.

Transmitting heritage

In discussing with these enthusiasts, during my reports, I often heard about transmission: “ it was a family car, that of my father or my grandfather. father ”. The idea of a living heritage that is passed down from generation to generation. Remember that this car has sold more than 1.5 million copies and that there are still many in circulation in many French families...and on the roads of our countryside and less in the cities, in any case In France. It is a very popular heritage on wheels and not simply for making a financial investment. Like lovers of old buildings who renovate and save old buildings, DS enthusiasts also intend to keep the heritage of their ancestors alive.

How to maintain a Citroën DS that is 50 years old or more?

The other question that comes up is that of the maintenance of such a vehicle. Indeed, it “ must find the parts ”. Stocks have indeed decreased significantly, with the revival of interest in the Citroën DS 21 at the beginning of the 2000s. And then you have to find the skills to repair these cars when their age catches up with them. Because very often the 21st century mechanic is a little helpless when he opens the hood of a machine that is almost 60 years old. But ultimately, it's the snake that bites its own tail because when the car came out, the dealers were also faced with a UFO.

The legend of the Citroën DS was also built in motor racing.

Lesser known aspect of the history of the Citroën DS 19, 21 and DS 23 is its sporting career in competition and in particular in rally such as that of Monte Carlo reinforcing an image of a robust and efficient car, even on the toughest terrains. more demanding. From 1959 to 1974, a great longevity, the Citroën DS 19, 21 and 23 won major international rallies, with victories in 1959 at the Monte-Carlo rally. This marks the first official race of an ID 19 in an official competition with on board, an industrial shoe manufacturer: Paul Coltelloni, « gentleman driver  » in his spare time.

Some key dates:

1959 and 1966: victory in the Monte-Carlo rally

1961 and 1963: victory at the Tour de Corse

1962: 1000 Lake rally

1969: Portugal rally

1970: Morocco rally

1971: Wembley-Munich rally

The Citroën DS was therefore not content with being a comfortable sedan, it ventured into more unexpected terrain, notably in hill climbs, with a certain happiness.

A few questions as a (provisional) conclusion.

I end this article with a few short questions for you which will do me the honor of reading my blog.

1 Do you know any enthusiasts of this legendary car that I could interview about their passion?

2 Do you know of any Citroën DS gatherings near you?

3 Do you know of any enthusiast blogs dedicated to the Citroën DS?

4 In your opinion, what are the most beautiful books on the subject?

Do not hesitate to contact me to discuss these subjects!

Jean-François Naturel

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