1970 Citroen DS21 BVH

About the Citroen DS

The Citroen DS is a unique car  – you either love it or you hate it.   It ignored all the conventional wisdom about how a car should work and went its own way – a gamble that has never been repeated on a mass produced vehicle since.

The DS was launched in 1955 and such was the impact of the launch that 12,000 orders were taken on the first day.   At a time when most cars had big radiator grills and boxy designs, the DS with its streamlined shape looked like it had arrived in a time machine.   It was the first mass produced car with disk brakes, it brought with it a revolutionary hydraulic system that provided for an unsurpassed ride, excellent braking system, a manual gearbox without the need for a clutch pedal and the party trick of being able to change tyres without jacking up the car due to the height adjustable suspension.   The interior made the first extensive use of plastics in the dashboard and the body panels all bolted to a central frame.

Even after an almost 20 year production run, the car was still ahead of the game in many respects, and along the way had a few face lifts and various engine and hydraulic improvements.   Later models (such as mine) even had headlights that could ‘see around the corner’.

Today the DS is somewhat of a cult classic – They are still available for reasonable money and with good parts supply and are practical enough to use as more than just a weekend cruiser.

About my 1970 Citroen DS21 BVH

My Citroen DS is a 1970 DS21 BVH.   What does all this mean?   The DS range was always fairly complicated.   Generally the models can be broken into two groups – the DS which has the full hydraulic system (allowing for the hydraulic gear change), and the ID, which had a simpler system and generally more spartan interior. (Later IDs were known as the D Special and D Super)  Over time the differences shrank and IDs were available with some DS features and DSs were available with a manual gearbox, but nevertheless the distinction remained and the hydraulic gear change was only ever available on the DS.   In addition, you could have a Berline (Sedan), Break/Safari (Station Wagon), or the rare and expensive cabriolet.   The DS was also available with the ‘Pallas’ option, which was a package of luxury features (such as chrome strips, plush carpets, leathers etc).   The ‘Pallas’ option was only available for the DS and was commonly chosen by DS buyers.  The semi-automatic gearbox (BVH) was a must for me, so that ruled out the ID/D Special/D Super which are more common and easier to find.   The photo below is of the car in the original for sale ad.

The DS as I bought It.

The DS21 BVH has the 2175cc DX2 engine and the full DS hydraulic system.   BVH stands for boîte de vitesses hydraulique, which means the hydraulic semi-automatic gearbox (i.e. a clutchless manual).   Unlike many DS21, it does not have the Pallas package, and it is not an IE model (Bosch Fuel Injection).    BVH was not popular in Australia, and there are not many cars left on the road so equipped.   1970 was actually the last year it was officially offered in the Australian market as in 1971 new regulations enforced a park position which meant future DS were either manual, or later models with a Borg Warner auto transmission.   This makes a 1970 DS21 BVH non Pallas a fairly rare car in Australia.  (in an interesting way, not a $$ way).   I am not sure if this car was originally sold in Australia, or was imported privately at a later date.

The car was originally delivered with a white exterior.   When I purchased it, it was Rio Red, a 1971 colour, with a black targa (plastic) interior.   From 1997 to 2012 it was on the Sunshine coast in Queensland, living with a Blue DS21IE BVH and a While D Special, as well as a Traction Avant.   It was purchased before that in Ballina from a man called Richard Foley-Jenkins, and before that was in South Australia (I would love to be able to talk to him and find out about his time with the car, but I have no contact details).   I have a photo of it in Red with South Australian plates on it, so it must have changed colour before that time.  It should have originally had a Jersey Velour interior, but I do not know the colour, although I suspect gold.     I purchased the car in September 2012 and drove it back to Sydney from Queensland.  The trip back was a lot of fun and the car made it with no problems.   This car has character as the next morning after the return trip it would not start – but it made sure it got me home safe!

The DS in 1997

Over the time I’ve owned the car, I have done a lot of work to it.   The car has been repainted in Rouge Massena, a 1972 colour.  The previous paint job was done at home, and up close was not great quality.   After I crashed the car, I paid extra to have the whole car done in a much nicer shade of red.   I’ve also re-done the interior in grey velour.

1970 DS21 BVH

Why a DS?

I like the DS because it is the antithesis of the ‘design by committee and offend nobody’ philosophy that seems to dominate current cars.   The DS was designed by a group of people with a vision of what they thought the car should be and they executed that vision despite what anyone else is doing.

The styling is still distinctive,  with great details such as the rear indicator lights, the C-Pillar patterns and so on.    More importantly the DS was so ahead its time from a technology point of view.

In selecting my DS I had a few key requirements.    It had to be a BVH car – not everyone will agree, but to me this is part of the whole DS experience.   It had to be solid and generally rust free.   It had to be in good condition mechanically and I didn’t want a white car.   (I don’t like white cars).   I also wanted a later car that ran on LHM.   While the swoopy dash and a Pallas would have been nice, these are very rare and this car me all my core requirements.

In the end I found this 1970DS21 BVH.  I was generally pleased it was a carby model as the Bosch D-Jet fuel injection, while advanced can be expensive to put right.

Major Changes to the DS

Major Changes to the DS

Driving a DS

When you approach a DS, it will be sitting down low, like a sleeping cat.   You sink into the most comfortable car seats you’ll probably experience and then you can begin the starting procedure (only boring cars just turn the key and go).  Inserting the key and turning on the ignition greets you with an array of warning lights including a large “STOP” light in the middle of the dashboard – a master caution switch which looks more in place at a nuclear power plant.   The gearstick is between the single spoke steering wheel and the instrument cluster and it is used to start the car (so it cannot be started in gear).   Once the car has started, you’ll need to wait for the hydraulic system to build pressure and raise the car to its running height.   It will rise at the back first then the front, kind of like riding a camel.   Once the car has awakened, you can push the gear leaver forward into first gear and start moving.   Changing gears is a simple flick of the wrist, and taking your foot off the throttle for an up shift, or adding a little for a down shift.   The DS does not have a brake pedal, there is a button on the floor that is pressed – the amount of pressure determines how quickly the car will stop.   At the time, Citroen had done studies on braking reaction times to develop this system.

What is next for this car?

Since I purchased the 1970 DS21 BVH, I have done a lot of the improvements I planned.  This included the paint, upholstery and so on.    A summary of the work I did in the first four years of ownership can be found here.   There are still a few things that need doing – when the water pump exploded it warped something in the clutch, which vibrates when cold.   It also needs a rebuilt hydraulic pump as this leaks.

Buying a DS

A DS is a good choice for a classic car because it is practical seating 5, they are reasonably inexpensive, has good parts supply, good club support and it does have that X factor that is needed in a classic.     The biggest enemy of the DS is rust, so finding a relatively rust free example is more important than anything else.   The easiest DS to start with would be a late model car, like a D Special that gives you the full DS looks and ride and comfort without additional complexity.    The main thing is to find a rust free car, and if you want to be particular about the model, year, spec etc, be willing to wait for the right car to come up.    I was keen on the semi-automatic gearbox system which is why I ended up with a DS21 BVH.

The early cars are really for more experienced owners.   The red fluid must be changed on a regular basis and they don’t take kindly to not being used.   The earlier engines are also much less powerful and come into their own on the open road rather than around town.

Related Posts:

  1. May 2013 - DS Instrument Cluster
  2. May 2013 - Citroen Club Tech Day
  3. May 2013 - Installing the Retrosound Model 2 in a Citroen DS
  4. May 2013 - Citroen DS radio/instrument cluster update
  5. June 2013 - Citroen DS radio upgrade almost complete
  6. June 2013 - More Citroen DS de-jalopification
  7. June 2013 - Preventing a DS Flambé
  8. June 2013 - Citroen DS major production changes
  9. June 2013 - Citroen DS bumpers polished.
  10. June 2013 - The DS is going to need a tow
  11. June 2013 - The DS rides again!
  12. August 2013 - Polishing day
  13. August 2013 - The DS can now take its own temperature
  14. August 2013 - Rebooting Retrosound
  15. September 2013 - A visit to Citro Classique / Citro Toon
  16. September 2013 - Troubleshooting the Retrosound Model 2 in a Citroen DS
  17. October 2013 - Citroen DS rear interior lights
  18. November 2013 - Citroen DS seat cover replacement part 1
  19. November 2013 - Removing Citroen DS door cards
  20. November 2013 - Citroen DS seat cover replacement part 2
  21. November 2013 - Citroen DS seat cover replacement part 3
  22. November 2013 - Fitting new Citroen DS door cards
  23. December 2013 - Citroen DS rear interior lights part 2
  24. December 2013 - Wrapping the Citroen DS steering wheel
  25. December 2013 - Citroen DS seat cover replacement part 4
  26. December 2013 - DS Transmission service
  27. December 2013 - Update: DS Steering wheel wrap and rear trim
  28. January 2014 - Citroen DS seat cover replacement part 5
  29. January 2014 - Citroen DS seat cover replacement part 6
  30. January 2014 - Citroen DS seat cover replacement part 7
  31. January 2014 - DS Door cards - Update
  32. January 2014 - Citroen DS seat cover replacement part 8
  33. February 2014 - The temperature light in the DS works
  34. February 2014 - DS Radiator Flushed
  35. February 2014 - Citroen Club Tech Event Feb 2014
  36. March 2014 - The DS is that little bit shinier
  37. March 2014 - Citroen night drive to La Perouse
  38. March 2014 - Dawn Citroen drive up Putty road to the Hunter
  39. May 2014 - What happens when you don't use coolant and change it regularly
  40. May 2014 - Finally, a cool running DS
  41. August 2014 - Final DS door card installed
  42. September 2014 - DS door contact switch and shift gate
  43. September 2014 - DS Oil Service
  44. October 2014 - Citroen DS interior rear roof trim – attempt 4
  45. October 2014 - Citroen DS Sphere removal
  46. October 2014 - Changing the DS Accumulator Sphere
  47. October 2014 - DS Carpet Replacement
  48. November 2014 - New DS Air Cleaner Hose
  49. November 2014 - Retrosound Model 2 in a Citroen DS – Revisited
  50. December 2014 - Retrosound model 2 knob adjustment
  51. December 2014 - Citroen DS wouldn’t idle
  52. February 2015 - Retrosound radio in the DS almost complete for the second time
  53. March 2015 - Replacement accumulator fixed heavy steering while parking
  54. April 2015 - Citroen DS sill trim - removal
  55. April 2015 - Re-routing the DS rear speaker wires
  56. April 2015 - DS sill trim - replacement part 1
  57. May 2015 - DS sill trim – replacement part 2
  58. May 2015 - DS sill trim – replacement part 3
  59. May 2015 - DS sill trim – replacement part 4
  60. May 2015 - DS Sill trim - complete
  61. September 2015 - Citroen DS oil filter o-rings
  62. September 2015 - DS Front indicator swap pt 1
  63. November 2015 - New tyres for the 250SE and the DS
  64. December 2015 - New front indicator lenses for the DS part 2
  65. February 2016 - Citroen DS21 Rejuvenation
  66. September 2016 - Frontal Damage to the DS
  67. October 2016 - New old stock Bonnet for the DS
  68. November 2016 - Removing the C pillar trims from the DS
  69. November 2016 - Citroen DS aluminium boot lid
  70. December 2016 - Removing the rear bumper from the DS
  71. June 2017 - Citroen DS crash repair, pt 1
  72. June 2017 - Citroen DS crash repair, pt 2
  73. June 2017 - Citroen DS crash repair, pt 3
  74. July 2017 - Citroen DS crash repair, pt 4
  75. July 2017 - Citroen DS crash repair, pt 5
  76. July 2017 - My DS will be painted Rouge Massena
  77. August 2017 - NOS C Pillar trims for the DS
  78. August 2017 - DS Paint almost complete
  79. August 2017 - DS final adjustment
  80. August 2017 - DS Paint Complete
  81. October 2017 - Citroen DS front end wiring - part 1
  82. November 2017 - Citroen DS Window Adjustment
  83. November 2017 - Citroen DS Mirrors
  84. November 2017 - Citroen DS front end wiring – part 2
  85. December 2017 - Mounting the badges on the DS
  86. February 2018 - Preparing the Citroen DS boot lid
  87. February 2018 - Citroen DS rear bumper reassembly
  88. April 2018 - Mounting the DS boot lid
  89. April 2018 - DS Door trim after paint
  90. April 2018 - Citroen DS boot struts
  91. April 2018 - Citroen DS front end wiring – part 3
  92. May 2018 - Citroen DS Tail light
  93. May 2018 - Mounting the DS rear bumper
  94. June 2018 - Citroen DS window cranks
  95. June 2018 - Citroen DS front end wiring – part 4
  96. June 2018 - Citroen DS rear indicator repair
  97. June 2018 - Citroen DS further adjustments
  98. September 2018 - Citroen DS front end wiring – part 5
  99. September 2018 - Citroen DS under bonnet insulation
  100. February 2019 - DS Front End Repairs
  101. September 2019 - Retrosound Model 2 Repair
  102. November 2019 - Citroen DS Window rubbers and felts
  103. November 2019 - Citroen DS electric cooling fan
  104. November 2019 - Citroen DS sphere pressure check
  105. February 2020 - Citroen DS Instrument Cluster Lighting
  106. February 2020 - Citroen DS Instrument cluster repair
  107. May 2020 - Citroen DS Battery