The Citroen DS was launched 60 years ago this month

In October 1955, Citroen unveiled one of the most innovative cars ever designed.   There have been plenty of new cars that have introduced a new technology, or even a couple, but the DS was so radical that it immediately made everything else on the market seem old fashioned. And this was just the looks.   Under the covers, the car contained a revolutionary hydraulic system that controlled the suspension, gear change and brakes.   This system would go on to be used for over 50 years.  It was also licensed by other marques such as Rolls-Royce and Mercedes-Benz.   In addition, there were other firsts such as the use of plastic on the dashboard, something we take for granted today.

Sadly, while Citroen was one of the most innovative car companies in the world during their heyday from the 30s to the 70s, having the most innovative designs does not necessarily sell cars. Citroen was eventually forced into a takeover by Peugeot.  Peugeot were not really interested in the Citroen approach of going ‘all in’ on new designs.  Over the years Citroen cars became more and more conventional.    A few really interesting designs did manage to sneak through the net, but today there is nothing that really distinguishes a Citroen from any other car, and the company has finally dropped the last Citroen specialty – the famed hydropneumatic suspension system.

In a move that highlights the modern car business at its most cynical, PSA have split up Citroen and created a new brand called ‘DS’ which aims to sell tarted up hatchbacks.    It is a sad end to one of the great manufacturers of the 20th century.  They are even offering a 1955 special edition despite no relationship whatsoever to the original car.   Regardless of what is happening with the brand today, Citroen will always be remembered for their ground breaking designs including the Traction Avant, 2CV, DS and others.    Citroen is not alone, a number of the famed brands of the 20th century are a shadow of their former self. Take Lancia which is just a Fiat with a chrome nose.

The Citroen Car Club organized an event for the 60th anniversary, to be held at the Campbelltown Steam and Machinery Museum.    While this was quite a contrast from the 1955 Paris auto show, it was a nice choice of venue with a range of different technologies that have changed the world on display.    The Club had a great turn out with almost 30 cars on display.  About half of them were D models (including my car).   Unfortunately there were no early cars, but there were a nice variety of 3rd nose cars, from pristine restored cars to a car that has been off the road for 18 years and has recently been recommissioned.      In addition to the D’s, there were a couple of CXs, a GS, a brace of BXs and some more modern Citroens.

innovative car

As well as the Citroens, the rest of the Museum was well worth a look. It includes a variety of stationary and traction steam engines.  It also has some other classic cars including a group of Cadillacs, military vehicles, tractors.   Some of the stationary engines were providing power for the event, and there were rides on the steam tractors for children.  There were also various ‘sheds’ with interesting things to see from old tools, tractors, farm equipment and so on.

At the day, I was also able to talk to a previous owner of my Traction Avant, who is a member of the Citroen Car Club.   He owned the car in the early 70s.    His uncle worked at the Citroen dealer at the time. The car had been brought in with an engine problem.    The owner was then convinced to trade the car in for a new model when the problem was partially fixed.    The dealership just wanted it gone, so the uncle was able to let his nephew know about the car.  He came down and bought it and drove it back up to Narrabri (via the putty road).

Later the problem was diagnosed to be one of the seals for the cylinder liners. This was allowing water into the oil.   Luckily the owner had a friend who taught mechanics at the local TAFE.  The engine was dropped off to be rebuilt by the students as a project!    A week later, it was re-installed in the car and the paint, which was pretty bad by then was refreshed.   Over the time, the clutch was fixed and other general maintenance performed.    The owner later moved to Bathurst, where the next owner later purchased it.      During his ownership, he was able to trace the car as having been in Melbourne in its early years.

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