The latest Citroën DS

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Regular readers of Motor Sport will be aware at I am strongly in favour of the ID and DS Citroëns, the most advanced cars in the world, offering unrivalled safety and comfort. Those who wish to refresh their memories of these remarkable cars which feature front-wheel-drive, self-levelling oleo-pneumatic all-independent suspension, single-spoke safety steering wheel, extremely good all-round vision and, in DS form, power steering and braking, automatic clutch and power gear change, will find a comprehensive road-test report of the DS Citroën in our issue of April 1958 and reviews of the ID in the issues dated October 1958 and June 1960.

It suffices now to remark that if the DS was a highly-covetable car in its original form, it is greatly improved since it has been provided with more power (an extra 8 b.h.p.) and a torsional crankshaft vibration damper for its 1,911-c.c. inclined valve, base-camshaft, engine. Although the 4-cylinder 78 x 100 mm. power unit of the modern Citroën dates back a long way and is noisy when at work, it emits a noise as individual as the rest of this remarkable vehicle and gives maxima of 60 and 92 m.p.h. respectively in 2nd and 3rd gears. If pushed to the latter limit the engine smooths out noticeably but normally it is better to change up at around 75 m.p.h.

This increased performance is entirely adequate to the desires of the majority of DS owners. Coupled with satisfactory maxima in the lower gears, and a top speed of 95 m.p.h., the Citroën DS will now reach 50 m.p.h. from rest in under 13 seconds, 60 m.p.h. in 18-1/2 seconds. The new urge in 2nd gear is both evident and appreciated.

Beyond this the DS is virtually unchanged, which exempts me from attempting to frame new superlatives with which to describe it. It is essentially a car in which the automation must be played gently – light touch on the steering wheel, a delicate foot on the floor button which replaces the normal brake pedal, and some appreciation of the need to synchronise engine speed to upward and downward gear changes. Treated thus the Citroën is as smooth as it is safe and comfortable.

There is far less aural fuss from the hydraulics in the latest model and less delay in clutch engagement, while the gear changes, selected but not effected by the upright lever ahead of the facia, go through fast, with the merit that no skill, beyond sensible throttle manipulation, is required and that it is impossible to miss a change. Admittedly the gear selector lever has to be used continually to get any sort of response and bottom gear, devoid of synchromesh, can only be engaged at a crawl if mechanical disaster is to be avoided.

There is nothing to denote that power steering – or, for that matter, front-wheel-drive – is used and no car imparts a greater sense of security when passing other vehicles under difficult conditions, so accurately can the DS be placed, so stable is it when a sudden change of direction is necessary, for in spite of very supple suspension, roll oversteer and wallow is unknown to Citroën drivers. As to its road-holding and cornering powers, suffice it to say that the Citroën was designed to make the best possible use of Michelin “X” tyres and both in feel and in fact is one of the safest cars in which it is possible to travel fast. In some ways this car is akin to a vintage Frazer Nash – high-geared, so that you can go almost as fast in 3rd as in top gear, with steering that can be whipped from lock-to-lock without resultant disaster, and with ride and control characteristics entirely its own. There is one vital difference – the DS is as comfortable as a “Chain Gang” ‘Nash was uncomfortable!

Practically every aspect of the modern Citroën is ingenious in the practical sense and although it is a car that is at its best on long main road journeys – a family express with seven-league boots – in its latest form it is at no undue disadvantage in towns. Indeed, to revert to the “Chain Gang” analogy, as with a Meadows-Nash you engage second gear (or, rather, the Citroën engages it for you) as you enter congested areas and do not revert to 3rd and top until the open road is regained. In the 3.3 to 1 top gear the Citroën emulates the best luxury cars in respect of silent, tireless running. Wind noise, too, is virtually absent, and pressurisation in the interior of the body when a facia air inlet is open is obviated because the opposite window glass is pressed outwards, this venting giving rise to a whistle. Nor are there body rattles or squeaks, the fully-reclining front seats are most comfortable, the back seats even more so, these luxuries enhanced by good leather upholstery and the low, unbroken floor, and the controls were obviously planned by experienced, long-distance drivers. Ammeter and petrol gauges supplement a very steady speedometer but there is no water temperature gauge. Heating, ventilation, carpeting, etc., are first class.

The futuristic appearance of the Citroën, its self-jacking and 3-position suspension, and its endearing habit of settling down to rest, to the faint hiss of escaping air, after it has come to a standstill and the occupants have left it (the nose likewise sinks shortly after heavy braking) underline its myriad other unusual but so sensible features. I could write pages enthusing over them, but have done so already in the full road-tests. The disc front brakes, a little disappointing on the ID, come into their own with power application and one soon gets accustomed to the curious floor-button.

Suffice it to say that the Citroën DS remains the world’s most technically-advanced car – it has a “brain” of its own – and cannot be called expensive at £1,625 9s. 2d. in British-assembled form. And the remarkable 8-seater Safari, recently improved in detail and given a new wood facia, at £1,854 2s. 6d., is really living accommodation and motor car combined.

A few small irritants, all the more evident because the car is so nearly perfect, remain uneradicated. Thus the petrol gauge has a habit of reading empty when several gallons remain in the tank, the facia-mounted panoramic rear mirror blanks near-side vision (and the side-lamp indicator on the wing) and if the crude plastic cubby well lid is open the mirror is obscured (although you can drive with the boot lid up and retain the view through the back window, useful when the boot has to take bulky loads). On the test car the interior lamps were not functioning, and the facia lighting comes on permanently with the side lamps. The head lamps are excellent, full-beam or dimmed, but the wiper blades work in opposite directions, leaving an unwiped central area, and were not efficient in themselves.

In spite of the increased power, the DS remains economical. Including a fairly fast journey to Aintree and back the consumption over 800 miles was 26.2 m.p.g. 100-octane petrol wasn’t called for and such economy is a tribute to the double-choke, progressive-action Weber 24/32 DDC carburetter. Incidentally, Citroën shares simple push-rod actuation of inclined oh. valves in hemispherical combustion chambers with Fiat, Humber and Peugeot.

The Citroën isn’t everyone’s ideal but very few discerning drivers who have tried it over a decent mileage will be able to resist its many excellent characteristics. – W. B.