So I’ve had this weird fascination with Citroen DS’s for a long time now. Somehow it bubbled up in my consciousness and has festered there, leaving me to decide I HAD to possess one before I die.
And since we never know how much longer we have, it makes sense to do it sooner rather than later. That’s led me to search The Interwebs worldwide for everything I could learn about them. I know the best years, what features to avoid and what you want, what colors were original, how to spot a good one or one to avoid and what they should cost.
I’ve come close a couple times to jumping on one, but timing, money or questions about the car left me out.
Then I looked on Craigslist in the San Francisco section last week and there it was.
It’s a 1971 Citroen DSpecial. It’s off white (and they mixed a tiny bit of mint in the white… very nice). It’s got an awesome red and white deco interior that nobody else was doing in the 70’s but the French. It’s got white steel wheels with shiny halfmoon hubcaps.
And it’s original. It was shipped to the US from France about a dozen years ago and sat in storage for half that time. It’s been owned by a Citroen fan in Redding, CA and has been well cared for. It’s only been worked on by mechanics that understood what it was. No weird alterations. Just a clean, original car.
And because it’s a French spec can, and not originally built to US specs, it’s got some very cool features. For instance, the headlights turn with the wheels. Going around a right turn, the lights illuminate where you’re going. Carrying 5 people, it automatically levels itself. Get a flat, press the lever to your left and the whole car lifts up 14 inches. Then put a jack stand under the side with the flat and lower the car. One side stays up and you can easily remove both wheels. Need to get under a fender, the back fender covering the wheel comes off with a single big chrome bolt. Just turn the bolt and remove the whole fender. The whole front fender comes off with three bolts.
Everything about the car was 40 years ahead of its time. The hydraulic system it used in 1955 is starting to be used by carmakers now. The swiveling headlights? BMW is now doing it. The hood is aluminum to save weight. The whole roofline is fiberglass for the same reason. You can blow out a tire on the back, remove it in a few minutes and drive it on three wheels. It was the first car built with what is now considered a very good modern aerodynamic profile.
Basically for someone who considers good design and big ideas, this is the paramount vehicle to be appreciated.
The world’s greatest car designers got together to vote on the best automotive designs of the last hundred years and the Citroen DS came out on top. Over anything produced by Ferrari, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Ford, Chevy… anyone. The humble Citroen DS won.
They made 1.5 million of them over a 20 year period. One of the longest runs of any car model. It was changed only minimally over that period and they were sold worldwide. They never sold well in the US because we wanted V8’s with tailfins and these things were getting almost 30mpg back in 1965 which made no sense to us Americans.
So the moral of the story is I’m buying it.
I’m taking my son Maxx with me for a very cool and very strange road trip.
We’re flying into Sacramento on Friday and the owner is meeting us at the Southwest terminal. Then we’ll go somewhere to have our lesson in Citroen 101. Everything is weird compared to our standards. The turn signals, starting, shifting, etc. This is a basic car with simple carb (with choke… when was the last time you used a choke on a cold morning…)
We’ll practice raising and lowering the car for changing tires. Get to know this ancient oddity and by noon, we’ll be on the road. We’ll drive through northern Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and turn right at Colorado. I’ve got a three-day engagement with a client in Colorado Springs from Tuesday through Thursday. I’ll work. Maxx will go take mountaineering lessons or kayak or whatever outdoorsy stuff they do there. Then we’ll get back in and wind our way through Colorado, New Mexico and then across the wide expanse of Texas.
We’ll cover over 2000 miles in a car that probably hasn’t gone that far the last ten years combined.
Will it make it in one piece? Who knows. But one thing I do know, I’ve owned dozens of wacky cars and I’ve never been stranded somewhere that I couldn’t get home from. Jack Kerouack was right. You can’t fall off a mountain.
I suspect it’ll be a very interesting trip. And I suspect Maxx and I will have a chance to get to know each other in a new way. He’s 19 and starting to weigh out who he will be the rest of his life. I want to hear his thoughts and give him my thoughts on the choices I made to become who I am.
And we’ll be doing it all through the American Southwest in a car built in a country far away just a year after our own Summer of Love.
And we’ll be doing it without air conditioning.
Yes. No AC. Nada. You want AC, roll down the window and pour water over your head.
It’ll be find. I’ve done it before many times.
Once in a 1966 VW Bus.
Once in a Toyota Pickup.
Once in a Chevy Pickup.
Once in a 1967 Olds Cutlass Convertible.
And once in a 1971 Triumph TR6.
So I know it can be done. But an ice chest in the back seat and a squirt bottle in the front seat are required equipment.
It’ll be the most insane thing I’ve done in a long time. And probably the same for Maxx. But I can’t wait to start.