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Falling for the Pallas coup

2013-06-11 11:07

STYLED BY BERTONI: The DS range by Citroen first saw the light of day in 1955 after many years of research and development, leaving this stylistic DS23 model largely unchanged through its amazing 20-year production run. Image: DAVE FALL

DAVE FALL

So radical was the Citroen DS from the outgoing pre-war designed Traction Avant model when it was first announced at the Paris auto show in 1955 that within 15 minutes of the show's opening 743 orders had been taken.

Even better… by day’s end an astounding 12 000 orders had been placed for "the car of the future".

Motoring journalists at the show remarked that the DS had "pushed the envelope" in the ride versus handling stakes as never before because this was the first mass production car to be fitted with inboard front disc brakes, hydro-pneumatic and self-levelling independent suspension and a gearbox  that offered semi-auto transmission (no clutch pedal, the gears were operated manually); thanks to a powerful hydraulic shift mechanism.

ONE STEP AHEAD

The single-spoked steering wheel was truly revolutionary – not even the Americans had thought of that!

The French motoring press of the day reckoned the DS was a symbol of French ingenuity in the post-colonial world in the reconstruction after the devastation of the Second World War… and they had a point.

Two years later the car’s popularity faltered slightly due to its perceived high price but the forward thinking Citroen factory was ready for that, introducing the ID model – initially it had a two-litre motor (rising to 2.3 later), a little less powerful in output – but most of the peculiar-to-the-brand mechanical selling features were still on offer in the new range.

A station-wagon was to follow in 1958.

Motorsport global events were entered and usually won with ease: such as the 1959 Monte Carlo Rally – and again in 1966 after the disqualification of the BMC Mini-Cooper team for a minor infringement to the rules over the height of the spotlights. Rough, unpaved roads meant little to the Citroen, which could, by the simple expedient of raising a lever in the cockpit, raise the car hydraulically to its full height of 25cm to get it out of trouble.

LOCAL ROOTS

The Citroen DS was primarily assembled in Paris but there were other assembly plants across the globe – including one in South Africa. The solid reputation of this unique Citroen even rubbed off in America - 40 000 sold over there.

American driver had warmed to this off-beat but very capable French import that was to boast headlights that swivelled with the intended steering direction – another endearing feature of this very chic French car.

In September 1962 the DS received a more aerodynamic front – if that were indeed possible – with four headlights behind angled glass and renamed the DS Pallas (see picture). The word Pallas comes from the Greek language for the goddess Pallas.

Better insulation and further trim embellishments, among them leather upholstery, gave the range a new lease on life that continued until 1975.

• The 20-year lifespan of a single model proved to be a post-war record for Citroen with its convertible, station-wagon and sedan derivatives. If you had the misfortune to puncture a tyre, no problem, the car could be driven on three wheels for a short distance – how wacky is that?

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