Car Restoration Projects
Double Chevron DS
This Citroën is a 1974 DS23 model owned by Greta M, who is a Citroën tragic. The first model DS caused a sensation back in 1955, but it followed a path that was first laid by Andre Citroën in the 1920s.
Citroën’s company history started at the beginning of the decade known as the ‘Roaring Twenties’. As the guns of the First World War fell silent, there was a rumbling of different kind: the roar of ever-increasing motor traffic echoing on the streets of Europe and North America. Nowhere in Europe was it heard louder than in France.
By 1924 three volume-producing French car companies had been established – Peugeot, Renault and Citroën. The youngest of the trio was Citroën, established during 1919. However, despite being the late-comer, Citroën was a leader in automotive innovation. You can check out Citroën’s history in our Car Brands section.
André Citroën is one of a quartet of innovators and designers who helped develop the cars we see on our roads today, joining Henry Ford, whose Model T put the everyday man and woman in reach of affordable motoring; Sir Alec Issigonis, the inventor of the east-west engined Austin/Morris Mini and Ferdinand Porsche, creator of Hitler’s ‘peoples car’, the Volkswagen Beetle.
In April 1934, Citroën, with great foresight, launched his Traction Avant front-wheel-drive car, with monocoque (unitary) construction, produced under licence from Budd Engineering in the USA. The ‘chassis-less’ design allowed for a lower ride height and independent suspension contributed to supple roadholding, plus it had hydraulic-brake stopping power.
However, despite all these market-leading innovations, the effects of the Great Depression that had begun in the USA, in 1929, arrived in Europe three years later. This financial crisis, compounded by the enormous financial burden of the Traction Avant’s development and promotion brought the Citroën company to its knees financially, in 1935. Tragically André Citroën died of stomach cancer, aged 57, in 1935 and Michelin took over the company.
The Citroën Traction Avant was a bold break from traditional automotive construction methodology in Europe – and it worked. The 1934 Traction Avant continued in production after Word War II and its DNA was evident in the 1955 Citroën DS.
About Citroën’s DS
The DS was first launched in 1955 and was loaded with technology. Citroën manager, Pierre Boulanger, planned for it to be extremely advanced in design, copying the technology advances that were rampant in the aviation industry. The DS (pronounced Déesse in French, for Goddess) would lead the automotive industry in technological innovations.
The DS combined gas and liquid to control the spring and shock absorber system. This revolutionary hydro-pneumatic suspension was self-levelling and the ride height could be adjusted by the driver.
The high-pressure system was engine driven and powered the brakes, the clutch, the gear change and the steering servo, but braking and steering functions had priority over the suspension in the event of a leak. All this technology emerged in 1955, without a sign of today’s modern computers. It’s astounding.
Once the DS’ market acceptance was set, the Traction Avant was retired in 1957. Its production life of 23 years was almost matched by the subsequent DS that ran for 20 years, during which time 1.5 million were sold.
Citroën timed the DS launch for the 1955 Paris Motor Show, where 12,000 orders were taken on the first day and there were 80,000 signed orders by the end of the Show.
However, despite its advanced specification and market success, it took until 1971 before the DS was awarded European Car of the Year.
The first model was the DS19. It had a 1.9-litre carburettored engine and featured wide seats at the front and a bench in the rear. Due to its long wheelbase, there was plenty of room for five passengers. It’s worth mentioning that Citroën designed the car so France’s president, General Charles De Gaulle, could fit in it – he was 1.96 metres tall (6.4ft).
In 1973, the most advanced version, the DS23, was released. The original DS designer, Flamino Bertoni, unfortunately didn’t live long enough to assist with that, but the evolution introduced a final piece to the puzzle, which made the car even more desirable.
While the initial model featured exposed, round headlights, the DS23 introduced covered headlights. The aerodynamic shape was kept and it still looked more advanced than most of the cars on the market, due to its fluid lines and sloped, short back.
Citroën installed a new, 2.3-litre engine under the bonnet, either with a carburettor or an electronic fuel injection system. The latter was a novelty on the market at that time and people were still sceptical about its reliability and performance. But the 15hp difference between the two engine choices and its lower fuel consumption proved its value. Both versions were paired either with a five-speed manual or a four-speed semi-automatic gearbox.
Enter Greta M and her Déesse
Greta M had owned some half dozen VWs in her younger days: a Beetle and a couple of Kombis she (as you would) lived in while travelling around Europe.
After that sojourn she thought it time to get real job and then from the late 1980s was involved in corporate life for some 30 years, in sales and marketing positions. During that time, she made her way, step by step, up the corporate ladder, finally being in charge of the Asia/Pacific area.
“I obviously had many company cars, including Audis in my later working years,” said Greta M. “But, when it was time to retire, I bought a Subaru 4WD, which I still have as a daily drive.
“After my first marriage broke up, I met Geoff and, as it happened, he was a Citroen aficionado and owned two Tractions!” laughed Greta M.
“I had noticed during my corporate years that many creative people drove Citroëns, particularly DS models, and as I’m a creative person and love style, I thought I should look around for a DS,” Greta said.
Greta and Geoff later got hitched and, at Historic Vehicles, we reckon it was a marriage made in heaven.
In 2013 Greta was perusing the for-sale ads in the Citroën Club’s magazine and found what appeared to be a suitable DS, owned by a fellow who lived in the NSW Blue Mountains area.
He’d owned it since the 1980s and had travelled far and wide around the country, so it had some 300,000km on the clock. But it was rust free and rust can be a problem with the DS.
It was a top-specification Pallas model, from the second-last year of production and had the optional fuel-injection system.
It had a straight body, with some minor stone chips on the front of its green paint work, picked up during its extensive travels. However, it seemed to be a good, honest car. So, a deal was done and Greta was then a proud Citroën owner.
But, of course, it’s never that simple. Geoff said that shortly after their purchase, the car started acting erratically, jumping and bucking: something the owner said had happened once before.
Geoff found the cause was that someone had inadvertently topped up the hydraulic reservoir with coolant and the system therefore had water mixed with the hydraulic oil.
“We think it was an honest mistake by someone, as the hydraulic oil is green in colour and is very similar in shade to green coolant,” Geoff said. “Also the header tank is similar in appearance to a cooling system header tank.
“It may have been done by an apprentice when it was serviced.
“So, we had to drain the hydraulic system, have some of the components rebuilt and the steering rack cleaned out.”
The previous owner had the head overhauled, but the bottom end hasn’t been touched.
“We’ve had the starter motor reconditioned,” said Geoff. “And I’ve also serviced the fuel injection system.
“We also had to replace the clutch cable that snapped in the main street of Cowra on a club run.
“Fortunately we had a spare cable in the boot!”
Greta and Geoff said they’ve added some 40,000km to the odometer in their travels so far and Greta said with a smile: “I just love this car.”