Onlookers gasped in astonishment at the sight of the DS 19 Berline when the covers were pulled off the Citroën at the 1955 Paris salon. Nobody had ever seen anything quite like it. People were genuinley unsure if it was a car or a spaceship. It proved closer to the latter what with all of the eye-widening wizbangery that it packed. Moreover, it proved to be a huge hit as 12,000 orders were taken on the first day of the show. Blending a seamless mix of innovative engineering, luxurious materials and a fabulous design (Flaminio Bertoni, take a bow), it sure caught the mood of the time.
From 1955 to 1975 it was loaded with all manner of technology much of which seemed plucked from sci-fi flicks; the replacement for the Traction Avant (much loved and rather advanced model of its time too; only the old 1,911cc engine was carried over...) had a a semi-automatic transmission, swivelling headlights that turned with the wheels to light up sharp bends at night and a hydraulic self-leveling suspension with an adjustable ride height. This suspension allowed the DS — pronounced as “Déesse” which means goddess in French — to travel quickly on poor road surfaces and it wouldn’t just help the model succeed in rallying (it won the Monte Carlo Rally in 1959 and 1966) it would also help save the life of Charles de Gaulle, president of France; he was nearly assassinated by the OAS while being driven in the car and although a hail of machine gun bullets fired by the group burst its tyres, the sophisticated suspension allowed the DS to escape with the president unhurt. Unsurprisingly, he was a big fan of the car. Technologically, it was light years ahead of its rivals and was revolutionary in every sense. The budget-conscious ID19 appeared a year after the DS19 and featured conventional brakes and steering.
It remains one of the most extraordinary cars ever created and today, an immaculate DS or ID will cost about Dh100,000. With several specialists that can help with repairs and restoration, it’d be very tempting to buy the classy Citroën.
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