Citroën DS 21

Pallas 1966

  • In 1955, as the Caravelle aircraft was making its first flight, Citroën revealed a hub of technical innovation and aesthetic audacity, which put them light years ahead of their rivals.
  • It took ten years for Citroën to develop an engine of the same standard as the chassis, but finally they produced the 21, with its 4-cylinder 2175 cc 109 hp engine.
  • It entered into French history when it saved General de Gaulle at Petit-Clamart, and into its literature as one of the subjects of Roland Barthes’ "mythologies".

Imagine the DS being unveiled at the 1955 Paris Motor Show, among the old Traction Avant models, the Peugeot 403, the Renault Frégate and the Simca Ariane. This is the context in which the DS was to drag the automobile world kicking and screaming into modernity.

In 1957, Roland Barthes wrote: "I believe that the automobile is now close to becoming an equivalent to ancient gothic cathedrals: I mean to say, that it is like all great creations of an époque, conceived passionately by unknown artists, consumed for their image, if not for their use, by a whole population who perceive it as a perfectly magical object. The new Citroën evidently fell to us from the sky, in that it appears as a superlative and incomparable object. One must not forget that the object is the best possible messenger of the supernatural: in an object there is both an evident perfection and an absence of origin, a closure and a shining forth, a transformation of life into the physical [...] and to summarize, a silence that belongs to the order of the marvel. The Déesse - DS (Goddess) has all of these characteristics [...] as an object that has descended to us from another universe, to feed the neomania (fascination for the modern) of the XVIII century as well as that of our science fiction: the DS is above all a new Nautilus. "

But let’s return to 1955. Nobody was expecting the DS, perceived as some kind of space-ship, beamed from the minds of three geniuses: André Lefebvre for the technical conception, Flamino Bertoni for the design and Paul Magés who was behind the car's ultra-sophisticated hydraulic system. In the same way that the 2 CV came from the TPV project (“Très Petit Voiture” or very small car), the DS was the end-result of the VGD project (“Voiture de Grande Diffusion” or car for mass distribution), and was intended to take the place of the popular Traction 11CV and 15-6 models. Amid falling sales of the Traction, and fears of losing any surprise effect on the market through possible indiscretion, the first show presentation was rushed through by the board of directors, forcing the use of an unfinished prototype. Fortunately the risk paid off; by the end of the first day Citroën had taken twelve thousand orders, which increased to eighty four thousand by the end of the Show.

To be continued...