Build a vehicle with the combined talents of an Italian sculptor and industrial designer and a French aeronautical engineer, and the result is a Citroën DS.
The plan was a secret for years. But when the car debuted at the 1955 Paris Auto Show, the automotive industry was forever changed.
The French carmaker will be a featured marque for the first time at the Concours d’Elegance. The annual finale to Classic Car Week will be held Sunday at Pebble Beach Golf Links.
Named after André-Gustave Citroën, who founded the company in 1919, the wild creation was the replacement to the Citroën Traction Avant.
As the first mass-produced car with modern disc brakes, the Citroën DS arrived as the collaboration of Italian Flaminio Bertoni and Frenchman André Lefèbvre.
The unique Citroën model lasted until 1975, but the car’s mechanical innovations and its spaceship-like appearance remain intriguing to enthusiasts worldwide. About a dozen examples will be presented on the 18th fairway at Pebble Beach.
“Interest in Citroën among collectors has seen exponential growth in recent years,” said Concours Chairwoman Sandra Button. And the Concours is pleased to showcase custom coachwork Citroëns that offer the best of French technology and design.”
Developed in sedan, wagon and convertible styles, the attraction to the Citroën’s uniqueness was immediate and remained impressive. Nearly 1.5 million sold, including more than 1.3 million at the manufacturer’s plant in Paris.
When the DS 19 was introduced, more than 80,000 deposits were taken, including a reported 12,000 during the first day of the auto show and 743 orders in the first 15 minutes. The unveiling records remained for more than 60 years. The Tesla Model 3 received 180,000 first-day deposits in March 2016.
In addition to its unique styling and disc brakes, the Citroën DS amazed even the most knowledgeable enthusiasts of the era. It featured power steering, a semi-automatic transmission as well as a variable ground clearance and an automatic leveling system.
Its looks were further embellished by turn signal indicators mounted in the upper corners of the rear window.
“They have their own look and they were also very innovative for their time,” said Kandace Hawkinson, marketing director for the Concours d’Elegance. “They really lead the way in terms of technology. And they also sort of a have a unique driving feel to them.”
The French public embraced the car. The Citroën not only looked regal, but it also transported its occupants smoothly and quickly on France’s prevalent poor roads.
Long after its demise, the Citroën DS remained iconic. It placed third in a 1999 Car of the Century poll that honored the most influential auto designs. The same year, Classic & Sports Car, a British monthly magazine, selected the Citroën DS as the most beautiful car ever made.
According to the report, the 1955 Citroën DS didn’t receive as many votes as Ferrari, but the Italian sports car’s votes were spread across nine different vehicles.
The magazine’s top-10: 1. Citroën DS; 2. Jaguar XK120; 3. Ferrari 275GTB; 4. Cord 810/812; 5. Ferrari 250GT Lusso; 6. Ferrari 250GT Short-wheelbase; 7. Jaguar E-type; 8. Lamborghini Miura; 9. Lotus Elan; 10. Lotus Elite.
Citroën enthusiast Jeffrey Fisher compares the vehicle to couturier dresses.
“They featured some of the highest numbers of interior and exterior permutations for a car ever,” said Fisher, who will have three Citroëns featured in the Concours d’Elegance.
Fisher’s vehicles will also be portrayed in this year’s Tour d’Elegance posters.
Featured in the artwork painter Barry Rowe, a member of the Automotive Fine Arts Society, are a two-tone blue 1966 Citroën DS 21 Chapron Le Léman Coupé, one of roughly 24 produced, a green 1967 DS 21 Chapron Cabriolet d’Usine and a yellow DS 19.
In 1976, one year after production of the Citroën DS stopped, the French manufacturer became part of the PSA Peugeot Citroën group.
Citroën is the only automobile manufacturer to have won three different official championships from the International Automobile Federation: the World Rally Road Championship (five times), the World Rally Championship (eight times ) and the World Touring Car Championship.