The current run of Wheeler Dealers has come to an end, but given the number of interesting vehicles that have featured on the show over the years I thought I might take a look back at some favourites from episodes past, starting this week with a few reasons to celebrate the extraordinary Citroën DS.
A quick internet search will reveal the essentials: a successor to the beautiful Traction Avant, eighteen years in development and an instant success upon its release in 1955, the DS gave Citroën immediate international recognition as a company on the cutting edge of automotive development.
The sleek and elegant styling, courtesy of Bertone, belied the size of the car, which wasn’t far off that of a contemporary Cadillac, but whilst the American car wallowed, the DS glided. Indeed, if the tail fins on an Eldorado were a jet-age affectation, the DS was truly a space-age product, with independent hydropneumatic suspension, disc brakes and semi-automatic gearbox. Thanks to a rear track width narrower than that at the front, the DS also went some way towards eliminating the understeer common in front-wheel drive cars, especially the bigger ones. This trick, along with the self-levelling suspension, made the DS a surprisingly nimble proposition, and it wasn’t long before the car was proving itself in competition. A class victory first time out in the ’56 Monte Carlo Rally, followed by an overall win in ’59, were just the tip of the iceberg, and the wins kept rolling in right up until 1975.
"The saloon version meanwhile became everything from family favourite to police car and underworld icon, screeching through the suburbs in virtually every French gangster film of the period"
If a place in racing history was assured, the DS earned a place in world history on August 22nd 1962, as French President Charles De Gaulle came under attack from heavily- armed assassins, his life saved only by the car’s unique suspension, which managed to cope even with the loss of all four tyres. De Gaulle would never forget his saviour, and seven years later helped protect his favourite French marque from a Fiat takeover bid.
If the DS was globally popular, in France it became ubiquitous, the myriad models and specifications finding all sorts of customers. The gorgeous Safari estate would transform not only into ambulances and delivery vehicles, but would become a famous conveyance for location film crews. The saloon version meanwhile became everything from family favourite to police car and underworld icon, screeching through the suburbs in virtually every French gangster film of the period. Most notably perhaps, it was heavily featured as stolen car of choice by icy assassin Alain Delon in Jean-Pierre Melville’s masterpiece Le Samouraï (1967).
Sad to say that editorial concerns about rambling dictate that I stop here - there truly is enough to say about the car to fill volumes, and gladly there are several on the subject of Citroën’s finest. I’m pretty sure that their authors ran out of superlatives, certain that none of them could fathom how a car could come so close to perfection.