The Goddess

[Picture of DS19]Let’s begin by saying that the design of the Citroen DS 19 is one of the most astonishing leaps in design history. No publication about design can omit the DS 19, no history of the car would be complete without the DS 19, any and all historical accounts of France, and of French culture must include the DS 19; it is simply a marvel.

It is perhaps difficult to understand this fully when looking back from a modern vantage point; this car design has affected everything since. So to help you, consider what the DS was replacing…

Mr.André-Gustave Citroën (1878-1935) invented double helical gears and started a car manufacturing company. With his company in serious financial trouble as a result of the war, and shortly before his death, he invited André Lefèbvre (1894–1963) to head up a three man design team that was to become one of the most influential and inspiring in design history.

[Picture of the traction avant]Sculptor Flaminio Bertoni, Paul Mages, and Lefèbvre immediately began designing the “Traction Avant” (which merely means “Front Wheel Drive” in French) — which although it looked like all the other ‘gangster’ cars on the roads, was in fact quite revolutionary in being monocoque (chassis-less) with fancy independent suspension and being the world’s first mass-produced front wheel drive car.

However, with the death of the founder, the company was taken over by its biggest creditor, the Michelin tyre company.

The Lefèbvre-Bertoni-Mages design team saved the Citroën company; the “Traction Avant” was a success and revolutionised car design and production. From using the company as a testing ground for tyre development, Michelin began to take car design and manufacture more seriously, and the team came up with the 2CV and other best-selling and innovative designs.

However, for the replacement to the flagship model, the Traction Avant, Lefèbvre-Bertoni and Mages came up with the DS19!

[Picture of DS rally]Just look at the two cars — they are so completely different looking — and that was the case back then: Bertoni’s DS19 was not merely different-looking when compared with the Traction Avant, but also when compared with every other car on the road in 1955 (and for many years after). Citroën’s competitors took decades to adapt to the higher standards set by the DS.

No wonder the DS19 rocked the world at its launch at the Paris Motor Show on 5th October 1955. In the first 15 minutes, 743 orders were placed, with a first day total of 12000! The D-series was manufactured until1975, and sold almost 20 million units, it always maintained Bertoni’s original size and shape, complete with easily removable unstressed body panels — a classic!

[Picture of DS in white] [Picture of DS in red] [Picture of DS in Black]

In the post-colonial, post World Wars era, as France was struggling to find its identity, the DS became something of a symbol of French identity, of the France of the Future, of the France of the “Space Age” (Bertoni’s DS shape was said to resemble the flying saucers that were starting to be spotted in the skies).

“DS” in French is pronounced “day-ess” (Déesse), which means “goddess”, a name that has stuck. Once the car was deemed a success, Citroën began to produce a cheaper version, and they continued the wordplay by naming this model the ID, which in French is Idée, meaning ‘Idea’. The ID looked the same as the DS, but had no power-steering, fancy hydraulics and other innovations.

Some of the goddess’s other innovations included:

  • Semi-automatic transmission,
  • Fibreglass roof,
  • Power steering,
  • Standard body panels,
  • Power disc brakes,
  • Different front and rear tyre track widths and sizes ( to reduce understeer),
  • Hydro-pneumatic suspension:
  • Automatic levelling system,
  • Variable ground clearance.

[Picture of 1957 DS interior]The DS was the first production car with front disc brakes, and one of the first mass-market cars to use electronic fuel injection (1970). DS Drivers merely had to flick the gear lever behind the steering wheel to the next gear position and then slowly let the accelerator pedal up. The hydraulic controller disengaged the clutch, engaged the selected gear, then re-engaged the clutch. The later and simpler ID19 also had the same gearbox and clutch, but manually operated and much cheaper. A 5-speed manual and 3-speed fully-automatic were added in the 1970s, just before the end of production).

The DS19 had a 3 main bearing engine of 1.911 litres — this was replaced in 1965 with 5 main bearing engines — the D19a (called DS20 from Sept 1969) with 1.985 litres and the DS 21‘s 2.175 litres.

Production of the DS and ID was phased out in 1975/6, and the model was replaced by the CX. Citroën had for 20 years been afraid to replace the iconic DS — they had set the highest design standards– and not just for every car producer, but for themselves too.

In 1958, the basic sedan was extended to make an estate (known as a ‘station wagon’ in the USA, and known as a ‘break’ in France), these longer DS models were called ‘Safari’ and ‘Familiale’ and had a steel roof to support a roof rack.

  • In September 1962, the DS, while retaining the open two headlamp appearance, came with the option of a set of driving lights mounted on the front bumpers.
  • In 1965 a luxury upgrade kit, the DS Pallas (after Greek goddess), was introduced. This included comfort features such as better noise insulation, leather upholstery and external trim embellishments.
  • In 1967, the headlamp design of the DS and ID was streamlined, with the four headlights under a smooth glass canopy, and the inner set swivelled with the steering wheel to allow the driver to see around bends!

This is a design classic for any number of reasons. It is identifiable, and clearly iconic. It has remained essentially unchanged, and merges the old with the new — the old technology of the engine with the new suspension and other innovations. It is a beautiful merger of form and function, aerodynamic and futuristic — yet very much of its time. It is a celebration of colour, of lightness, of freedom of line — perfect for the post-war optimism. The car it replaced was instantly old-fashioned, black and drearily conservative and boring. The DS was to be driven in a new world on new motorways filled with pastel coloured scooters and camper vans.

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20 Responses to The Goddess

  1. pedro says:

    It is the frog mouth the hat and the shark nose!!!

  2. Doma says:

    What a good site this is- a real “find”!! The team behind it are to be commended for their research and obvious appreciation of their subject. Top marks!! I am bookmarking this site right now.

  3. Dave says:

    The Goddess was my first toy car. I had a scale Dinky version and I remember having it at playtime on my first day at school. I have loved that car all my life! They say that a man’s toy cars affect what he likes and buys when older. I have never been in a DS, but I probably would say that it has affected my choices over the years from the Ford Capri, to the original shape 520 BMW both have shark-like profiles, round headlights and long bonnets!

    I like the entire range of Peugots, and come to think on it, this is probably because they are very very shark like!

  4. Jonzjob says:

    I agree, what a find. Thank you for you efforts!

    My 1st Citroen was a 2CV Diane, then a BX, a Xantia, C8 and Now a Grand C4 Picasso and I have loved them all. Mostly I would have loved a DS21!!!

    I hadn’t realised that Citroen were owned bt Michelin at one stage?

  5. Ed says:

    Jonzjob-
    Yes, Citroen has almost always been in financial trouble. Michelin tried a partnership with Fiat, and bought over Maserati, but when Fiat pulled out, the company went bankrupt. It was rescued by the French Government and merged with Peugot who got rid of innovation at Citroen in favour of cheap and cheerful car production. Peugot even got rid of Maserati. While this business move was a great success, many feel that much was lost. However, there are claims that Citroen’s innovative designing may be making a return after all these years, with cars such as the Pluriel.

  6. Rio says:

    This is an interesting link for you: http://www.flaminiobertoni.it/bio-e.htm

  7. R says:

    http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/article2210196.ece
    “THE iconic Citroën DS saloon was yesterday voted the most beautiful car of all time…
    A total of 46 cars were nominated, including the Mini, nine Ferraris, the Aston Martin DB9, two Bentleys, two Maseratis and the Triumph TR4.

    Rest of Top Ten: Jaguar XK120 and Ferrari 275GTB in joint second place and seven cars joint fourth — the Cord 810/812, Ferrari 250 GT Lusso, Ferrari 250 GT Short-wheelbase, Jaguar E-type, Lamborghini Miura, Lotus Elan, Lotus Elite (1957). “

  8. R says:

    http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/motors/article2210149.ece
    Published: 06 Feb 2009
    “CITROEN have changed their corporate logo this week … the range of cars designed to take Citroën slightly more upmarket, to sit just below the premium German brands — and they all share the new DS badge recalling one of the most famous in Citroën’s history.

    The new models are part of a major Citroën range extension that will see them launch a new model every six months for the next three years.”

  9. Wojtek M says:

    Very exciting story, however no word about BL7-15 models (I still have the original Spare Parts catalogue: “Modeles 1934 à 1953”), and somehow the Citroen ID (the first after the BL series) is omitted too.
    Beset regs,
    Wojtek

  10. […] A good friend of my folks, Rudi, used to own a beautiful DS and I cleaned it every Sunday morning for some spending money. They were in production from the mid 50 through to the 70’s and became the archetypal car for the Gendarme. They were so radically different from anything designed before them. Their hydro-pneumatic suspension offered 3 settings! But the thing I liked best was not the engineering but the classic design; it was a kind of ugly-beautiful which never dated. The car never suffered from changes in taste and style because its look was unique and timeless – like the E type’s ugly big brother. For a far more informed description go check out my fellow blogger’s site artofdesign.wordpress.com/2006/12/08/… […]

  11. Dil says:

    I remember seeing the “Goddess” in Nigeria, France, UK and the Middle East while a child. Back then, anywhere in the world I went, the careless rich drove Mercedes while the sophisticated rich drove the DS. It was that clearcut.

    This car is so beautiful (and ugly at the same time!) and drove so well that anyone who sets eyes on it and are lucky enough to drive it or in it will remember it with warm fondness for life.

    Cars are not made like this any longer…true shame.

    I am 35 and an avid car fan. I can say this without a doubt: alongside certain older Jags, Beetle, Mini, Model T, Merc 600, the DS is the best car of all-time, hands-down, no asterisks needed.

  12. Arthur Champkins says:

    Thank you for an exceptionally good website. My first Citroen was a 1954 Light 15, the next many years later was a 1961 ID19, then a 1965 D20. Tomorrow (24th May 2009) I am going with my son who is buying a 1973 Pallas 2.3 litre in wxcwptional condition from itsd third owner. The price? R19000. You work it out! Interior immacculate, white exterior very good, mechanically excellent – so we will take turns driving it the 700km to our village of Himeville in the mountains of KwaZulu-Natal. It has carburetor instead of the fuel injection which, I think, we are happy about. Car has done about 150 000km.

  13. Arthur Champkins says:

    I see from your e-mail to me that I cannot open my subscription without a key but where do I discover what/where my key is? Excuse my computer ignorance.

  14. Marc says:

    What a chance encounter – the white DS on one of your pictures used to be my car. I took that picture sometimes in the late 90es…

    My current DS is on Wikipedia: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/82/Citroen_Ds100.jpg

  15. rodney says:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/4448440/Citroen-to-relaunch-iconic-DS.html
    The launch of the new model has been shrouded in secrecy, with Citroën refusing to confirm or deny a leak in economic daily Les Echos about the car’s imminent release. But car specialists said it was an open secret that the company had been working on a model inspired by the DS for the past five years.

    Citroën hopes to ride a wave of retro nostalgia that has seen new versions of the Mini and Fiat 500 make phenomenal comebacks. However, experts warned aficionados from expecting to find a replica of the old DS models. “It will take the spirit of a vehicle that was innovative and broke stylistic codes, but you shouldn’t expect to find exactly the same model as it was back then: a lot has changed,” said Alexandre Guillet, editor of magazine Le Journal de l’Automobile.

  16. Aston Martin DB9 Review…

    The Goddess « :: art of design ::…

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