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Road Test: CitroŽn
The DS-19 drives boldly off the beaten path – and never feels the bumps

Photography : Poole


Body design gives excellent visibility and very little rear overhang. Direction blinkers are placed on roof corners.
Spacious interior features step-down floor and seats as comfortable as any in the industry. Windows are frameless.

IT IS DIFFICULT to be completely objective about the DS-19. The car is almost too fascinating. Not even the most unimpressionable automotive analyst could concentrate long on any weak points when confronted with such an array of automatic gadgetry. But gadgets per se count for little in our book when they are merely extra-cost contrivances tacked on to catch the public eye or compensate for poor design, That is why the automatic devices on the CitroŽn are of special interest‚ they are each an integral part of a new design concept intended to reduce driver effort to an absolute minimum. Their success is not entirely unqualified, but the car as a whole is a brave and estimable effort to break the fetters of convention and give the public something safe and comfortable in transportation.

When we picked up the test car at CitroŽn Cars Corporation in Beverly Hills, we received a half-hour of essential “checking-out" instruction by the distributor, and it would appear that such a familiarization course is going to have to be standard procedure with every customer. Not that this is bad - it just takes a while to get used to a car that has no springs, brake or clutch pedals, and moves up and down as though it had a life of its own. First comes a course in tire changing. The spare wheel, tools, and jacking stand are kept up front under the hood, but very little physical effort is required to make the switch. A few seconds after starting the engine, pressure is built up in the hydraulic system, the body rises, levels, and assumes its normal riding position. The ride control lever is moved as far up as it will go, whereupon the body ascends even farther away from its wheels (this position can also be used to increase ground clearance when driving over deeply rutted roads). Now; with metal stand hooked on a fitting under the front door, the ride control lever is moved to extreme down position, and since the body, supported by the stand cannot sink, the two wheels on that side rise off the ground, and either can be removed by unscrewing a single central nut instead of the usual multiple lugs. In the case of a rear wheel, the rear fender panel must also be removed, another simple, single-nut operation. With new wheel in place, the car is lowered by reversing the first procedure and the driver is off having expended less than half the time and energy of a conventional tire change.

Dash is plastic with air vents at each end. Front seats recline or fold into beds. Small button beside accelerator is for main brake.
With spare wheel under hood and gas tank under rear seat, there is room for a deep, uncluttered trunk (17.5 cu ft.). Trunk lid pivots over rear window.

Next in checkout comes driver controls. Near the accelerator pedal is a small, rubber-covered button that suggests a headlight dimmer switch; it operates the brakes (inboard discs in front, 10 in. drums in rear) but has a travel of barely half an inch. Applying the brakes, therefore, becomes a matter of foot pressure rather than movement and can easily be overdone at first. To the left there is also a pendant pedal for the emergency parking brake which operates the front discs by a separate system and can actually be used to stop the car from cruising speed. There is no clutch pedal. The steering wheel is supported by a single column/spoke that bends to the left out of the dash and joins the rim at one point only. This is intended as a safety feature, the idea being that in a collision, with wheels straight ahead, the steering wheel will yield on its unsupported (right) side throwing the driver into or under the dash all of which is made of crash-yielding plastic. Between steering wheel and dash is located the gear-shift lever which operates in three vertical planes: the plane closest to the dash contains low and reverse: the plane closest to the steering wheel contains 2nd, 3rd, and 4th (an overdrive); the center plane is neutral, but by pushing the lever far to the left, the starter is actuated. Besides the usual dash instruments and controls, there is also provided a warning light to indicate lack of brake pressure, a manual spark control, and an auxiliary clutch control to engage the clutch for hillside parking, since it automatically disengages when the engine is off.

Final item in checkout is correct gear-shifting technique. The clutch is automatically disengaged when 1) engine revs drop to idling speed and/or 2) the gear shift lever is moved. To start from a standstill, the accelerator is depressed engaging the clutch, and severity of depression governs smoothness of engagement. Shifting is accomplished manually with much the same coordination of accelerator/shift-lever movement as though there were actually a clutch pedal. All these instructions sound a good deal more complicated when described orally or on paper, hut most aspects of the car’s operation come fairly easily when you are in the driver's seat.

Once underway on our own in Los Angeles traffic with the DS-19, we experienced a few moments of panic as feet instinctively flailed for pedals that weren’t there, hut soon things quieted down on the freeway, and finally at the testing strip we began to make friends with the car. As can be seen from the photos, it is striking looking but clean and not unpleasing. The low, Studebakerish snout slopes up to an enormous curved windshield with spider-thin posts.

An amazing 123-in. wheelbase (to an overall length of 189 in.) is achieved by placing the rear wheels so far back that overhang is almost eliminated. They are also 7 3/4 in. closer together than the front wheels, which apparently caused a well-meaning elderly couple in a Ford to blast up alongside us on the highway and warn us that our car was “way out of line—no rubber when you get there, Bub!” Inside, there is comfort galore for five. Foam rubber is used lavishly in the soft, relaxing seats, under the floor mats, around the roof edges, on the sun visors and armrests — and insulation from noise is its by-product. With the 17-gal. gas tank located under the rear seat, there is room for 17.5 cu. ft. of uncluttered space in the deep trunk. On every kind of surface traversable by four wheels the “hydropneumatic” suspension fulfils its designers’ claims by absorbing shock and maintaining stability to a degree never before achieved. Cornering is extremely flat, and hardly a sound comes out of the Michelin “X” standard equipment tires. And strangest of all is the eerie presence of the hydraulic leveling device, quietly adjusting and readjusting for the slightest shifts, additions, or removals of weight.

In the acceleration tests, gear shifting proved no problem, but neither did the system lend itself to optimum times. Performance in all gears was adequate, though less than sparkling, and fourth is strictly for economical highway cruising. Overall mileage for the test averaged 24.3 mpg, and on a long, easy trip 30 mpg is not out of the question. The power brakes proved enormously effective, and there were no complaints about the power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, although it was by no means finger-light in parking. Best top speed run was just over 90 mph, and both car control and normal-toned conversation were as easy as at 50.

What are the drawbacks of a car so obviously ahead of its contemporaries? As one U. S. designer put it, “We could build the system into our cars, but it’s putting all your eggs in one basket.” If the hydraulic power fails, the car is largely incapacitated, although there is enough pressure in the “accumulators” to keep things going for a bit. The hydraulic fluid reservoir holds 11 pints, but in the intricate network of pipes, tubes, and valves, there is the ever-present danger of dirt, leaks, etc. And the thought of repairs in case of heavy damage is staggering.

Even so, the CitroŽn DS-19 (“D” for Dťsirťe, “S” for Speciale, and “19” for 1911cc) is no mere precocious dream car; it is a production automobile available for a little over $3000 and as such, a memorable motoring milestone. We found the car thoroughly likable, and our only serious question is: with all the automatic features of the car, why wasn’t some form of fully automatic transmission provided, thus eliminating the one item requiring most familiarization?

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