THE South African motoring public is traditionally a conservative one. There was therefore reason to doubt the acceptability of the new CitroŽn GS with its somewhat complicated design which, although well proven, is a far cry from what is generally on offer in South Africa.
The doubts were unfounded. CitroŽn's mini-flatirons have been selling like hot cakes almost since the day they were introduced.
The GS is a completely new design - literally from the wheels upwards. However, a few technical refinements have been taken over from previous models to form the basis of an extremely successful design.
First the body shell; you either like it or you abhor it. It is true that functional rather than aesthetic considerations took precedence in determining the body shape. The main consideration was to reduce wind resistance to a bare minimum in order to improve performance and economy.
Careful planning went much further than the body shell, as is evidenced by the highly effective quartz halogen headlights and the matt-black windscreen wipers. Effective back-up lights and safety catches on the rear door-locks to prevent their being opened by children are further indications of the importance attached to safety and drivability.
The chopped of rear panel hinges upward, bumper and all, to reveal a large square luggage compartment completely devoid of obstructions and awkward crannies. The spare wheel is housed under the hood.
The four-wheel independent suspension is a system unique to CitroŽns: hydropneumatic suspension, automatic load compensation and road clearance manually adjustable from the drivers seat.
One of the advantages of this type of suspension is that the riding level is always automatically controlled, no matter what the passenger or luggage load or how unevenly the load is distributed.
The air-cooled 1222 cm3 horizontally opposed four cylinder engine is positioned ahead of the front wheels, which it drives.
One of the main advantages of this type of layout is the great saving in usable space.
The cylinder heads and crankcase are made of a light alloy and the crankshaft is cradled in three main bearings. The two overhead camshafts - one for each bank of cylinders - are belt-driven.
Air-cooled engines tend to be noisy and the GS engine is no exception, in addition, the gearbox emits a hum which is sometimes irritating.Riding comfort, road-holding and optimum utilisation of interior space seem to have been the main considerations in designing the GS.
In some respects this was achieved at the cost of simple maintenance. The GS is not the simplest car to work on and repair charges may be higher than in the case of a more conventional car.
Synchronising is good on all four forward gears although the gearbox emits a groan when first gear is engaged while the car is in motion. Travel between gear positions is considerable and changes send to be notchy but engaging reverse gear offers no problem.
All four wheels are fitted with disc brakes with separate braking circuits activating the front and rear brakes. The front discs are mounted inboard, alongside the differential. The brake pedal is sensitive and braking is of a high order.
The GS's behaviour on the road is superior to that of many more expensive cars. The soft suspension levels our humps as if they were non-existent, bur not at the cost of roadholding. The car understeers and although it tends to lean around corners, this is far less noticeable from inside the car than from outside.
At low speeds the steering is heavy around sharp bends or when parking in a confined space but as speed is built up it becomes lighter. The turning circle is small for a front-wheel-drive car and self-centring is no more than on a rear-wheel-drive car.
The interior is spacious and judicial use of large glass panes makes it appear even more spacious from outside.
The instrument panel resembles a successful sculpting exercise, but it is practical and all instruments are easily legible and placed in front of the driver. They include a battery condition indicator, rev counter, clock, speedometer and fuel gauge. The oblong casing around the steering column houses a light control stalk on the left-hand side and separate stalks for the indicators and hooter and for the windscreen wipers/washer on the right.
It takes a while to become accustomed to the CitroŽn single-spoke steering wheel but then at becomes very acceptable. All instruments are always clearly visible and there are not so many spokes to get in one's way in fast manoeuvring.
The seats are comfortable, although they lack sufficient sideway support, and there is ample rear leg-room, even with the front seats pushed far back.
The plush carpets in the test car were not very neatly fitted, and this also held true for the rear window-sill. As regards this sill, GS owners are warned not to place hard, heavy objects on it. In the event of a collision, such objects may cause serious head and neck injuries when thrown forward.
Considering that the GS has a relatively small engine pulling a reasonably heavy body, performance and economy are acceptable.The more one drives the GS, the more one likes it and the sooner one wants one.
|This article was published in the May 1974 edition of the South African magazine 'The Motorist' and was made available to me by the webmaster of Moby's Site (unfortunately it seems, as of May 2011, to have disappeared) which specialises in recording the automotive history of South Africa.|
© 2010 CitroŽnŽt/Julian Marsh