From Practical Classics – October 2017
This is a Concorde moment. Once upon a time, we could sip champagne in
comfort whilst travelling at 24 miles a minute. Years before that,
mankind was dancing about on the moon and planning excursions to the
outer reaches of the galaxy. And there was once a time when motorists
could glide across the earth on a bed of nitrogen gas in vehicle that
could maintain a constant ride height irrespective of load, untroubled
by undulations and broken tarmac.
The hydropneumatic CitroŽn was an engineering masterpiece of comfort,
safety and control efficiency, unveiled to a world enduring suspension
made up of medieval leaf springs and 19th century coil spring
technology. As CitroŽn drivers wafted about serenely, the rest of the
world failed to appreciate the benefits.
And now, for successive years, we’ve been told we want sporty cars.
That means even MPVs and SUVs have stiff suspension springs and low
profile tyres, vulnerable to our appalling road surfaces. See how
occupants of modern cars jiggle about in their sports seats on the way
to work, enormous alloys thumping into potholes. And for what? To live
out the fantasy that you might one day tackle the
In 2017, we took a great leap backwards. Yes, I know the manufacturing
cost was as prohibitive as supersonic flight was to most of the
airlines but it doesn’t mean Concorde wasn’t dynamically superior to a
lumbering Jumbo. As a regular user of cars with both springs and
hydropneumatics, I am convinced the latter should have been the future.
It’s so typical of the human race. Mankind pulls a blinder and then
throws it all away.
How it works
Following in the footsteps of Andrť CitroŽn, visionary CitroŽn CEO
Pierre Boulanger instigated the next chapter of CitroŽn’s long history
of innovation with the line: ‘Study all possibilities. Even the
impossible.’ He assigned designer Paul MagŤs to CitroŽn’s development
department in 1942, who was introduced to aeronautical engineer Andrť
Lefebvre and sculptor Flaminio Bertoni (the uncompromising stylist
responsible for the Traction Avant, 2CV, H Van, DS and Ami 6). Paul’s
suspension design brief was to enable ‘fast travel on poor road
What he came up was a high pressure gas and oil system (or
‘Olťopneumatique’), designed to enable suspension, steering, brakes and
gearshift to work in harmony with each other, with the entire system
operating from an engine driven pump.