Yes, we all know that the DS was way ahead of its time but owning one meant putting up with all sorts of problems - foibles if you are a Citroënist, idiosyncracies if you are not. The DS was foisted on an unsuspecting public in 1955 before the bugs were ironed out - indeed it would be true to say that it was not until a decade later that the car became a viable means of transport.
Design a car with hydraulic jacking to assist in wheel changing and then ensure that you have to unbolt the rear wing which makes the job as onerous as it would be using a conventional jacking system.
Design the boot lid to enable you to drive with it open with unimpaired visibility but make the lid so flimsy that it will be damaged if you do.
Owners of early cars were frequently left stranded with no technical back up because the company, obsessed with secrecy, had failed to let its agents know anything about the car. This was true a year after launch while those unfortunate enough to live in areas of high humidity discovered that the hydraulic system seals did not work. This fault was not cured until the introduction of LHM.
The ventilation system was a joke - incredibly long ducting from the bumper mounted intakes to the dash mounted vents reduced the flow and warmed the air.
The frameless windows improved visibility but ceased to seal at speed.
Driving fast in the wet was a no - no since, a) the windows leaned out permitting water to enter and; b) the wipers on early cars lost contact with the screen at speeds in excess of 50 mph.
The interior mirror had to be mounted on the dash since the dropping roofline meant that the rear window was too low to mount the mirror anywhere else. Mounted where it was, it obscured the forward view.
The handbrake on manual cars was mounted so low that it was impossible to operate if wearing a static belt while the parking brake release on hydraulic and left hand drive manual cars was guaranteed to break your nails. Parking brake pad replacement was a nightmare due to limited (impossible!) access.
All models had an enormous turning circle and unassisted cars had such heavy steering that you needed Arnold Schwarzenegger's biceps to undertake parking manoeuvres.
Slough built cars were ghastly - the "modern" dash of the Parisiennes was replaced by a slab of wood, flanked by the plastic air vents - to hell with aesthetics - and the minor controls were scattered without rhyme or reason all across the fascia. Seats were made from dead cows' bottoms which guaranteed that cornering speeds were kept down to those of its arthritic peers since the driver and passengers would slide off the seats - no seat belts!
The hydraulic gearchange gave you two choices - smooth and slow or harsh and fast although the manual gearbox featured what was probably the best column change ever.
Early long stroke cars required a good ten miles driving before there was noticeable heater output. Mind you, its peers offered you a heater as an optional extra!
The 6 volt system fitted to early cars was unreliable and even when new, outmoded.
With the exception of later injected versions, the D's engine was underpowered and noisy - completely at odds with the smoothness of the ride and the avant garde styling.
The headlamp connection to the steering and suspension on later models was via a Heath Robinson set of cables and pulleys - always going out of adjustment.
Cars equipped with halogen long range lamps offered, in their day, unparalleled night time visibility until you were forced to dip your lights. The dip beam, being tungsten was so dim that it was like extinguishing your lights. You suddenly discovered you were travelling some 30 mph too fast. The fairings were not insect or dirt proof and the access hole was too small to permit the entry of anything larger than a three year old's hand to undertake the cleaning.
Later cars had meaningless stopping distances on the speedo meaningless because in an emergency situation, you wouldn't have time to read the thing.
The extremities of the car were invisible so parking by ear was de rigeur and the wheelbase was so long that gate posts were a real hazard to the unprotected flanks.
The DS looked like the sort of car Dan Dare might have driven. That it survived so long is not a tribute to the design but an indication of the arrogance of a company which said, "We do not build cars people want, we build the cars that they need." Five years into its life, a six cylinder was anticipated. It never materialised. By the end of its life, it was hopelessly outmoded in refinement terms.
Compared to its contemporaries the D was way ahead, in terms of styling, road behaviour and dynamics, if not in terms of servicing ability and performance. The Original Rover 2000/3500 was conceptually not a million miles away from the D but in terms of passenger accomodation was in a different class altogether. At the time of its birth, the D's contemporaries were invariably ersatz American cars, equipped with drum brakes, live rear axles, worm and roller steering, side valve engines and the aerodynamics of a house brick. Ten years later, European cars were beginning to develop a European style - the Renault 16 and the aforementioned Rovers being cases in point. Ford's much vaunted Sierra featured a Cd factor almost identical to the then 28 year old D. Nothing however ever looked anything like the D and nothing drove like it either.
Let us imagine what the D might have been like - a flat six air-cooled engine driving through an electro-hydraulic automatic gearbox or hydrostatic all wheel drive transmission and in later manifestations, zero roll suspension and anti lock brakes. A D Mark II would have featured styling changes to improve aerodynamics and performance.
|This article was originally published in the Citroënian, the monthly magazine of the Citroën Car Club .|