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The end of the sixties saw Citroën with a range comprising basically just two models - the 2CV and its derivatives and the D series. In an attempt to plug the gaps, two new models were introduced - a "super DS", the SM and a "mini DS", the GS. It is with the latter that I now concern myself. 

In 1970, CAR tested a pre-production GS in Ireland and commented that they had never driven a car so hard nor worked the brakes so much as they did. They were extremely impressed.

Of course it was far from perfect. In typical Citroën style, the car was launched prematurely with a number of teething problems, some of which were never fully resolved. 

Early cars had a marvellously free revving engine, more akin to that of a motorcycle, indeed BFG fitted this engine into the Odyssée bike. The torque characteristics of this engine were unusual, the torque curve was more like a straight line with the result that the engine was gutless at low (below 4000) revs so in order to make progress you had to keep the revs up which meant fuel consumption figures in the low twenties. This might have been acceptable for a two litre engine but the GS's lump was half that size. The performance however was not that far adrift from Citroën's own D Special with similar acceleration, top speed and fuel consumption figures.

Demands for more power were met grudgingly, the 1 015cc engine acquiring an additional 200 or so cc which resulted in more conventional power characteristics but meant losing the free revving nature of the original. The new engine was also harsher and if pushed hard, thirstier. The 1 015cc engine was increased in size to 1 139cc in the mid seventies and the 1 220 was increased to 1 299 with the introduction of the GSX 3/GSA models at the end of the decade. Each increase in engine size seemed to be accompanied by an increase in NVH (Noise, Vibration, Harshness) and not much improvement in either performance or economy.

The body styling was way ahead of its time - the rest of the world caught up in the mid eighties when Vauxhall revealed its look alike Astra - in its GSAX3 incarnation it was the most aerodynamic mass production car, matched only by the Audi 100. Like most highly aerodynamic cars, it suffered from a rotten ventilation system and like most air cooled engines, heater output was variable. What the car did have was the ability to have hot air over your feet and cool air on your face simultaneously. In their infinite wisdom, Citroën decided that the GS did not need a rear wash wipe because the aerodynamics would keep the rear screen free of moisture once you were on the move - and don't trees in France deposit sap?

The fascia was a true Citroën creation with sculpted flowing lines and on French domestic models, the first iteration of the digital speedo; UK models got conventional instruments. The X and X2 "performance" variants had a mirror image version of the UK dash. Minor controls were straight out of the DS. It was not until the GSA model appeared that these were ditched in favour of the Visa PRN satellite system - a retrograde step where form took precedence over function, an example of which was the meaningless illuminated diagram of the car.

Early models suffered from front brake pad wear problems - 5000 km being the maximum life expectancy. This was improved on later models but not to any great extent. The parking brake was fine in left hand drive form but in right hand drive required one either to develop a phenomenally strong little finger to operate the release trigger or a thoroughly uncomfortable unergonomic contortionistic operation was needed. Perhaps this was indicative of the Gallic contempt for Albion Perfide. (More likely it was the cost of re-engineering for a relatively small market).

The location of the in car entertainment was a disaster, both ergonomically and, in the case of cassette players, mechanically. This latter point may be excused on the grounds that cassette players were not the norm when the car was launched but the redesign for the GSA was inexcusable.

In true arrogant fashion, Citroën decreed that the GS would be a saloon and not a trendy hatchback and those desirous of a fifth door had to either drive a Break or wait nine years for the GSA.

Throughout its life there were rumours that a true performance variant would be launched to put it on an even footing with the competitor that was conceptually the most similar. Alfa Romeo had increased the size and output of the Alfasud's engine and many thought Citroën would do likewise. It was not to be.

From a servicing point of view, the car was difficult but not impossible to work on. It was certainly an easier proposition than the DS or SM but hardly the sort of car one would entrust to the village blacksmith or Ford agent.

CAR described the GS/GSA as the most "technically dense" car Citroën had ever built. Certainly it provided novel solutions to diverse problems and undoubtedly provided a taste of D style motoring at a much more affordable price. Its successor, the ZX is a thoroughly conventional beast which owes nothing to the GS other than the market niche it occupies.

Why didn't Citroën ever develop the GS properly. Imagine a fuel injected 1.8 litre GSA with hydractive suspension, anti lock brakes etc. rather than a Peugeot 306 in drag.

© 1994 Julian Marsh