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Motoring: Citroean DS Pallas - 1955

The Citroen DS was unveiled before a stunned public at the Paris Motor Show on 5th October 1955. By the end of the day the French company had received 12,000 orders for the new car. With a drag co-efficient of 0.38, its body looked, as Roland Barthes was to comment, 'as if it has fallen from the sky'. The DS is well-known for its futuristic, aerodynamic body design, styled by the Italian sculptor and industrial designer Flaminio Bertoni, and for its innovative technology, including its hydropneumatic self-leveling suspension system. The DS advanced the achievable standards in terms of ride quality, roadholding, handling and braking in an automobile. The DS came in third in the 1999 Car of the Century competition, recognizing the world's most influential auto designs. Winner and second place went to the Ford Model T and the Mini.

Some twenty years later Citroen ceased production of the DS. 1.4 million units had been sold and the DS, like its predecessor the Traction Avant, was acknowledged as one of the most remarkable and influential designs in automotive history. Comparing the DS to rival saloon cars of the mid 1950s, various elements which made the DS so advanced for its day, including its radical hydropneumatic suspension, disc brakes and semi-automatic transmission. Exhibited at the Milan Triennale (1957) and New York's Museum of Modern Art (1966), the car has now been ranked as a 'design classic'. The DS has inspired fierce devotion even amongst those who would not otherwise consider themselves to be car enthusiasts.

After 18 years of development in secret as the successor to the venerable Traction Avant, the DS 19 was introduced at the Paris Motor Show. The car's appearance and innovative engineering captured the imagination of the public and the automobile industry almost overnight. In the first 15 minutes of the show 743 orders were taken, and orders for the first day totalled 12,000. Far from being just a fascinating technology in search of a purpose, contemporary journalists were effusive in noting how the DS dramatically pushed the envelope in the ride vs. handling compromise possible in a motor vehicle. To a France still deep in reconstruction after the devastation of World War II, and also building its identity in the post-colonial world, the DS motor car was a symbol of French ingenuity. It defied virtually every automotive design convention of that era. It also posited the nation's relevance in the Space Age, during the global race for technology of the Cold War.

The high price tag, however, hurt general sales in a country still recovering from World War II 10 years earlier, and a cheaper submodel, the ID (another pun: in French, Idee, or Idea), was introduced in 1957. The ID shared the same body with the DS, but had more traditional features under the hood. It had no power steering (though this was added as an option later), and instead of the hydraulically controlled manual transmission and clutch, it had a conventional clutch and transmission. Interestingly, the first model series was called 11D, a clear reminder of the last model of the Traction Avant, the 11C. A station wagon variant, the ID Break, was introduced in 1958.

Outside of France, the car's radical and cosmopolitan design appealed to non-conformists. A United States advertisement summarised this selling point: "It takes a special person to drive a special car". Throughout its model lifetime, the DS managed to remain ahead of its time. It featured power disc brakes, a hydropneumatic suspension including an automatic levelling system and variable ground clearance, power steering and a semi-automatic transmission, and a fiberglass roof which reduced weight transfer. Inboard front brakes (as well as an independent suspension) reduced unsprung weight. Different front and rear track widths and tire sizes reduced the understeer typical of front-engined and front-wheel drive cars.

Top speed: 95 mph (152 km/h)
0-60 mph (0-95 km/h): 18.4 sec
Engine type: in-line four
Displacement: 114 ci (1,911 cc)
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Max power: 63bhp(47 kW) at 4,500 rpm
Max torque: 105 lb ft (142 Nm) at 3,500 rpm
Weight: 2,575 lb (1158 kg)
Economy: 24 mpg (8.6 km/l)

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