The features list tends to define what a luxury car is these days. And while classic luxury cars arguably have more style, they can’t necessarily compete when it comes to bells and whistles. There is one, though, that can. Today, self-leveling suspension and adjusting headlights are available in many high-end vehicles. The Citroen DS had both of these features, and more, in 1955.
By the 1950s, Citroen had already created one classic car icon, the 2CV. Which, despite its rugged and minimalistic appearance, was the result of careful and considerate engineering. And, like the classic Fiat 500, it’s a fashion symbol in its own right.
But it still pales in many ways to the Citroen DS. In 2009, a panel of automotive designers named it the most beautiful car ever made. Italdesign founder and well-known designer, Giorgetto Giugiaro, said the DS is “impossible to imitate.”
This is one reason why a 1973 Citroen DS is part of the New York Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection. Even the car’s name references the design. Pronounced in French, ‘DS’ sounds like ‘déesse,’ French for ‘goddess.’
But the Citroen DS’ appeal goes beyond physical appearance. For a classic luxury car, it was incredibly advanced for its day, Hagerty explains. When it debuted for the 1956 model year, it came with hydro-pneumatic adjustable and self-leveling suspension, Automobile reports. It was also the first mass-produced car with front disc brakes, Motor Trend reports.
It had hydraulic power steering, a hydraulically-controlled semi-automatic transmission, and was one of the first cars to use plastic in its interior. Later versions had swiveling headlights and A/C.
To be sure, the Citroen DS isn’t exactly fast. Despite the forward-thinking technology, the classic luxury car’s engine was fairly conventional. The original DS 19 came with a 1911cc four-cylinder engine, developing 75 hp, Hagerty reports. By 1972, the engine had grown to 2300cc and gained fuel injection, which let it produce 141 hp.
Still, behind the wheel, the Citroen DS is fascinating. The brakes are hydraulically-operated, but there’s no actual brake pedal, just a rubber button. But even without ABS, they can stop the DS extremely quickly.
However, the Citroen DS’s real party trick is its suspension, which delivers a “magic carpet” ride. The ride quality was so impressive, Rolls-Royce borrowed it for some of its cars. It does mean the car rolls quite a bit in corners. But then, few classic luxury cars can take a speed bump at 45 mph with impunity. And it was still robust enough to let the DS win both the 1959 and 1966 Monte Carlo Rally.
The suspension could also be a bit problematic and not simply because there’s 2200 psi of pressure inside; the mid-1969 models used a hydraulic fluid that tended to corrode the lines. In fact, the DS itself is prone to overall corrosion. Luckily, there are new or remanufactured DS parts available.
Despite its iconic status, the Citroen DS can be relatively affordable. Roughly 1.4 million were built during the 1956-1975 production run, Classic & Sports Car reports. In addition to the expanding engine, Citroen also offered a more basic version for taxi drivers, called the ID.
The DS also came in stretched Pallas and convertible Décapotable form.