Monday, January 26, 2015

There was a spaceship parked in Greenwich Village on the coldest day of the year

This car will single-handedly prove how misguided the stereotype of French surrendering is. Take it all in; this is a seriously complicated 43 year old French car living through winter on the streets of Manhattan. Steadfast, loyal, persistent, and durable are the nicknames I bestow upon this beast!
*PS - yes the person in the background is wearing pants.
Under this coat of many colors lies an incredibly important milestone in automotive history. I will break routine here and offer a direct quote from Wikipedia that sums it up nicely;
"After 18 years of secret development as the successor to the Traction Avant, the DS 19 was introduced on 5 October 1955 at the Paris Motor Show." Now let's think about this for a moment; 18 years before the debut of the DS means that research and development on this ride started back in 1937! 18 years in automotive design is a lifetime, but when the DS was introduced it still managed to set the other cars on the road back by 10 years. When you consider what France went through during those 18 years it becomes all the more remarkable.
We know automatically that this car was meant to be sold new in America because the headlights are exposed. The original European edition has a glass lens covering each headlight pod. Up close you can see the sweet styling details that make this car so sweet; reflective trim piece under the headlight corner, curved front bumper, and that funky little turn signal emerging from its concave home.
Another even more unfortunate omission on the U.S. model is the lack of directional headlights. Starting with the 1968 European DS the inner headlights turned with the direction of the steering wheel up to a whopping 80°! Why this ingenious feature wasn't allowed in the States is a question of bureaucracy.
This car looks modern today but in 1955 when the first ones were introduced it really looked like nothing anyone had ever seen. The beautiful looks can be attributed to an Italian sculptor named Flaminio Bertoni, while the groundbreaking technology under the skin is credited to Aeronautical Engineer André Lefèbvre. And the technology of this ride was groundbreaking, with myriad advances in ride quality, handling, and braking. While marketed as a luxury ride the DS went on to prove itself a great rally car, winning the Monte Carlo twice and competing strongly all the way up through the mid-'70s.
I dig the cool DS emblems on the sail panels.
Having the rear turn signals mounted so high up is a great safety feature. On this futuristic cruiser they look more like jet engines propelling this into outer space.
Part of the reason this car handles so well is that the entire roof is fiberglass which makes for a very low center of gravity. The DS also sports a fully hydropneumatic independent suspension, inboard brakes (where the brakes are mounted to the inner part of the axle as opposed to the wheels. Jaguar XKEs used these too), and front wheel drive. The hydropneumatic suspension allowed the car to be self-leveling as well as offer a variable ride height. In postwar Europe the roads were pretty beat up, but the DS would deliver a soft and luxurious ride over even the worst surfaces.
Enough fawning already; let's take a moment to enjoy just how multicolored and patinaed this car is! Most of the trim pieces and brightwork are still present with the exception of the rear corners. The trunk looks to have been sourced from some desert junkyard where the paint with dissolve in the sun and blowing sand. The amount of salt all over the sides tells me this has been parked on the city streets for a while where the plow trucks cruise by spraying salt with enough force to reach the sidewalks.
That double chevron emblem on the trunk is the logo for Citroen by the way.
Here we get a good idea of just how low the car sits when parked. In true lowrider fashion the rear of the DS would raise up by 4 or 5 inches when the car was started.
Such an odd shape overall. Just look at the line of the hood that is basically an S curve. Beat-down and heavily used this thing looks bizarre and menacing. In great shape with a nice coat of paint and all trim shiny it can cut quite the dashing presence though. 
That funky front wheel is pure Citroen. I believe the company used this exact wheel for everything from the diminutive 2CV and plastic-bodied Méhari all the way up to their "large" delivery trucks (still small by U.S. standards). The only difference I can reckon is that the smaller cars had 3 lugs per wheel while the larger had 5. Imagine the perils of losing a lug nut when you start with only 3!
The interior is in a condition similar to the exterior, but you can still see how well appointed and classy it once was. The steering wheel has only one spoke going from the center to the rim. I don't know what was standard or optional on these cars but this one is definitely loaded with am/fm radio and air conditioning. Look like someone elected to install and under-dash removable stereo at some point (most likely the late '80s/early '90s because when was the last time you saw one of those?).
*One cutesy but correct detail is the Michelin Man air freshener hanging from the mirror. Michelin is indeed a French tire company harkening back to 1889.
The original '50s version of the DS had a single headlight on each side that was exposed at the top but sitting in a concave housing at the bottom. This combined with a slightly flatter hood made the car look very much like a frog. If you haven't seen the French hit man movie classic Le Samourai I highly recommend it! The DS is featured prominently throughout this awesome flick.
Though the DS was produced until 1975 this was the last year imported to the States. It was followed by the Citroen CX which looks much like the modernized version of a DS that it is. While the follow-up CX was a massive success none were officially imported to the U.S. due to an idiotic ruling on the Hydropneumatic suspension. It's a shame too, as that suspension was so wonderfully built that Rolls Royce licensed it for use in their own Silver Shadow. Regardless, this is one of my greatest discoveries yet on the streets of NYC and I'm happy to have stumbled across it.

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