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Hammond’s icons: Citroen DS

  1. I’d not be lying if I said I’ve always had a soft spot for the Citroen DS, but the greatest joy about it is that the car has always had a soft spot for me too. And you and, indeed, anyone lucky enough to travel in one and enjoy the sensation of being wafted about on a silken cloud of swan feathers and spiders’ webs.

    Words: Richard Hammond

    Photography: Justin Leighton

    This article originally appeared in the December 2012 edition of Top Gear magazine 

  2. It’s all about that famously ‘weird’, ‘complicated’ or just plain ‘fiddly’ suspension. My dad wouldn’t have touched one with a bargepole. Self-levelling hydropneumatic, nitrogen-filled spheres? Come on, something’s got to go wrong. Except it works, and it does so brilliantly.

  3. This is a magic-carpet experience unlike anything else this side of an actual magic carpet. And once you’ve got your head round the fact that you are actually in a car, in the real world, and not floating in a marzipan boat down a honey river, you need to remind yourself that this car arrived in 1955. While the rest of the world was bouncing and crashing about in dreary Fifties’ cars, this thing landed with its nitrogen-filled spheres and its front-wheel drive and must have blown people’s bowler hats off.

  4. Designed by Bertoni, it still works visually today: swoopy and futuristic, but somehow contained and elegant at the same time. The broad, soft seats complement the self-levelling, hydropneumatic suspension working away beneath. It doesn’t feel old to drive so much as otherworldly.

  5. The narrow steering wheel and widely spaced controls add to the sensation that this is something unlike anything else. It can reach 107mph, although the 2.2-litre, 4cyl engine will struggle to get to 60 in less than 15 seconds. That said, it’s had its moments of excitement: De Gaulle was in one when would-be assassin Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry shot out two tyres, but de Gaulle escaped because the clever suspension allowed the car to carry on at full tilt. That was quite a piece of advertising. Not that I’m suggesting Monsieur Bastien-Thiry worked for Citroen, obviously.

  6. This is a proper French car to drive. Which is to say that despite the groundbreaking technical innovations and very clever thinking that went into its creation, the car, the machine, was never intended to be an end in itself. Travelling in a French car is always more about what you’re going to do when you get wherever you’re going - because what you’re doing, where you’re going and who you’re going there with are all far, far more important concerns than the machine you’re going in. Something that is never clearer than when the machine is as discreetly elegant as this and can move you around quietly and smoothly without ever interrupting the flow of conversation. Riding in this one, I can’t help but wonder just what urgent, hushed conversations, hurried declarations of love or passionate calls to arms were made in its plush, narrow confines. Then again, this car probably never dashed about Paris transporting philosophers and film stars; it was made in Slough, as were thousands of others between 1956 and 1966.

  7. I should imagine that it could very quickly become very, very expensive if you were to run one every day. Everything on it is complicated and unique to the car. There was a convertible model, the Décapotable, which is now fantastically valuable, but a late saloon like this one could be found for under £20k. But beyond the worry of running such a complicated, old car, and beyond the expenses, my main concern would be the pressure of always having to think of something philosophical, passionate or brainy enough to say while riding in it. It would make every journey a mind-expanding experience.

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