Introduction to the 1955-1975 Citroen DS and ID

The Citroen 'Goddess'
The DS19 production cars rolled on Michelin X radial tires -- whitewalls were only used for the auto show models.
The DS19 production cars rolled on Michelin X radial tires -- whitewalls were only used for the auto show models.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The big Citroen (the Citroen "Goddess") was introduced as the DS19, the initials denoting Desiree Speciale, the numerals a 1.9-liter engine. But it acquired a nickname very soon after launch: "Goddess."

The reason, quite logically, is that the French pronounce "DS" as day-ess, which means goddess. In any case, it was an appropriate title for a car that many considered breathtakingly beautiful and, yes, even worthy of worship.

If that, too, sounds like hype, remember that the D-Series was far ahead of its time both technically and stylistically. Like the aborted Tucker, it bristled with features that wouldn't be copied for many years, and some that have yet to be copied at all. Like the car it replaced, the equally pioneering Traction Avant, it testified to the bravery of Citroen's designers, who were looking not two but 20 years into the future.

The Traction Avant bowed in 1934 and was the first Citroen with front-wheel drive.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The Traction Avant's 1934 debut had changed Citroen's image virtually overnight from a builder of mundane machinery to a company at the very forefront of automotive technology. It was the world's first volume-produced car to employ unitized or monocoque construction (abetted by the work of America's Edward Budd), and the first Citroen with front-wheel drive. That was the upside. The downside was that the Traction's heavy development costs virtually bankrupted Andre Citroen before any profits could roll in. The story might have ended right there had the Michelin tire interests not come to the rescue. As it was, Andre Citroen died soon afterward -- some say of a broken heart.

More than two decades later, the firm finally got around to replacing the faithful Traction (which even then had become one of Hollywood's favorite "French connection" icons). Having built that front-drive line for so long, Citroen kept its mechanical layout for the D-Series, including the constant-mesh, four-speed gearbox and a primary drive-shaft run over the differential. Also retained was a basic overhead-valve, inline four-cylinder engine. Otherwise, the D owed nothing to any previous Citroen -- or anything else.

Indeed, many observers complained that the DS19 (also referred to in Citroen literature as DS-19 or DS 19) was different purely for the sake of being different -- unnecessarily complicated, with far too many advanced features that simply weren't needed on what was, after all, a family car. Citroen might have listened to such criticism, but rarely acted to simplify the basic design.

All DS19s had chrome rims and big hubcaps, like this 1956 model.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

In fact, by the time production ended -- at no fewer than 1,456,115 units -- the Goddess was even more complex, having acquired electronic fuel injection, five-speed and automatic transmission options, and -- shades of Tucker -- headlamps that turned with the front wheels (via a connection to the steering rack), not to mention convertibles and "Safari" wagons.

The development of the 1955 D-Series actually began two decades earlier. The next page explains more about the development and features of the 1955 D-Series.

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