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Citroen DS

Published: 18th Sep 2015 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Citroen DS
Citroen DS
Citroen DS
Citroen DS
Citroen DS
Citroen DS
Citroen DS

Buyer Beware

  • The outer panels of the DS are cosmetic – it’s the main structure that matters. The most important parts of the structure are the side rails which run along the flanks. Check them from underneath.
  • If you think the main frame may be badly decayed, remove the wings to check. The rears are held in place by just one bolt. If major bodywork repairs have been performed it’s quite possible that they haven’t been done properly.
  • The front wings are rust-prone at their bottom rear corners as well as around the wheelarches. Cars with faired-in headlights also need to be checked just below the lamps – the metal here rusts and it can’t be repaired because welding leads to distortion.
  • The best units are the five bearing ones (1985cc, 2175cc and 2347cc). A properly serviced engine will last at least 150,000 miles before any TLC is required – it’s common for double this mileage to be racked up before the head has to come off.
  • Cracks in the alloy head between the combustion chambers are common, as are incorrectly fitted oil filters. The former occurs when the correct level of anti-freeze hasn’t been maintained.
  • If the timing chain is getting noisy, it’s an engine out job to fit a new chain and tensioner, says Citroën. However, there is a procedure for cutting a hole in the inner bulkhead to access the timing chain cover before making up a cover plate. Purists hate the thought but it works!
  • Semi-autos are complicated. The system isn’t inherently unreliable, but it does need to be set up properly by a Citroën expert.
  • Don’t fear that famous hydraulic set up. The most common problem is corroded pipework, and as the fluid works at 2400psi, any weakness will soon become apparent. The only solution is a new set of pipes costing around £250-£300 for the main loom, which is the area most likely to give problems.
  • The spheres which provide the springing and damping can also give problems. They may need recharging, or replacing. But this isn’t any trickier than swapping shock absorbers.
  • Always check the accumulator that keeps the suspension fluid under pressure, by listening for clicking from under the bonnet. If the accumulator sphere is on its way out, the hydraulic pump will be working continuously, causing it to wear out.
  • Everything is available for the DS and ID, in terms of both interior and exterior trim – carpets, dash tops, door trims and seats can all be tracked down, along with the exterior brightwork. Although the trim is pretty durable, the top of the back seat where it’s been in the sun is liable to deteriorate quite quickly.


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Way ahead of its time, even now many motorists are scared of the complexity of Citroën’s DS. Is it justified and is it putting you off an ideal classic for you?Way ahead of its time, even now many motorists are scared of the complexity of Citroën’s DS. Is it justified and is it putting you off an ideal classic for you?

Sixty years on the DS is a classic that still astounds but also infuriates at the same time – but what do you expect from a car that was decades ahead of its time? Even now the Citroën looks sensational, is technically advanced and amazingly aerodynamic – yet it débuted in 1955. However, such advanced engineering has also proved to be the DS’s downfall; while there are many who have seen the light, there are some who assume that such complexity must mean poor reliability is inherent, even though the DS is a pretty dependable tool.

Indeed, this Citroën can – and does for some owners – double as reliable, safe family transport, fully capable of holding its own in today’s city or motorway traffic.


The DS always looked like it came from outer space, and Citroën ensured it stayed ahead of the pack by upgrades almost annually. Basically, it boils down to whether you want a saloon, estate or cabriolet and how much technology crammed inside. For those who fear – even after 60 years – Citroën’s hydropneumatic system then the plainer ID19 and later Dsuper cars may be the best answer although you do lose much that made the ID so good in the first place.

The estates were MPVs before the term was even mentioned and there’s up to seven-seats depending upon model. Then and now, they make terrific family ferriers and towing mules. Later DSs sported fivespeed gearboxes which, for today’s roads, is certainly worth having, arguably less so the complex fuel injection set up that needs expert care although it’s not TR6 unreliable!

Ignoring six figure cabriolets you can buy a running but scruffy, reliable ID or DS for as little as £2000. Most are in the £5000 to £10,000 range unless it’s something special, and check out our auction pages in this issue and you’ll see a concours D Super 5 (hardly the most coveted model) which sold for well over 60 grand! A really good Safari still costs less than an equivalent condition saloon but they are getting very rare, and so the price gap has started to reduce as a result.



With a brake pedal that’s more a button needing just a touch, hydraulic gear selection, a foot-operated parking brake, that single-spoke steering wheel and indicators that don’t cancel themselves, it’s like learning to drive all over again. There no doubt about it, on that first gallop around the block you’ll probably detest a DS. Motor magazine said so in its 1968 road test: “One wonders how many customers must have been frightened away to more prosaic machinery after a brief test drive”. It further advised that the typical driver would need a hundred miles of driving to acclimatise but warned, “Some may be converted – or put off – for life”.

Now renowned journalist Sue Baker takes a retrospective look after driving Citroën’s own 1961 heritage car. Parked, the car sits extremely low on its haunches. The body’s lower edge is almost down to the ground, with that bodyworkcovered rear wheel almost completely obscured. Then you climb aboard past the wide-opening door, into a cabin with squishily-upholstered leather seats and a big single-spoke steering wheel, to sit behind a wood-veneered dash with a great view out past thin front pillars.

You have to pull out the choke to a half-way point, and turn the key a few times before the 54-year-old engine rather reluctantly fires, but once running it soon settles into a steady thrum, and after a minute or so you can dispense with the choke. Meanwhile, you have to wait a similar time before you can move off, while the DS raises its hydro-pneumatic suspension from rest mode to driving height. It’s strangely reminiscent of an old lady from the Downton Abbey era hitching her skirt to walk.

The DS is no ball of fire, with a rather leisurely feel to its demeanour. Acceleration is by no means brisk, and it trundles up to 60mph on the speedo in a yawn-making 19.5 seconds. The quoted top speed is 90 mph, so cruising at 70 on a modern motorway is not an ordeal. There’s not too much noise intruding into the cabin, either from the engine or wind rush over that sleekly aerodynamic body.

The body leans a bit on the bends, and it isn’t a car to be hustled too hard on a twisty road. But the ride quality is remarkable. The suspension was invented by Citroën engineer Paul Mages as a solution to cushion the terrible state of French roads in the mid-20’s century, and it is still very effective at dealing with modern potholes. Ride comfort in the DS over an unevenly surfaced rural back road is actually rather better than in many modern cars with their stiff suspensions and unyielding low profile tyres.


Yes, very much so thanks to the car’s advanced engineering. Modern, upgrades of any kind are generally unnecessary – and in many cases undesirable. The most worthwhile mod is electronic ignition, the 123 set-up being the most popular. A fit-and-forget stainless steel exhaust is also worthwhile buying, but the most useful thing you can do to improve a DS is to fit modern Continental tyres in place of the Michelin units still fitted to many we gather. Grip is improved and so is handling and while purists don’t like this move, they make the DS even safer.


Sixty years on, working on a DS still strikes fear into many, even seasoned spanner types but they need not worry overly. A proper workshop manual is essential though because there are wrinkles. For example, if the triangle symbol on the oil filter casing isn’t aligned with the matching symbol on the sump, oil flow will be cut!

Another problem is cross-threaded spark plugs, because they aren’t particularly easy to replace but the key is to use the correct Citroën two-piece plug spanner.

Even when the engine does need maintenance it’s usually restricted to the top end. Because bottom end work is rarely required it is normal for the engine to be worked on in situ. A built engine costs around £1500.

If there’s one aspect of a DS or ID that’s sure to strike fear it’s the Frenchie’s hydropneumatic suspension and braking system. But as long as it’s properly maintained it’ll remain trouble-free for years. Pre-1966 models used a red fluid called LHS or LHS2, (Liquide Hydraulique Synthetique). This was changed to a mineral type called LHM but if you want to convert an early car to LHM then every unit and all the hundreds of seals must be changed.

The brakes work very well, but their inaccessibility often leads to corners being cut. Changing the inboard front discs can take 12 hours and even swapping the brake pads takes up to two hours, so be warned.

There is no jack: you simply set the suspension to ‘high’, put the stand under the body sill and let the suspension down again, leaving two wheels dangling in the air. Only Citroën would have thought of that one!



DS saloon launched to replace Light 15 Traction Avant with a futuristic design that was decades ahead of its time featuring a hydraulic suspension, braking and steering system although old four cylinder from Light 15 is retained.


A simpler entry model called the ID19 is introduced sans hydraulic steering, brakes or gearbox, while the engine was also detuned and the interior was less luxurious. Cars are now built in UK.


Prestige launched, with a partition between the front and rear seats. Arguably one of the earliest MPVs hits the scene in ‘59; the super spacious seven-seater Safari that becomes a benchmark in estates


Chapron’s ID19 and DS19 Cabriolet were added to range. while the DS19 got a revised dashboard. In 1962 all cars received a restyled nose, while Cabriolet got the DS19’s engine and power steering optional on ID.


Conventional manual gearbox option for the DS (1963) finally becomes available while the next year the Pallas trim surfaces, as a luxury version of the DS19.


New five-bearing engine introduced; 1985cc or 2175cc. These were fitted in the DS19a and ID19 Break, and in the DS21 and ID21 Break respectively. ID19 continued for one year more with the 1911cc engine.


Flagship DS21 arrives in 1966, with 2175cc engine but UK made cars cease. The following year the DS gained an even more radical nose; the major front-end restyle brought twin headlamps.


DS20 superseded the DS19, while the ID20 appeared as a model separate from the ID19 – at the same time, the DS21 and ID21 Break got a fair power boost to 115bhp.


139bhp fuel-injected version of the DS21 is introduced. At the other end of the scale was the Dspecial (an updated ID19) while the D Super was also launched, based on the ID20. All cars were fitted with a revised fascia.


A five-speed gearbox now optional on the DS21, DS21IE and Dsuper for ’71; all got the option of headlamps which turned with the front wheels, but only on cars with powerassisted steering, while DS21 got air con option.


Last revamp. DS21 replaces DS23, with a 2347cc engine. The D Super 5 was also seen for the first time – this was a D Super but with a five-speed gearbox. Then there was a D Super 5, with 2175cc engine. DS range replaced by CX for’75.

We Reckon...

Not everybody likes Citroën’s radical DS – they didn’t 60 years ago and still don’t; like the Mini you can’t sit on the fence with this car. But if you ever fancied one than more than likely a DS will grow on you the more you live with it. Later models are well equipped and a good one will feel surprisingly modern, especially in terms of ride and comfort. Estates make fantastic family ferriers that do away for the need of a people carrier and still make viable daily drivers. Maintenance needn’t be the big fear you think it is either…

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