Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Bring It Back (Citroen DS 19)

Citroen DS 19

I watched a "Wheeler-Dealers" episode about the Citroen DS 19 which reminded me how much my admiration for this car has grown over the years.  When I was young and focused on speed, the DS 19 seemed overpriced and underpowered.  Its claim to fame, a great ride and good handling from its self-leveling, variable ground clearance, hydropneumatic suspension, were of little interest to me.  Not to mention its semi-automatic transmission, powered by the same hydraulic system.  Or even its inboard front disc brakes, which reduced unsprung weight (again, that great ride).

My Dad, who was then Director of Purchasing for a mid-sized corporation, called it "an engineer's car." He did not mean this as a compliment.  Some of the engineers where he worked drove DS 19's.  As he saw it, the engineering department was his minor cross to bear.  "They're always specifying exotic stuff when I could buy something  generic that works just as well, less expensively."  With benefit of hindsight, I see that the engineers were impressed with the cleverness of the DS 19.  The central hydraulic system was an elegant simultaneous solution to several design problems.  Add the ahead-of-its-time aerodynamic body and you had a "typically French" logical, practical, approach to engineering. But not a low-cost one.

Much later, I became acquainted with the Maserati-engined Citroen SM.  It was a fast car that added power and luxury to the basic design features of the DS 19.  It's the closest the French have come to a GT.  More correctly, the SM is the French approach to a GT: a comfortable, quiet car for high (but realistic) speeds on public roads.

There's no reason the DS 19 couldn't be brought back, updated for 21st Century conditions, and be a winner.  It could compete in the lower range of the luxury market (Acuras, Infinitis, entry-level Mercedes and Bimmers).  Put a 1.5 liter turbodiesel or a 2.0 liter 16-valve in it.  Nobody has improved on its aerodynamics--which are more important now than they were 40 years ago.  Modern fixes to the body shell, like a more raked windshield, thicker A-pillars enclosing air bags, and faired-in headlights would be easy enough.

The "DS 21" (for 21st Century) would need to lose some of the 19's quirky features, like the single-spoke steering wheel and the "dimmer switch floor button" brake pedal.  But then, Citroen long-ago abandoned its relentless Frenchness when it went bankrupt and was taken over by Peugeot.  Both firms sell cars throughout the European Union, like German, Italian, and Japanese firms do.  But they could do it with some French flair.

DS 19 dash: some of the quirky Frenchness would have to go.  But some of the French logic should stay.

The Citroen SM: the DS 19's basic concept taken way upmarket in a larger, two-door, fastback coupe with a Maserati
4-cam V-6 engine.  One of Citroen's goals was to demonstrate that a truly high-performance car could be front wheel
drive.  The SM was the first car to have variable-assist power steering, now universal.


Watchtower said...

"They're always specifying exotic stuff when I could buy something generic that works just as well, less expensively."

Your dad and I would have gotten along just fine : )

Wannabe Hotshoe said...

I don't know how to say this........but let me caution everybody that I grew up in Detroit. My father worked for Chrysler. My uncle worked for Ford. My Grandfather worked for Chrysler. My neighbor was on the engineering team for the Chrysler turbine car. So. French cars. OK, they work. They have a certain engineering panache. But, as much as the entire production of Citroens go, they always looked like styling design exercises intended for futurama auto shows gone bad. I never wanted to be seen in one - it would appear as if I approved. I always thought they were bought by the French - because they HAD to. Oooo. Maybe I've gone too far? Peugeots were better.

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