Anyone who reads this blog or knows me personally also knows that I’m way into Saabs. I mean, I currently have five of them and have owned a couple of dozen easily. But what is my all-time favorite, desert island, if-you-could-only-drive-one-thing-for-the-rest-of-your-life car? It’s not a Saab but rather a Citroën DS — “DS” is pronounced in French as “Déesse” (Goddess). I’m particularly fond of this 1974 D Special listed on Bring-A-Trailer. The colors, the equipment, and the quality of restoration are all just perfect. Which is good because at $32k I’d also have to live in it.
There is truly no other car that looks like the DS.
I remember the first time I saw a DS. It was on a family trip to Canada in 1987 where at the time French cars were still available and popular. We were on the highway and my mom pointed to it, “look, it’s one of those ugly Citroëns.” Seven-year-old me was mesmerized, I’d never seen anything quite like it.
My fascination continued into my teen years. I would draw DSes, I had books about them, I had die-cast models of them, I even remember writing an essay about one in a middle school writing class. When I was 19 I had the pleasure of actually driving one for the first time. It was a slightly rough driver that I saw parked on the street. I left one of those “if you ever want to sell this” notes on it. Much to my delight the owner, Peter, a friendly British ex-pat, called me almost right away. Though he was not interested in selling, he invited me to come over and view his small collection which included that DS Pallas (his daily driver), a very nicely restored D Safari wagon, and an SM coupe. After some tea and showing me around his shop (he built his own equipment to recharge the suspension spheres), he let me take the DS out for a drive. I will never forget the feeling of getting behind that single-spoked wheel into the sofa-like seat. I started it up and felt the suspension rise. I moved the wand-like shifter protruding from the column into first and took off. When it came time to actually stop, I pressed the brake “button” on the floor, not a pedal. It’s more like a hockey puck on the floor, you apply pressure and it stops the car but there is no travel. Very weird.
I strongly considered buying Peter’s DS a few years later when he offered it for the insanely low price of $1500, but was scared away by the tired engine and rust. In retrospect I really wish I had gotten it, if only to keep it going as a beater. And to be able to say that I owned a DS.
A view from behind the wheel of the beautiful BaT D Special.
Things got even more interesting for my Citroën obsession in the summer of 2002. I had just graduated from UMass Amherst and it just so happened that the International Citroën Car Clubs Rally (ICCCR) was being held for the first time in the United States. On the campus of UMass. Woah. So needless to say I dragged my girlfriend and a few friends with me to go check it out. It was the most surreal sight to see the middle of the campus covered in Citroëns of all models and years. The small town was also overrun with them; people had shipped theirs from all over the world. Seeing a few DS and SM rally cars on display inside the student union was really something. I have a bunch of photos from my pre-digital camera and I promise to scan and post them at a later date. Pics or it didn’t happen, right?
The Eye of the Goddess: European-market headlamps behind the glass, the inner lamps turn with the steering.
The DS is also responsible for one of my friendships. In 2008 during my first trip to the Carlisle Import & Kit Nationals I was hanging around under the tent in the Saab club section and overheard a conversation where this woman started excitedly declaring to her friends her love for old Citroëns — particularly the DS. The Citroën section was right nearby so that probably had something to do with it. Anyway, Erica the excitable Citroën lady and I instantly bonded over our mutual love for DSes and became fast friends. She later sent me a Matchbox DS that still sits on my desk at work. And a couple of years ago she became the first of us to actually buy a real DS — a gorgeous white ’71 that she found a great deal on. I look forward to maybe getting to drive it on my next visit to Pennsylvania!
Erica’s excellent ’71 DS21.
Given that I’m trying to pare down the fleet of old cars that I already own and I have a toddler and a baby on the way, it’s unlikely I’ll be fulfilling my dream of getting a nice DS anytime in the near future. Good ones start at around $10k and go up from there. But it is nice to still dream by looking at them on Bring-a-Trailer and living vicariously through my friends. And I still have that unbuilt Heller DS19 model kit I bought almost 10 years ago. I guess that will have to do for now.