Citroën DS 19 Prototype: The Goddess has landed. It’s the beginning of October, 1955; the Citroën DS is about to be revealed to the world, and subsequently revered for both its technological and aesthetic advances. We’ve unearthed images of ‘The Goddess’ on her maiden journey, just days before the momentous premiere.
The debut of the DS ushers in a new era for the French manufacturer. After 23 years in service, the weary Traction Avant is finally being replaced, and visitors to the Paris show are stunned by how far its successor moves the game on. Soon to float (almost literally) along the boulevards of the world, the streamlined body appears to have been hauled back from the future by designer Flaminio Bertoni, and the technology it boasts is no less of a revelation.
Hydropneumatic suspension makes its first appearance on a production car, oscillating automatically to adapt to road conditions – Mercedes and Rolls-Royce are to license the pioneering technology soon afterwards. Meanwhile, disc brakes and a dual-circuit braking system provide anchorage; a semi-automatic transmission takes power to the front wheels. Interestingly, the horn has two volume settings: city and highway. In 1957, philosopher Roland Barthes remarks that the DS has "obviously fallen from the sky."
The photographs seen here were taken by French photographer Maurice Jarnoux, for Paris Match, not a week before the show. They show a prototype DS 19 undergoing final evaluation in a screened-off section of the Citroën factory; the bird's-eye image perfectly emphasises the Goddess’s teardrop shape. In the same shot, Jarnoux also captures the four-cylinder engine liberated from the obscuring bonnet, while the black, glassfibre-reinforced roof prescribed by co-designer André Lefèbvre reflects the daylight it was about to see fully for the first time.
During the maiden voyage, the prototype stuns soldiers smoking outside their nearby Versailles barracks as it sweeps through rain-slicked bends at 60mph. They're not to know that the driver has the assurance of the revolutionary suspension and other futuristic technologies, while the curved windscreen is providing him with ample vision. The single-spoke steering wheel has also been designed with his welfare in mind, and will collapse should the worst occur. Some later even credit the Goddess for famously saving the life of Charles de Gaulle during an assassination attempt…
President de Gaulle wasn’t the only satisfied customer; the DS was built in numerous variations for 20 years, and remained largely unchanged throughout. The interior was comfortable and spacious, and had room for more than a dozen suitcases – as demonstrated by Gina Lollobrigida.
Though it’s as pretty today as it would have been on that wet autumn day all those years ago, its visual appeal had begun to wane by the 1970s, despite still achieving strong sales. It was joined by the SM before being phased out completely some years later, but such was its impact that it has become one of the archetypal classic cars – its characterful silhouette being the visual equivalent of a ‘household name’.