Cars of the Century?
There are three Citroëns in the running for the Car of the Century award. Here's a brief potted history of each - and after reading this, who can deny their significance?
The DS (1955 - 1975)
The DS made its public debut on 6 October 1955 at the Paris Motor Show. It had a top speed of 140 km/h and cost the equivalent of FF 9,300. The new car was an immediate success. As soon as the doors opened, people rushed over to the Citroën stand to gaze at the DS. A total 749 orders were taken in just three-quarters of an hour and 12,000 by the end of the day. In the space of just a few days, delivery times stretched to fifteen months. Enthusiastic journalists wrote: "This car is twenty years ahead of its time."
An amazing car in every way, the DS boasted a host of revolutionary features, including constant height hydropneumatic suspension, power-assisted dual-circuit brakes with discs at the front, power steering, a semi-automatic four-speed gearbox, a large glazed area, a dashboard with a futuristic one-spoke steering wheel, a panoramic windscreen with thin posts, door windows without frames, a spacious interior and storage for the spare wheel at the front.
The DS underwent many upgrades during its twenty-year career. In 1955, the 4-cylinder, 1.911 litre engine developed 75hp at 4,500 rpm for a top speed of 140 km/h. In 1975, the 2.347litre electronic-injection petrol engine of developed 121hp at 5,500 rpm for a top speed of 185 km/h.
In the 1960s, the DS made a clean sweep of virtually all the main rally trophies. In particular, it won the Monte Carlo rally twice, the Morocco rally twice and the Tour of Corsica twice. It also took first place in the Liège-Sofia-Liège marathon. The DS carried the colours of Citroën high in Kenya, Canada, Greece and Finland.
The DS also replaced the Traction Avant in official processions. In October 1961, General de Gaulle was able to escape an assassination attempt at le Petit Clamart outside Paris because the presidential DS - although riddled with bullets and with shredded tyres - stayed on the road and carried him to safety.
On 15 April 1975, the last DS came off the assembly line at the quai André Citroën. It was a DS 23 Pallas with electronic injection. A total 1,456,115 DSs were manufactured in all.
The 2CV (1948 - 1990)
The 2CV was unveiled to the public for the first time at the Paris Motor Show in October 1948. A runaway commercial success, it prompted a continuous flood of orders. At the beginning of 1950, buyers had to wait almost five years for delivery of their new car.
Originally designed as a minimal car, the 2CV proved to be highly versatile. Its rustic "no-frills" style made it suitable for all sorts of uses. Originally intended as a low-cost vehicle for use on country roads, it became a favourite with young people, attracted by its sturdiness, its comfort and - above all - by its low running costs and maintenance costs.
The 2CV underwent many improvements throughout its career, in response to customer requirements. From 8hp and a top speed of 60 km/h in 1949, it upgraded its performance to reach 29hp and 115 km/h in 1970. Fitted with long-travel suspension, the 2CV made light work of black ice, snow, mud and sand.
The 2CV took part in major expeditions around the world. Between 1953 and 1954, Jacques Cornet and Henri Lochon drove a 2CV for 52,0000km across South America, while Jacques Séguéla and Jean-Claude Baudot took their 2CV on a 140,000km round-the-world tour.
Following these individual voyages, the 2CV was involved in a number of long-distance collective rallies:
1970: Paris-Kabul: 1,300 young people, 500 2CVs, 16,500km to Afghanistan and back.
1971: Paris-Persepolis: 500 2CVs
1973: Africa, 60 2CVs travelling from Abidjan to Tunis, through the Ténéré desert, which had not yet been mapped out and had previously been out of bounds to cars.
Manufactured in almost seven million units - 3,868,634 saloons, 1,246,306 vans and 1,588,536 Dyanes and Méharis.
The Traction Avant (1934 - 1957)
On 18 April 1934, the Traction Avant was unveiled to the press at Citroën's showroom on the place de l'Europe in Paris. On 19 April, "Le Journal" wrote:
"It is so new, so bold, so full of original solutions, so different from what has been done until now, that it deserves to be termed "sensational".
The Traction Avant did not only introduce a new system of propulsion - front wheel drive - it featured a number of technical innovations that caused a major stir at the time: a unitized monocoque body, streamlined design, torsion bar suspension, hydraulic brakes, rack-and-pinion steering (1935) and an engine with overhead valves.
The family comprised three models, referred to by the public by the name of "traction": the 7, the 11 and the 15. We should also mention the mythical 22. The "15 six" quickly became "queen of the highway". Boasting a top speed of 135 km/h, it was able to cruise at an average speed of 100 km/h. In April 1954, the "15H" was fitted with hydropneumatic suspension at the rear, a forerunner to the system fitted on the future DS.
Between 1934 and 1957, Citroën produced 753,123 examples of the Traction Avant. Their extraordinary qualities made them a statement against routine and conformity. As a form of vehicle architecture, the front-wheel drive conquered the world. From 1934 to the present day, most carmakers around the world have - at some point - followed the road marked out by Citroën and adopted front-wheel drive.
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