Nobody talks to their neighbours in London, right? They do if you park a Citroen DS outside your house. This classic car did more for community cohesion than a jubilee street party.
The key word here is ‘park’ – but we’ll come to that. First, a bit of background. The 1961 DS you see here is actually an ID19: a cheaper, less powerful and (slightly) less complicated version of the DS19. Used for ‘press and publicity purposes’ when new by Citroen UK, it has since returned to the company’s care as part of a growing heritage fleet.
As the most iconic and beautiful French car ever made (discuss), the DS seemed ideal for the Retro Road Test: our weekly classic car review published every Thursday. With everything crossed, I called the ever-helpful Craig at Citroen and, just a few weeks later, the DS was delivered.
“Lovely, just lovely,” said the man from the corner house who’d asked me to sign a petition about bin collections. “That’s my kind of car,” cooed the lady who runs the pub across the road. “Looks like it’s been lowered,” mumbled the 16-year-old lad from next door.
Indeed, the only car that’s come close for sheer street spectacle was a buttercup-yellow Lamborghini Huracan I tested earlier this year. But while the Lambo got envious looks and grudging remarks about “winning the lottery”, the DS drew nods, smiles and genuine affection.
Wildly futuristic and yet timelessly elegant, the DS literally stopped traffic as drivers slowed to stare and take photos. It was probably trending on social media, for all I know. One can only marvel at how this car, with its spaceship styling, must have appeared in 1955.
Feeling a bit flat
The DS arrived late on Monday afternoon, but I resisted the urge to jump straight in and cruise the streets of Croydon. I’d set my alarm early for a long, cross-country jaunt the next morning. With 67hp and 0-62mph in 22.1sec, progress would be as relaxed – and as pleasurable – as a Beaujolais-fuelled Sunday lunch.
Tuesday dawned bright and fresh, the DS draped in morning dew. I sank into the soft leather seat, grasped the Bakelite wheel and twisted the key… Silence. I tried again: the dials on the (UK-specific) English walnut dashboard sprang to life and I heard the faint click of a solenoid, but nothing more.
I called Craig, expecting – hoping – there was some Gallic quirk of the starting process that I’d overlooked. “No, just put her in neutral and turn the key,” he proffered. Hmm.
The battery voltage gauge showed a full charge, but I decided to attempt a jump-start using my old Ford Focus. Still nothing. Admitting defeat, I telephoned Craig again to request a recovery truck. The dream was over.
Plank on it
The nightmare, however, was just beginning. As any student of old Citroens knows, hydropneumatic suspension only pressurises and rises up when the car’s engine starts: without power, the DS is effectively ‘slammed’. This would prove problematic.
Danny arrived with his low-loader on Wednesday lunchtime. He was sceptical about our chances: with no towing eye on the front, the DS would have to be winched up the ramp backwards. And the downturned tips of its exhaust were virtually kissing the Tarmac.
Inching the DS back, it quickly became clear this stubborn lady wasn’t for towing. So, in a further boost to neighbourly relations, I knocked on the door of John the roofer, returning a few minutes later with some scaffolding planks. Danny and I wedged them under the wheels, reducing the angle of approach. And slowly, steadily, with mere millimetres to spare, it edged up the ramp and onto the truck. We’d done it.
Retro Road Test coming soon
The DS had been sent to Coventry (literally, not figuratively – that’s where Citroen UK is based) and it hadn’t even turned a wheel. But as I watched this magnificent car being carried away, a princess in a sedan chair, I felt surprisingly buoyant.
For starters, I’d spoken to Craig (yes, again) and he promised we’d have the car back for a Retro Road Test soon. Secondly, a few awkward moments with wooden planks aside, my two days with the DS had been an absolute pleasure. I’d gazed longingly at it whenever I looked out of the window – and met friendly, enthusiastic people every time I went outside and, well, tried to start it.
In more than a decade of writing about cars, I’ve never returned one without driving it. C’est la vie. Sometimes beauty is its own reward.