Car: Citroen DS, 1955

The Citroën DS has an extraordinary mystique—an ability to induce the misty-eyed reverie more normally associated with something genuinely unattainable, such as a Bugatti. That punning French name for the shark-shaped sedan, Déesse, means Goddess, and is highly appropriate.

1955 Citroen DS
The DS styling shown in this trio of ID19s photographed in 1957 is still startling even today

But Citroën actually made just a few less than the proletarian Morris Minor, so it’s always been an attainable design icon of the mass-produced age. It was a totally new driving experience, too. The self-leveling suspension system, and its adjustable ride height, ideal for skimming across rutted fields, endowed the DS with serene ride quality. But the power steering, powered front disc brakes, and semi-automatic gearbox were a challenge to master. They all drew their power from the Citroën’s central “nervous system” which had dispensed with metal springs for hydro-pneumatic struts.

1955 Citroën DS
1955 Citroën DS
1955 Citroen DS
1955 Citroen DS

The pin-sharpness of activation this gave—especially in the self-centering steering—felt weird initially, but owners soon grew to love their cars dearly. All that inner wizardry, of course, got technophiles really excited at the DS’s 1955 Paris debut. It also heralded an eight-year period during which Citroën’s engineers struggled secretly to make the complex DS reliable. To avoid commercial failure, they had to introduce the tamer ID19 version in 1957, with a manual gearbox and non-power steering. It retained all the aerodynamic, futuristic hedonism of the original, but in a format that even a Parisian taxi driver could handle.

“This car has had the bravery to be genuine. Unlike the offerings of the American School, it does not seek to woo the buyer with terrible multicolored daubings and plenty of chrome plating, which is a cover-up.”

Gio Ponti, Italian Architect and Designer

Video: model of the Citroen DS

Specification: model of the Citroen DS

YEAR REVEALED: 1955
PLACE OF ORIGIN: Paris, France
HISTORICAL STATUS: production car
ENGINE: four-cylinder, 121–143ci (1,991–2,347cc)
MAXIMUM POWER: 130bhp
LAYOUT: front-mounted engine driving the front wheels
BODYWORK: four-door, five-seater sedan, five-door, five- and seven-station wagon, and two-door, four-seater convertible
TOP SPEED: 120mph (193kph)
NUMBER BUILT: 1,456,115