The Citroën DS is a front-engine, front-wheel-drive executive car that was manufactured and marketed by the French company Citroën from 1955 to 1975 in sedan, wagon/estate and convertible body configurations across three series/generations.
Noted for its aerodynamic, futuristic body design and innovative technology, the DS set new standards in ride quality, handling, and braking the latter as the first mass production car equipped with disc brakes.
Italian sculptor and industrial designer Flaminio Bertoni and the French aeronautical engineer André Lefèbvre styled and engineered the car, and Paul Magès developed the hydropneumatic self-levelling suspension. Citroën sold 1,455,746 examples, including 1,330,755 manufactured at the manufacturer's Paris Quai André-Citroën production plant.
The DS placed third in the 1999 Car of the Century poll recognizing the world's most influential auto designs and was named the most beautiful car of all time by Classic & Sports Car magazine.
The DS was sold in North America from 1956 to 1972. Despite its popularity in Europe, it didn't sell well in the United States, and little better in Canada. While promoted as a luxury car, it did not have the basic features that American buyers expected to find on such a vehicle, such as an automatic transmission, air conditioning, power windows, or a powerful engine. The DS was designed specifically to address the French market, with punitive tax horsepower taxation of large engines, as well as very poor roads – it's no great mystery that it was a fish out of water when those constraints were removed.
Further harming the DS' prospects on the other side of the Atlantic was an inadequate supply of parts for the vehicle. Jay Leno described the sporadic supply of spare parts as a problem for 1970s era customers, based on his early experiences working at a Citroën dealer in Boston. Additionally, the DS was expensive, with a 115 hp (86 kW) vehicle costing $4,170 in 1969, when the price was $4,500 for a 360 hp (268 kW) Buick Electra 225 4 door sedan. The Electra was available with an automatic transmission, power windows, and came with a much larger engine (a 7,040 cc V8), and it was hardly the only competitor to the DS to have these features as options or as standard.
As a result of the insufficient supply of replacement parts, an inability to compete with bigger and more luxurious cars sold for the same price, and simply having not been designed for the North American market, sales for the DS were mediocre on the North American market, ultimately reaching a total of 38,000.
US regulations at the time also banned one of the car's more advanced features: its composite headlamps with aerodynamic covered lenses. Based on legislation that dated from 1940, all automobiles sold in the U.S. were required to have round, sealed beam headlamps that produced a meager 75,000 candlepower. The powerful quartz iodine swiveling headlamps designed for the 1968 model DS represented so many performance improvements at once that they were far beyond what the regulations could allow. Even the aerodynamic headlight covers were illegal – as seen on the 1968 Jaguar E-Type. It took the lobbying muscle of Ford to point out that the government was requiring two contradictory things – safety, by ensuring that all headlights were best-of-breed circa 1940, and fuel economy through the CAFE standard – by definition, cars with poor aerodynamics are sacrificing fuel economy. Composite bulb lamps and aerodynamic covered headlights were not permitted until 1983.
The European lamps were legal in Canada, including the directional headlamps.
The hydraulic fluid change in 1967 was another brain teaser for U.S. automotive regulators at the Department of Transportation. NHTSA follows the precautionary principle, also used by the Food and Drug Administration, where new innovations are prohibited until their developers can prove them to the regulators; this stifles the experimentation that automakers need to advance their products. NHTSA had already approved a brake fluid they considered safe – DOT 3 brake fluid, which is red and hygroscopic to prevent internal rust. This completely different fluid, used in aircraft applications – the technically superior green LHM (Liquide Hydraulique Mineral) – took NHTSA two years to analyze for automotive use. Approval finally came in January 1969, so half the U.S. cars of the 1969 model year use red fluid and half use green fluid.
A convertible was offered from 1958 until 1973. The Cabriolet d'Usine (factory convertible) were built by French carrossier Henri Chapron, for the Citroën dealer network. It was an expensive car and only 1,365 were sold. These DS convertibles used a special frame which was reinforced on the sidemembers and rear suspension swingarm bearing box, similar to, but not identical to the Break (Station Wagon) frame.
In addition, Chapron also produced a few coupés, non-works convertibles and special sedans (including the "Prestige", same wheelbase but with a central divider, and the "Lorraine" notchback).