EVERY time I see a Citroen DS19 or 21, I am stopped in my tracks. Every single time.
The shape is so timeless and elegant, so much so that when it was first launched philosopher Roland Barthes said it looked like it fell from the sky.
When the 19 was shown to the public at the 1955 Paris Motor Show, orthodontists had a bumper year with so many dropped jaws and all the Citroen sales team could do was pacify angry French folks who threatened to swamp them with booking fees.
They took 752 bookings in the first 15 minutes of unveiling, 12,000 by the end of the first day and the pace lightened ever so slightly to give a total order book of 80,000 during the 10-day period of the motor show.
I guess, we shouldn’t have been surprised by the shape because it was manifested by Italian sculptor-turned industrial designer, Flaminio Bertoni who also gave us other iconic Citroens such as the Avant, 2CV, H-Van and Ami.
These are all cars that are so distinctive that they each deserve museum pedestals.
This piece comes with a dedicated video and when I shot the video, the car so enamoured me that I largely forgot to actually speak in front of the camera. Instead, I just kept finding more angles to shoot it from and I didn’t find a single bad angle.
This car actually looks gorgeous from any angle, it looks like a so many raindrops that’s been cut and sectioned and recombined into something as vulgar and functional as a vehicle.
Every surface looks so natural, perfect and looks like it waited 16 billion years for Bertoni to just chip away at everything that was unnecessary.
When we look at how they placed the rear wheels right at the corners, it seems a bit odd these days but the result is a cabin that is unhindered by wheel intrusions of any sorts. It’s a wonder that modern cars don’t still use this configuration.
When we sit in the cabin, it feels like we are in a stylish living room with comfortable sofa and avant-garde finishing.
The driver gets the best seat in the house. He gets a wonderfully quirky single-spoke steering wheel that somehow manages to look purely functional while being absolutely witty and elegant.
That single spoke reminds us in no uncertain terms that the steering is actually a crank or a lever for turning the front wheels and the way the single spoke emanates from the shaft like a long, giant tongue is also the source of its wit and elegance. It’s almost as if Bertoni was sticking his tongue out at the driver, at the very idea of the car itself.
Under the bonnet sits a small four-cylinder engine. In this particular model, it was a 2.2-litre engine displacing exactly 2,175cc and it looks a little lost in the spacious engine bay.
In fact, the engine bay serves as the perfect proof that this car was sculpted for elegance. The snout is at least four feet ahead of the engine, the radiator sits so far back from the nose that it gets an air duct from a scoop under the chin.
They then made use of that empty space to put the spare tyre right behind the bumper.
The DS was an executive car that would have competed with Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and Maserati and in many ways it was better than what the other European brands came up with.
The hydropneumatic suspension was such an improvement over anything that came up before that motoring journalists of the time gushed involuntarily for days.
The use of superlatives to describe the DS was so excessive that there was a drought for months, anything, not just cars, toasters, refrigerators, spoon, typewriters and teapots introduced during the same time had to live by on tight ration of nice words and even those were somehow tethered to comparisons with the DS.
As you can imagine, cars that appear on Classic Chatter for weeks after this are just going to get bare-bones technical description because I’m suffering from the same affliction.
I hope you enjoy the video and if you do, do tell us and we will make a few more of them.