Preserved Goddess: 1956 Citroen DS

1956 Citroen Ds Rear Corner

In the world of unique cars there aren’t many cars as unique as the Citroen DS. Well reader Greg L not only found a DS, but one of the first to make it to the states and one of the few remaining that hasn’t already been restored. Here is the story of Greg’s DS barn find in his own words, “A gentleman in Citrus Heights, California (a suburb of the California state capital of Sacramento) bought the car from Executive Motors in San Francisco (supposedly the largest Citroen dealer in the USA — which, frankly isn’t saying much!) in 1958. Its serial number is 4086 (amazingly they went on to create another 1.3 million after it!)

1956 Citroen Ds Front Corner

We’ve determined that it is one of a group of 180 first year DS’s that were sent to the US before there was a dealer network or adequate training so the cars sat in an open storage building on the New York docks for 5-6 winter months! When the cars were finally collected they were covered in surface rust, and moldy. Can you imagine: there was a huge waiting list (70,000 people ordered a DS at the ’55 Paris Auto Salon during its week long show) for the ground-breaking new Citroen in Europe but they sent hundreds to the US when there was no one there to collect them! The allure of the mighty US dollar I assume.

1956 Citroen Ds Brochure

As legend goes, there were many teething problems with the highly innovative hydraulic system in the first year cars, so few were made and sold to the public (approx 6,000). There was a special ‘Swat team’ in Europe that zoomed around the continent doing updates on the fly to keep the cars running; and to keep their prominent and influential new owners happy for obvious reasons. Some of these team members were then sent to America to ‘recommission’ the DSs poorly stored on the dock and retrofit the running changes they’d figured out on the European cars. There is very little documentation on this ‘episode’, but I found a description of it in the “Citroen DS, The Complete Story” by Jon Pressnell where he writes that the engines were removed and the engine compartments repainted. I’d been wondering why my car’s compartment was ‘blue’ when the rest if the frame was light grey? And then it all made sense: it must be one of these original 180 cars. The car also has seat covers which one can also see in a 1960 family photo — my theory is that instead of redoing the upholstery they just covered them up before selling it as new!

1956 Citroen Ds Emblem

#4086 remains in amazing, original condition. As far as we’ve been able to ascertain the car was garaged in 1960 due to ‘an hydraulic’ problem. It looks like the car reappeared in the mid ’70s for a year and then parked till it was found last year when the garage door was left open and an auto enthusiast walked by. He didn’t know Citroens so called a friend who did and they went over and were excited to find that it was one of the very rare ‘original 1956′ cars. Luckily, as it lived and was garaged in dry inland California, it’s amazingly rust free — these cars weren’t rust proofed at all so there are basically no other unrestored cars left of the handful of ’56s that remain.

1956 Citroen Ds Ad

The owner from 1958 had it until found in 2010 – perhaps he was the original owner given how long it might have gone unsold, or maybe it was a ‘demonstrator’ of the brand new DS in San Francisco? He has since passed away. I’m planning to ‘preserve’, not restore this DS — after many years of lusting over ‘perfect cars’ I now prefer those that have their original paint, interior, mechanics  – I believe it’s important to keep these rare artifacts as close to how they left the factory — even with their years of imperfections. ‘They’re only original once’ is an over-used expression but it really makes sense to ‘embrace the patina’ for cars that aren’t ‘too far gone’.

1956 Citroen Ds Rear Tail Light

Consequently, I’m leaving much ‘alone’, only careful cleaning with Dawn dishwashing liquid and hot water. I’ve removed the drivetrain to inspect and clean it. The hydraulics are being overhauled — remember the DS had not only hydraulic suspension but steering, braking, and gear-shifting! — to make them reliable after sitting for decades. My goal is to drive it the 10 hours from my home in Charlottesville, Virginia to the annual Citroen Rendezvous in Saratoga Springs, New York next June.” We would like to Wish Greg good luck with his DS and thank him for sharing it with us. Anyone here know why it is called a goddess?

Comments

  1. Steve Dawson

    I live in Charlottesville. Email me

  2. SN

    It was nicknamed goddess because of the way the French pronounce DS, “D??esse” which means goddess in French.

  3. Greg

    “Deesse”–forgive the lack of the accent over the first “e”–is French for “goddess”. The lower-priced ID that would follow played on the French word for “idea”.

  4. Todd Fitch

    Wow what an amazing Find! to Me, a far better find than some 60s/70s Muscle car, an early DS is Much MUCH rarer than some Corvette

  5. Jay Goodan

    What I thought of as a really ugly car when I was in my twenties seems quite beautiful in my seventies. How our appreciation matures with age.

  6. Todd Fitch

    When I was about 6 or 7, this would have been 1970 roughly my dad had a DS Wagon for a short time, As a kid I thought it was the coolest car ever, it reminded me of riding in a space ship

  7. Harald Kulstad

    Nice find, mine is only a 1959 DS.

  8. Mark Grabowski

    It reminds me of my younger days in France where I drove a Citroen Grasshopper. The gear shifter comes straight out of the dash & back in. Of course everyone knows that Citroen was the very 1st front wheel drive auto back in the 30′s. I used to live in C-Ville…I envy you. Never leave. If you get a chance, drive slowly down the Blue Ridge Parkway from Stanardsville to Peaks of Otter.

  9. C Doyle in SF

    I’d loved to see this just washed. Show us the “After” pictures!

  10. CJ

    @ Mark Grabowski – While Citroen was arguably the first automaker to be broadly successful with FWD, it was around before that so I’d argue that it wasn’t the very first. Cord and Ruxton here in the US were both offered with FWD in 1929, I believe. Reg

  11. Michael

    Isn’t the single headlight a sign for an ID?

  12. His Royal Flatulence

    @CJ,@Mark Grabowski – Harry Miller built successful FWD Indy racing cars in the mid-1920′s, preceding the Citroen Traction Avant, Cord L-29 and Ruxton FWD cars. Several small German manufacturers introduced FWD cars a few years before the Citroen as well

  13. Todd Fitch

    ID versus DS just means it was a lower spec car, and less of the important stuff was powered by the Hydraulic system

  14. Cade Olds

    Ijust love these french goddessess! What a find, I think I would have wet my jeans if I had found this car and was able to bring it back to road worthyness. What a fantastic find! best of luck

  15. Greg

    Hi Steve Dawson…your email doesn’t seem to show up here. My email is chapron67@yahoo.com Thanks for the comments, all. Funny how the DS is truly either loved, or hated. To each their own. I’ve had DS’s in Canada since high school in the 70′s so I certainly know that are NOT universally loved. I did feel a bit of redemption after seeing this though… “They love me, they really love me!http://www.carbodydesign.com/archive/2009/02/09-citroen-ds-most-beautiful-car/

  16. C Doyle in SF

    @Greg.I hated them as a kid. Now I love them. Either an acquired taste, or something that demands maturity to appreciate.Did you catch the “Wheeler Dealers” episode on the DS?

  17. Michael

    Adler did a 1000cc front wheel drive roadster in 1934, which broke 11 or 15 land speed records in it’s class back then. They drove it 24 hours WOT on the Avus, and then another 24 without any mechanical failure. It would have gone another 24h, but then they got tired…

  18. Alex

    But the car isnt for sale, huh ?

  19. Michael williams

    So glad Greg ended up with this car. These are my photos of the car emerging from the garage. It was like seeing king tut’s tomb for the first time. An Alfa club member contacted me about this car as a project forhis 15 year old son. He’d have been quickly in over his head on this. Can’t wait to see it run!

  20. Greg

    1. Nope, not for sale! I’m having too much fun recommissioning it!2. Ironically, I got my first Citroen at 15, the simpler ID 19 — it didn’t work either but being only a dozen years old when I got it, it certainly wasn’t as daunting as the DS is for me over 35 years later. But I did get that ID running and drove it quite a bit. It’s still in the family: my brother has restored it, once again, and now pulls his ’36 Bowlus Road Chief trailer with it!

  21. Denis Foley

    Greg, Glad to hear you are coming along with the car. I remember you contacting me a few months ago and I never got back to you. I have # 5199 and figure it might be one of the 180 originals that you speak of. Mine is unrestored also but not in the same nice rust free condition yours is.The body color is Aubergine AC406 Roof Champagne and the interior is Rouille. I will put some photos of it on my Face Book today.

  22. Pete

    Ahh, to have this car AND the Panhard seen a while ago on this site – parked in the driveway, all the neighbors would think the aliens had indeed landed – or the Coneheads ! Love these eccentric cars, and thank the Mentalist TV show for introducing new generations to the Citroen !

  23. Christopher WILSON

    What a wonderful discovery that you will treasure forever. I am thoroughly enjoying restoring a 1975 DS23 EFI Pallas Hydraulique. These are unique cars and one of the very few where they really DID start with a clean sheet of paper (other than the engine, of course!) in the Bureau de Etudes. What a privilege.Regards,Chris, England 15 Oct 11

  24. Simon Lynes

    Wow what a great car. You have a unique car. I am very lucky to own 1 x 1956 Slough DS 19 1 x 1956 DS 19 barchetta 1 x 1958 ID19 Slough 1 x 1959 Prestige 1 x 1961 DS slough. 1 x 1967 Safari/Break. I am always happy to exchange notes

  25. Greg

    Hi Simon. Where are you located? And what serialnumbers are your ’56s? My email is chapron67@yahoo.com is you want to connect directly. Best, Greg

  26. Greg

    PS Engine/transmission went back in this week so I’m making forward progress to getting her back on the road.

  27. Christopher Sanchez

    Hey dammit- I took those pictures!!!

  28. Christopher Sanchez

    Well, they may be MIchaels too. I know that closeup of the hood is mine. Damn- we’re good. Good luck Greg, that’s a nice car.

  29. Greg

    Thanks! I hope you’re not upset about the photos showing up here! How did you come to be involved in the rescue?!

  30. Christopher Sanchez

    I was surprised, but it’s no big deal! I’m glad you’re so excited! i helped clean that car! Michael found it, Richard rescued it, and I took a ton of pix and helped Richard clean it up. I’m jealous. It’s a lovely car, but that is above what I could do for it. I have a DS but this was a real treat to be a part of. Something I’ll never see again. Post all the pix you want. Enjoy! You got quite a gem!

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