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!)
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.
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!
#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.
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’.
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?