Rare Citroen DS21 Rescued From A California Junkyard

This project is unusual, both because of the rarely seen car—a 1970 Citroën DS21—and the way in which it was acquired. Could it be a 6,500-mile original? The car is listed here on Craigslist in St. Paul, Oregon, with a $4,000 asking price.

The front-wheel-drive DS (1955 to 1975), which replaced the pre-war Traction Avant, was similarly innovative, using special self-leveling hydro-pneumatic suspension that rises up when the car starts. It has a fiberglass roof and a one-spoke steering wheel. Tires can be changed without a jack. Instead of a brake pedal, it has a rubber button. The rear turn signals are at the top of the back window. The DS19s and DS21s are rare in the U.S. Mostly, Americans didn’t know what to make of them. As a DS21, this car has the 2.17-liter five-main-bearing engine, producing 109 horsepower. As a 1970, it is in the first year for Bosch electronic fuel injection.

This car’s history is fascinating and recorded in detail by the owner. Although it was only two years old, the DS (thankfully equipped with the later, much improved LHM synthetic fluid system) was deposited in a California junkyard in 1972. It sat there for years, but some kind of restoration was started. Then in the late 1980s, the car was moved to Eugene, Oregon by a cousin of the yard owner. Zero further progress was made, and it sat again. Finally, the current owner took the project on, brought the car home to St. Paul (loading it onto the trailer with a forklift!), and got it started.

The owner’s conclusion that the mileage is original is based on “connecting the dots. Under the hood was virtually as it had left the factory. Every factory hose and cable tie is in place. Upon seeing this, I looked at the odometer mileage and arrived at my conclusion of 6,500 being original.” What could have happened to this poor car to go dormant so early in its career?

The car now has a new battery, and with a hot-wired ignition and remote fuel it starts up and runs “beautifully.” Driving appears to be an issue because the rear suspension rises up, but the front does not. A jury-rigged ignition switch is in place. The original Michelin tires were replaced, but with a mismatched set just to get it off the rims.

“The body is better than most,” the owner says, “but it does have its typical issues. It did survive the forklift test as is evident in the photos of loading it on my trailer. The trunk is rusted out, typical of these. The driver’s door is dented but quite repairable. There is some rust on the bottom of the car, but nothing catastrophic.” The owner has made a start, but he thinks “someone better qualified than I” needs to finish the DS. The glass is good, and the doors open and close properly. The trunk is locked, and there’s no key. The title is missing. Two of the four Pallas hubcaps are present. The interior (not pictured) is complete, but the original leather seats “are shot from sitting outside for 52 years.” An interior photo or two would have been useful. We can’t see the engine bay, either.

“This is an opportunity to purchase a unique and desirable Citroën project, that runs, with incredibly low miles,” the owner says. “This project is not for the faint of heart nor the unskilled. Fortunately, there are vast resources of knowledge and parts I am happy to share with the brave soul who is willing to take this rare and unique project on.” Better hurry. The owner says he’s continuing to work on the French car, and “as I make progress, the price will increase.”

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Comments

  1. alphasud Member

    I guess the nagging question is how hard would it be to get California to reissue a title? I think paperwork from Oregon is the start of a very long process. Last I checked on the Citroen forum was a running DS in this condition is around 3K with a title. I would hold the owner to his word and have him keep repairing the car and hopefully get a title before stepping in. Fuel injection may have started in Europe around 70 for these but the US never had it. I think efi came along in 74 but Citroen had already pulled out of the US market.

    Like 4
    • That Guy

      My experience has been that getting a new title for a car this old isn’t difficult here in California. It needs to have a VIN verification by the Highway Patrol and some other documentation, but it’s not nearly as onerous as I understand some other states make the process. Granted, the last time I went through the process was about fifteen years ago so things may have changed.

      It may be difficult to keep the original plates though.

      Like 1
      • angliagt angliagt Member

        I bought a ’68 Cortina,& had to attempt to track down
        the last seven owners who never fully transferred it into their
        name.I eventually got it done.
        I had another ’68 Cortina GT that I bought in Washington
        state,that had the original Black/Gold plates.It took over a year,
        but they finally issued a title with them.I got the name of a super-
        visor in Sacramento,& called them something like once a week.
        I think that they just wanted to get rid of me.

        Like 2
      • MGSteve

        for all the carping about how difficult it is to register (get a title, etc.) a vehicle in CA, I find it is remarkably easy. I don’t think it has ever taken me more than 20 minutes. I’ve always gone in with the vehicle verification form already completed. To do that, I will phone our local sheriff, and ask them to come out, AT THEIR CONVENIENCE, and verify the car. As long as you are willing to wait a few days or even a week or so for them to show up, that is also totally painless. I’ve had some fun “show and tells” with these guys, who seem happy to have something positive and fun to do. And. . . if you belong to AAA, there is usually no waiting in line (real padded chairs to sit in!) and they are even more efficient.

        Like 1
      • Mountainwoodie

        Fifty years of No Op fees will kill ya! I can just hear the wife……Did you bring home that Citroen? Are you insane?

        Like 1
  2. Matthew Middleton

    Dig a big hole and drop this in it. Otherwise it’ll be years of abject misery for whoever buys it.

    Like 9
    • Rick in Oregon

      Restored examples of these are fetching upwards of $70K. Once completed, I suspect that price will have only risen as that seems to be the current trends, albeit corrections along the way. I;m gonna guess you’ve never had the pleasure of slipping behind the wheel of one of these elegant and graceful cars have you?

      Like 4
      • Steve Clinton

        “elegant and graceful”. Say what?!

        Like 3
    • Steve Clinton

      Send it back to France. They deserve it.

      Like 1
      • Ward William

        LMAO. It was technologically way ahead of anything that uncle Sam was churning out at the time.

        Like 1
  3. A.G.

    Why did this car end up in a junkyard as a two or three year old vehicle? That question and the replacement panels suggest fairly extensive collision damage and an attempt at collision repair which ran into problems deeper than the sheet metal.

    Like 5
    • Rick in Oregon

      The panel gaps look pretty spot on. The hoods are aluminum and quite delicate so usually any damage would warrant a replacement. Because of their construction, front fenders are a large part of the front structure and as I recall were some of the first crumple zone designs built……Because of their low snout, rear ending someone in a DS or ID would net a bit of sheet metal damage with out damaging any frame members, as was evident in one I had some years back and 15 pounds of bondo around the headlights. That body guy was a true sculpture.

      Like 2
  4. Derek

    There’s a plastic link to the height corrector that can break, I think; that might be what’s keeping the front down.

    Nice cars, tho’. If you’ve never driven one, you ought to. It’s a new world.

    Like 5
    • Ken Nelson Member

      Deek, I’ve never seen a plastic link to the height corrector of a DS Citroen, and I’ve been driving them since 1962, doing all my own work on every form of this car from A to z. there are various reasons why the front doesn’t raise up – it may not have enough fluid, the front height corrector may be plugged, but it’s all simle stuff if whoever is working on it can think straight & figure things out – it’s not rocket science, just brilliant French engineering.
      Those who knock the French don’t know that they invented CAD – via their aerospace company Dessault — and French-built Exocet missles is what the Argentinians used to beat the Brits at their own game in the Faulklands war until we backed the Brits.
      Plus Lindberg was able to land at night in Paris after crossing the Atlantic because the 23,000 lights spelliing out Citroen on the Eiffel were his nighttime landmark.
      Further, I recently learned from a new Caddy owner that his car’s supersophisticated “Magnaride” Delco suspension, known as a magnetorheological fluidic damper, is a bit expensive to have fail. This magnaride is GM’s answer to the 67 yr old Citroen hydropneumatic gas spring variable height auto loadleveling suspension introduced in Oct ’55 in Paris, where, as JBandy, says, “they sold a few cars” = they actually had 12,000 orders at end of day 1 for a car no one had ever seen before. AND by the end of the show, Citroen had booked 80,000 orders – a record that stood until 2016 when Tesla took more orders in a single day supposedly.
      Nuff said”
      Oh, forgot to mention that the Caddy’s owner found the dealer had to fork out $2100 to replace one failed front Magnaride suspension strut, or $1800 for a rear unit. To this day you can still buy off the shelf a Citroen gas spring with integral, never wearing shock absorber for $70 and install it in under 20 mins.at the rear, or 5 mins at the front – try that with a cadillac, and ZERO electronics involved.

      Like 9
  5. Matt in L.A. Member

    While I love Citroens, I’m drooling more over the plates! California blues! The original 71, and 72 stickers are a find! In Ca they didn’t put month stickers on until ‘75.

    Like 1
  6. Fred W

    Call me crazy, but this thing doesn’t (to me) look like its going anywhere under it’s own power anytime soon. I will accept the fact that if you want one of these, it’s nearly impossible to find one for sale.

    Like 3
    • Ken Nelson Member

      Fred W, Citroens are not hard to find for sale, you just have to know where to look, and best locations are on Citroen club websites – like any other car group.
      Better, join a club – to learn and find. Best one is Citroenvie, the largest group in the US and Canada – always has a list for sale, but you have to join, and $30 for a yrs membership is well worth it if you’re serious about getting one or just learning about it. We even have zoom meetings about once/month since covid – anyone from around the world can join in.

      Just google Citroenvie and go from there – There’s also a good sized San Francisco Cit club, and other natl websites.

      Like 1
  7. Raymond L Saunders

    You guys sure loves you some french fry wee wee beret cars…tin foil junk…

    Like 3
  8. Kurt Member

    It would be much more saleable with their Maserati engine imho

    Like 2
  9. Denny N.

    Loading it on a trailer with a forklift – are you kidding me?? I would never admit doing that and showing a photo to verify it.

    Like 4
    • Rick in Oregon

      A couple take away’s from that, severely rusted Citroens will fold like piece of paper if frame rust is too bad. Second, when one is on the ground for 50 some odd years as this one appears to have been, your options are pretty limited on how to move it…….I’m gonna guess a crane or helicopter were not on hand that day???

    • Geoff

      Interesting note in the description “dents in the driver door”. Look where the forklift is located at in the pictures… ugh, just ugh

  10. Slomoogee

    These are unique and an acquired taste. When I first moved to the neighborhood 35 yrs ago there was one up the street in a driveway. I got excited and went to look at it. The owner was a rather eccentric guy who’s wife had left him do to his penchant for weird cars. He was rebuilding the engine in the kitchen. 6 months later he and DS drove off into the sunset. Never did get a ride.

    Like 6
  11. charlie Member

    Ah, but what wonderful cars when they were new, and, if you can find one that runs like it was new, a wonderful car even today. I rode in one in France in 1962 and it was incredible – the shop where I took my ’68 Chevy in the winter of ’71 had one in the back corner “waiting for parts”. And my ’14 Audi is sitting out behind the shop today, “waiting for parts”, so guess I didn’t learn anything. The Audi is an incredible car as well, when not “waiting for parts”. On the other hand, my 2005 Toyota 4Runner needs 2 seat belts (rodent damage) and they are not obtainable either, except from a junk yard.

    Like 5
  12. Scott Marquis

    Barn Finds is to barn finds, as Bring-A-Trailer is to Craigslist.

  13. Bob Morris

    I once owned a Citroen ID model (the entry model, where as the DS is a higher model). It was a fascinating and good car; most American’s know little about them and don’t appreciate the technology these cars have.

    Like 3
  14. Rich

    I was a parts runner in high school for an independent garage that specialized in Citroens. These cars were awesome on the highway. The faster you went they seemed to hunker down lower. Front wheel drive was new back then and these seemed to be ahead of the curve. Sitting back in the leather seats with the one spoke steering wheel was pretty sweet. Only thing better was a Citroen CM and a rare convertible.

    Like 2
    • Bob Morris

      Rich, I think you meant to say the Citroen SM (with the Maserati) was better.

  15. jpbandy

    Sirs,
    Looks like a mix-match..us tail lights, French directional lights (I think) I have five DS, and now two. Restored ones in the $70.000 plus….Why?? They are great and interesting cars…technically above and beyond…first ones in l955,
    was a Paris Show when the were offered. A few hundred were sold that day!
    Whilst standing on the “Arc de Triomphe” it was a sight of the all colors of the DS’s among the bland black/grey/blue Traction Avant’s.

    Like 1
  16. Rusty Gold

    I drove past this vehicle in Oregon a few months back in a farmyard south of Portland just off the 205 loop. If you love old French engineering, it may be a fun project, but good luck on getting parts. I have been in one on a trip in England years ago and they have a very interesting ride due to their unique suspension. Good luck to whoever takes her on.

  17. Ken Nelson Member

    There is no more innovative car ever built than the Citroen DS series – bar none. The sedans have a better aerodynamic drag coefficient than a Porsche 911 – from a wind tunnel study I found at NWestern U grad school in 1967.
    The suspension is the most comfortable and capable of any car – built-in variable height settings from the driver’s seat, automatic load leveling at either end of the car, and automatic brake balance – the first anti-skid design ever – via a full hydrauic power brake system, NOT a vacuum- assisted one like every other ccar in the world. The “button” pedal on the Citromatic cars, is just a simple valve which controls how much pressure is supplied by the engine-driven pump, up to 2500 psi – enough hydraulic power to operate a forklift. Total travel of that buttom is 1/4 inch, from zero to full lock, with true feedback, but the inboard front disc brakes a la racecars, are so powerful you can stand the car on its nose if you slam them on carelessly. You can literally throw yourself thru the windshield if you’re not careful. Yet they are very easy to control, AND they have an added fast response design factor few people ever think about: Note that the button is BELOW the accel pedal. Meaning you can flip your toe over to the brake from accelerator much faster than having to LIFT your foot off the accel then move it over to hit the brake, and go thru more than an inch of travel before you get braking.

    Try that in any “modern” car. Even futther, try making 40 panic stops with a dead engine in any other so-called modern ride – the DS hydraulic system stores enough pressure that if the engine fails, you can apply the brakes full stop 40 times before you run out of pressure – how’s that for failsafe?

    Unless youve really studied and driven these cars for awhile, you’ll never fully understand how ingenious and intelligent their features and design are.
    Here’s another feature: The front driven wheels pivot thru their vertical center. think about it – this means that if you hit an obstacle with the wheel, since it has no offset kingpin-type axle, the obstacle CANNOT deflect the wheel to throw you out of control – the wheel will be forced straight backwards, rather than to the side. You cannot lose steering control – at worst the wheel will be driven backwards, bending top and bottom forged steel arms backward & destroying the wheel, but the steering will not be ripped out of your hands, and being power-assisted, the wheels can ONLY be turned from the driver, as the rack is hydraulically-locked against moving until the driver initiates the move

    To demonstrate the safety advantage, Citoen did a video decades ago showing a car being driven at 60 over a 4 inch high steel blade embedded in an aircraft runway. Before impact, the driver removed his hands from the wheel, the car hit the blade but that steel cord Michelin radial would not blow, as the fabulous suspension absorbed the blow so easily the tire held up. The tire was then switched to a bias ply non steel cord one, the tire blew, the car stopped with driver’s hands off the wheel, absolutely straight on the runway – zero deviation. Try that in any modern car, and that’s from 1955.
    One more: Every suspension arm is mounted NOT in CHEAP RUBBBER BUSHINGS WHICH FALL APART, butTapered Rollerbearings – which never need greasing whatsoever theyre so well sealed. This means the suspension steering accuracy stays exactly as initially aligned unless the suspension arms are bent or the chassis is damaged. NO alignment necessary if parts are not damaged. In 59 yrs of driving dozens of these cars, I have only had to reset alignment on a damaged car where the suspension arm was bent in a collision. So unless you’ve actually worked on one of these cars and know what you’re doing, there are many more great features in them.

    Like 10
  18. MGSteve

    Ken Nelson: THANK YOU, THANK YOU for your educated and thoughtful insights into these amazing cars. It is so rewarding to read such information from someone who thoroughly knows of what he speaks, as opposed to many who want to bash something, simply because they don’t understand it.

    Like 2
    • DGSmithers

      I have to echo your sentiments!! The rampant ignorance of these remarkable vehicles is disappointing considering we are all here as car guys. The simple fact Rolls Royce licensed the rights to use this suspension speaks volumes of the innovation Citroen offered the automotive industry. For all those bashing this French beauty in its current state, how much muscle car would you get for the sellers asking price? I suspect more rust than metal.

      Like 2
      • Bill McCoskey

        Rolls-Royce Introduced the Citroen hydraulics of the new Silver Shadow in 1965, and the system had been decided upon by 1961. This system is still in use in 2022 Rolls-Royce cars, as far as I know.

        On the London “Ring Road” [beltway] in 1989, I drove a new Silver Spur with a Hooper & Co 60″ stretch limo body, and the brakes had no problem stopping that armored 5 ton monster from 65mph, multiple times without fading. I’ve also driven a fairly new Lincoln with a National Coach Co 60″ stretch, and experienced total brake fade/failure after only 2 panic stops.

        When I was running my independent Rolls-Royce shop, I had an early Shadow come in on the back of a rollback truck. The tow driver dropped the car in front of my shop, and told me the car’s owner said the car had not been driven in over a year. I checked the warning lights for the brakes, and both were off. That told me both the high pressure tanks were still filled with about a quart of brake fluid, at about 2,500psi. Sure enough, with a couple of my mechanics pushing, as I pulled the car into the shop, when I pushed on the brake pedal, I HAD FULL POWER BRAKES, on a car that had not run for over a year!

        How many luxury. . . wait a minute, let me re-state the question . . . How many cars of ANY type, can have full power brakes while the engine has not operated for a while? {Bentley doesn’t count, because it’s the same car with different badging!]

        Those here on this site who badmouth and poo-poo cars like Citroens, either have no experience with these cars, or they have only bad memories of Citroens that have been butchered by people who don’t know how to work on them.

        In an age of trying to improve fuel economy by making cars more slippery thru the air, I don’t think there is a single American production car today that has a better coefficient of drag than the Citroen, and it dates back to 1955!

        If I had the funds and wanted to spend about $70k on a car as my favorite collector car to drive for fun, a Citroen DS21 Pallace would be on my short list.

        Like 2
  19. Bob Morris

    Ken N. Your comments and detailed knowledge of a Citroen are very welcomed! If anyone reading this column takes the time to go to Leno’s Garage will hear similar comments made by Jay. The Citroen ID and DS models (and then the SM model) were so far ahead of any other can manufactured there is no comparison!

    Like 1
  20. Ken Nelson Member

    ck on brake, rpm goes back to full clutch release. This is a GREAT feature for modern traffic! Which is why after being initially intimidated by the system when I was 18, and avoiding it, I now much prefer it for today’s traffic at age 77 and getting lazy!

    The ID19s were cost reduced by eliminating power steering and brakes from ’55 up to maybe 1960. And lesser trim.

    Like 1
  21. Ken Nelson Member

    Nuts! somehow 3/4 of my last note were erased somehow!

  22. Ken Nelson Member

    To summarize, each series of DSs ran 10 yrs – ’55-thru ’65 – same mechanicals – easy parts finding – all same! ’66 -thru 75, larger engine, stronger drivetrain/brakes to handle extra power. Again, interchangeability for 10 yrs of parts/cars. Join clubs, you’ll find parts – several good suppliers across US & Canada.

    Like 1
  23. Ken Nelson Member

    This DS may have been sidlined early due to the Citromatic semi-automatic tramsmission which confounds many carguys. It is effectively the very first paddleshifter – since the wand sticking out of the steering col. pod controls the clutch and gears simultaneously. If the system isn’t adjusted properly, and there is a very specific sequence for adjusting various controls, the system can baffle most mechanics. Most club members with the procedure put together by a citroen dealer in the ’60s name of Red Dellinger – who stated that when properly adjusted, the Citromatic was faster than a true automatic and as fast as modern paddleshifters.

    The citromatic is simply a hydraulic shifter brain which controls a hydraulically actcuated lid on a manual gearbox – which kept production costs low. Moving the “wand” atop the dash declutches between each gear, and provides hydraulic power to a tiny cylinder pushing each manual gear fork inside the box. An opposing cylinder pushes the fork to the next gear, et cetera. Very straight forward, and any good Citroen club will have the written adjustment procedure documented, that any decent mechanic can understand. But this might have mystified the original owner or subsequent owners, leading to its being sidelined.

    Like 1
  24. HARM R SMIT

    Fork lift not a good look! I have restored several DS Citroens providing no one has put the incorrect suspension fluid in the hydraulics all is very repairable. All guards remove with a single bolt. ( you read right all guards) which makes for easy access to engine etc., Rear boot lid is prone to rust under rubber strip, corner of front guards. Turning head light mechanism is prone to broken plastic grommets but repairable. Bonnet is aluminium roof fiberglass. Interiors were not made from strong fabric but replacement kits are available.In my opinion a beautiful car to restore and a pleasure to drive!
    If it were in Australia I would buy it no problem. Don’t forget it came 2nd and 3rd in the London to Sydney marathon without team support. The engines were basically a tractor engine and impossible to over rev. If you don’t want a Detroit hobble horse this is it!

    Like 2
  25. Ken Nelson Member

    As Bill McCoskey says, Citroen’s brake system, using stored pressure from its integrated hydraulic system, pressurizes a reserve fluid sphere during engine startup. That reserve pressure “accumulator” is another nitrogen-charged sphere storing about 2000 + psi, and feeds everything in the car – but there are EXTRA accumulator spheres for the brake system, and separate from the main accumulator, which supplies the suspension and steering.

    The brake system is valved separately from the rest of the car, but if the system is in good nick as the Brits would say, that brake accumulator can provide up to 40 full panic stops when the engine is off. So – engine failure during any excursion does NOT limit the braking. Most so-called “modern” cars can’t hold a candle to Citroen’s brakes in any comparison. The “others” mostly use engine vacuum off the intake manifold to add power push to the master cylinder of their brake system. Vacuum has nowhere near the power of pure hydraulic pressure topping 2000 psi – enough power to run a forklift.
    And that of course provides for its automatic jacking and incredible groundclearance plus automatic brake force balancing front/rear – most likely the world’s firs anti-skid braking system – with ZERO electronics to go bad and kill the system.

    Back when the Toronado was introduced as America’s first production-level FWD car, Car & Driver or one of the other car rags, compared a DS and a Toronado. Title” The car that stops, but won’t go, and the car that goes, but won’t stop” Hillarious article – just belittled the DS 75 hp engine vs the Olds 200+ horses. Then came the braking – the DS could throw the driver thru the windshield, and NEVER fade – inboard DISCS – like racecars, with air ducts feeding outside air direct to each disc – there’s no beating that system. The Toro? Awful brakes! Faded fast, and could not stop that behemoth like the DS – no way!

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