Sleeping Godess: 1971 Citroen DS 21

You don’t really have to be a Citroen fan to fully appreciate this car, but it definitely helps. It also helps if you’ve had the chance to drive a properly functioning DS. They are really comfortable high-speed cruisers and smooth even on rough roads, yet they manage to handle very well. It was truly amazing to drive in the 1970s, both on the Autobahn at 90 mph or on a track in the Sahara at 50 mph. The DS did very well in rallying, including winning the Monte Carlo Rally, twice. Those that haven’t experienced the DS might view it as an ugly, complicated old car and perhaps nothing I can say will change the unbeliever’s mind, but you never know, they may just find it interesting.  This Citroen is listed on eBay in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Bidding has reached reserve with bidding over $3,000. It’s been sitting since it was purchased in California in 1991.

Before we dive in further, compare the 1956 DS to the Citroen it replaced in 1956, the Traction Avant, or to any other car from the 1950s. It has hydropneumatic suspension, front wheel drive with inboard disk brakes and even a lightweight fiberglass roof to help keep the center of gravity lower. It was just strange and wonderful to drive a car that is so smooth and handles so well. The interior appears to be in decent condition. A good cleaning and treatment should make the leather really nice. One door card is missing, but otherwise, it looks complete.

Things under the hood appear dusty and rusty but complete. Hydraulic components like the pump and the accumulator you can see here were painted green to remind owners to use the correct mineral based green fluid. The engine is a 4 cylinder 175 CC fuel injected engine with about 100 HP. This one has a manual transmission with a clutch pedal, so it does not have the complex and troublesome hydraulic semi-automatic system. It does not run and no attempt has been made to start it. The seller notes that the hydraulic system is filled with red brake fluid instead of the green LHM hydraulic fluid it should have. According to many Citroen folks, the brake fluid should be OK but does not perform as well as the correct LHM fluid. It will take some research to find out if this is really the case. Also, there are rust bubbles in the paint, so this DS will need to be carefully inspected for rust.

And no, it’s not your imagination, the rear track is narrower than the front. The tires are also different sizes front to back. This Citroen is just a curiosity for most people and sadly may not be worth restoring by even the most devoted Citroen fan. If the suspension has issues the hydraulic system could be difficult and expensive to repair. The condition of the engine and extent of rust is unknown. I would love to see this DS restored and not parted out. but never having turned a wrench on one, I don’t really know if there is any chance it could be restored for less than it’s worth. There is lots of information and advice provided on Citroen blogs as well as links to sources for parts. Are there any Citroen devotees out there who can shed light on whether this Goddess deserves the kiss of life? And oh, by the way, the DS is called a Goddess because DS is pronounced “Deese” in French which means goddess.



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  1. glen

    Reminds me of an armadillo!

    • SunbeamerStu

      Slug for me.

    • Adam T45 Staff

      My wife says exactly the same thing glen! I point out to her that looks aren’t everything, otherwise she wouldn’t have married me!

      • glen

        I feel that giving you a thumbs-up would be insulting to your looks!, so I didn’t. I hope that makes sense.

  2. Derek

    Red fluid’s like brake fluid, isn’t it? (never had a red-blood car)

    Makes the seals swell on 2CVs, anyway, so I suspect that it’d do the same to that.

    Lovely things.

    • Fernando

      By 1972 they were using LHM, green fluid. Green is a much more appropriate color with the goddess! LHM attracted less moisture. Amazing cars in every respect.

  3. Solosolo KEN TILLY Member

    When these magnificent motor cars came out in Rhodesia the fibreglass roof would lift off if you were doing about 90 mph and then opened a window! As for the button brake pedal, I never got used to that.

  4. Classic Steel

    A car that lifts is cool !😎 nice design
    ahead of its time ! I was an Air Force brat in GB when these we’re out and always loved to see and ride in them 👍

  5. Rube Goldberg Member

    Good heavens, even a “fish” turns up. I’ve never been in one, but I heard of owners saying it’s one of the smoothest cars to drive. Also, they say, if properly maintained, the suspension, while complex, is very reliable. I believe, you can drive these on 3 wheels. Despite it’s odd looks, ( to us) I think these were some of the best European cars made.

    • RayT Member

      I don’t know about driving a DS on three wheels, Rube, but can tell you from experience that driving one on three wheels and a flat is duck soup! In fact, I didn’t know until I got home….

      Unlike virtually every other car on the plant, I think the manual gearbox on this car is a drawback. I had the “automatique,” which was essentially a standard transaxle with hydraulic shifting mechanism. Lovely and, after five minutes to get used to it, simple.

      The hydraulics are definitely reliable, at least until they get old. But parts are available, and a few shops offer rebuilt suspension spheres, pumps, pressure accumulators, etc.

      I still have hopes of owning another one day!

  6. Doyler

    I want one, just so I can do an EV conversion with it.

  7. Karl Nelson

    A 1965 Citroen DS19 was my first car, and I drove it daily to high school in the early 1990s. My second car was a 1972 DS21 that I drove in college. They are actually incredibly robust vehicles that will take a ton of abuse so long as the chassis doesn’t succumb to rust and proper fluids are used. Nobody delivers a cosseting driving experience like the French.

    Unfortunately, the introduction of brake fluid into an LHM car has likely compromised every single rubber seal it has come into contact with. The hydraulic system in this car powers the suspension, the brakes, and the power steering; if it had the Citromatic gearbox with a hydraulically shifted clutch, there would be four systems powered by the central hydraulic pump. Flushing the system might delay complete failure, but the new owner can look forward to internal hemorrhaging on a terminal scale. I hope someone saves it, but I wouldn’t want to be that person.

    Like 1
    • Jean Lecointe

      I do agree with you about the wrong fluid in the hydraulic system.
      I believe that the replacement of ALL seals is necessary, costly and time consuming.
      I fear that poor DS has reached the end of her life.
      It is fitted with a double barrel carburator, no fuel injection;
      Friendly HI from France

      Like 1
  8. BarnfindyCollins

    One of these painted red and white used to park outside my aunts restaurant in downtown Nashville years ago. It’s the sort of car that leaves an impression.

  9. Pa Tina

    Perhaps we should not wake her up.

    Like 1
  10. Blueprint

    …and it’s “déesse” with the accent and two “s”. One “s” is pronunced like a “z” in front of a vowel.

    French-Canadian, à votre service ;)

    • Pa Tina

      I was told the Quebecois is much different then the french spoken in gay paree.

  11. TJ
    • Kinmont Willy

      Excellent video. Jay Leno talks about his Citroen and describes it as one of the most innovative cars of the 20th century and definitely one of the most comfortable.

      Like 1
  12. noexit

    Top of my dream car list.

  13. Dwartz Farquhartz

    I’ve never heard about the Citromatic being troublesome. I certainly never had problems with any I owned.

    As far as changing the seals, it is a huge undertaking. But if the chassis rust hasn’t killed the car, it’s certainly worth it IMO.

  14. Maestro1

    These cars are wonderful and bizarre. I’d have to find someone who knows them well before even considering buying it.

  15. Dik S

    Hello Guys (may be girls also?).

    I had 6 of them in total. When they came with it in 1956 (in that year I was 12) it was the most beautiful car for me.
    And it stayed that.
    This is one of the most easy “supercars” to work on.
    Plenty of room around the engine. My cars ran on LPG, very cheap.
    Although the engine is not a power monster, in that time, top speed was the best. Top speed was 180 km /h, but imagine, cruisespeed is also 180 km /h. I drove several with over 100000 km for another 100000 km
    In that time there was no speedlimit in the Netherlands, so I could go as fast as possible. And fuel consumption was around 10 km/l.
    really lovel cars


    Yes Rube you sre right these can be driven on 3 wheels if necessary. A guy I worked with back in the 70’s had one and traded it for a Matador. Sitting in his parents driveway, was his 59 Mercedes. He had great tastes in cars.

  17. That AMC guy

    When these cars came out in 1955 people must have thought they dropped out of a flying saucer! Compared to just about anything else that was being sold in the 1950s the DS was something out of the year 2000. I got to drive one about 40 years ago and it was an unearthly sensation to be sure.

    A Citroen DS (or maybe an ID?) is the featured vehicle in the Icelandic road-trip movie “Cold Fever”.

  18. Adam T45 Staff

    “The engine is a 4 cylinder 175 CC fuel injected engine with about 100 HP.” In that case sign me up!

    • Solosolo KEN TILLY Member

      @Adam T45. I think that went straight over most people’s heads! Sign me one as well please.

  19. Will Owen Member

    DS21 has the 2.1 liter version of that kinda agricultural (but very sturdy) engine, before it was finally bumped to 2.5. 175cc is definitely understating things!

    My late pa-in-law bought one fresh off the line from the main dealer in Paris in 1972. Drove it around France and then shipped it back to Pasadena, where he ran it for about ten years. He loved having nice cars but had no clue about preserving them, so by the time we moved there in 2000 it had been festering under a roofed but open enclosure for some time. As the old house we moved into had a three-car garage, and we had only one car, he “gave” the Citroen to me (meaning I had to care for it, period). After a lot of my unproductive hassling with it, a client of mine, owners of the Autobooks store in Burbank, offered to swap the Alfa 164S the wife was trying to sell for the Citroen the husband, a very good Citroen mechanic, wanted to rescue. So we did.

    After a month of hard work, mostly clearing the fuel line, Chuck got it running okay, and he drove it to the bookstore one Saturday. Now, a certain Mr. Leno always drops by there on Saturdays if he’s in town, and he was, and came dashing in shouting, “WHOSE CAR IS THAT??” So if you go to his website and look up the Citroen, that’s the one I had rather briefly. I’m just delighted that it finally has the owner it deserves.

    • Solosolo KEN TILLY Member

      @Will Owen. I just watched the episode “Jay Leno’s Garage” where your Citroen was covered. What a great car. Lucky you to have been involved in it’s early life.

      • Will Owen Member

        Well, Ken, I got to ride in it a few times in the ’80s, when we came to visit and Dad still was running it … but I got to drive it just twice: Once to a local shop to get a couple of spheres replaced, and then a rather rambling drive home, detouring down to the winding street over the Arroyo and Rose Bowl. It would have taken many more miles to get used to it, mostly because the driving position is a lot more like sitting on a sofa than most drivers’ seats, and you push the pedals down rather than forward. But pulling into the driveway it coughed and died, and every time I started it after that its run time got shorter and shorter.

        As I said, the best thing I ever did with it was pass it along to someone who could revive it and then hand it over to the perfect caretaker. I suspect he made a good bit of money there, but he had it coming.

  20. Solosolo KEN TILLY Member

    I started work in 1955 when in Southern Rhodesia and one day there was a crowd of people across the road from my workplace surrounding what I took to be a motor car as all I could see was the roof. I wormed my way through the crowd to see the most beautiful car I had ever seen. It was, of course, the Citroen Goddess, or to give it the correct term, an ID 19. Like some parts of USA the swivelling headlights were banned as were the rear lights as they were deemed to be too high from the ground! There is nothing like officialdom is there? As for driving it on 3 wheels I went to a race meeting where it was demonstrated at near racing speed on only 3 wheels! Only ever got to drive a later model that I wanted to buy but I chickened out at the last minute as I felt that I would not be able to repair it should it break down.

  21. Alan

    Drove its successor, the Xantia for 8 glorious years, same suspension, yes, it had its moments, but when it was on form, it was like driving your favourite armchair, it’s days ended through corrosion, shame,

  22. Wrong Way

    I personally love these cars! I have never driven one, but I would love to! At my age, I will never own one, but I love all of the Citroën models!

  23. charlie Member

    DS was goddess, ID was “idea” in French, ID was less expensive than DS and less well trimmed, but body shell was the same. Drove a DS one in Italy in 1962, it was far far superior to anything I had driven anywhere at the time. Then in ’71 ran across one in a repair shop in NH where it had been sitting for several months while the owner of the shop tried to find parts. With the internet it would not have been a problem but back then it was hard to find parts for almost anything unless J.C. Whitney or Sears carried them. I found tires for my ’39 MG SA from the Sears catalogue in l966, for example, and an intake manifold (mine was cracked) for a ’46 Hudson, I think from J. C. Whitney at about the same time. Mail order on both, just like Amazon.

  24. Neil

    A bit harsh saying that “If the suspension has issues the hydraulic system could be difficult and expensive to repair.”
    I used to have a DS23 Safari that was bought as a non-runner. due to hydraulic issues. Took two weekends to get everything back and working. First weekend was taken up removing wings that had not budged in years. Second weekend was a case of removing all the spheres (5 in total) after draining the system down as much as possible, then removing the suspension units and replacing with new/reman ones then, one line at a time, removing the old hydraulic lines (steel) and making up new ones from the right size cupro-nickel tubing and a flaring tool. Then refill the system with the correct LHM fluid and start the engine so the pump can bleed it through for the suspension. Once that is done set the suspension to max height and do the brakes as per a normal car.
    Once done it was a lovely car to drive and to this day I bitterly regret selling it. Had great fun one night having gone to see the horror film “Christine” – sat in her with friends munching on chips (fries to the US contingent) in an old multi-storey car park with the spiral ramp at one end. One other car was on our floor, at the far end. As we sat eating a group of girls came out of the lift and started to walk towards the other car. So I started the DS and put the head lamps on main beam, selected max height on the suspension making first the back then the nose rise up into the air then sloowly turned the steering wheel so the beams tracked them down the wall. I think they screamed louder there than in the cinema!!

  25. stillrunners LAWRENCE Member

    There were three of these in my high school parking lot….all owned by friends and one of them still has his….hiding behind his fence.

  26. Bob C.

    UGLY!!! Yet, quite unique. Growing up, there were a few of these around, but not many. I’m sure a lot of mechanics didn’t want to touch them.

  27. Ken W Nelson Member

    Yrs ago I met a fellow who started a Citroen service facility in Buffalo, NY. To demonstrate the car’s abilities, he once removed the right rear suspension arm and drove the car from Buff. to N. Jersey where the US Citroen office was situated. He wanted to get Citroen to use his 3 wheeler in an ad to boost sales of the cars by showing how safe they are! But the staff was too conservative to go along with that idea, so he drove back to Buffalo, and used the car that way around town until the cops hauled him over. He gladly went to court to fight the ticket, and when the judge heard the charge and couldn’t find anything in the rules about driving sans one wheel, he let him go. However, it didn’t stop there. He kept driving minus the wheel, and the cops kept harassing him until on one occasion, he got a lady judge and he pleaded with her to ride with him around the block in the car to see how safe it was. She agreed, and when they arrived back, she threw the charge out and admonished the police to stop bothering him!
    Same thing happened to me when in 2013 I drove my ’70 D Special on the Detroit Dream Cruise – alias the Woodward Dream Cruise – largest one-day car gathering in the world – about 30,000 cars and an audience of around 1 million. The Birmingham cops used to have a sense of humor, but that day I had left off the right rear wheel as Woodward was totally jammed with traffic moving about 1/2 mph, so there was absolutely no risk nor was there ever with this phenomenal suspension, and the kids loved it! They’d run up to the car and holler “you’re missing a wheel!”, to which I’d reply “who needs it?” And of course just then a cop came by and threatened to have me towed and ticketed unless I put it back on – so much for real fun ‘n games. Yet guys around me are doing burnouts with bleach all over the place generating toxic air pollution and I’m the one they pick on! That’s my ’73 D Super 5 spd Eurospec car above – I’ve only had it up to 105……..

    • Wrong Way

      You have a very nice car! I am old, and I have just gotten into the Citroën cars if I would have when I was younger I would have a bunch of them!

  28. W9BAG

    I’ve been a fan of these cars for a long time, and have watched Jay Leno’ s video, and plan to watch it again. This car actually came to be (once upon a time) known as the National car of France ! It was so dubbed as it may have saved the life of President Charles De Gaulle. There apparently were a group of “haters” that shot out one of the rear tires of the Presiden’t Citroen. The President escaped without injury, running on 3 tires as it was designed to. I would strongly suggest that all viewers watch the Jay Leno video. It clearly explains all of the creature comforts, as well as the diversity and quirkiness of the Citroen. The high beams actually turned with the steering wheel ! I would love to have one of these !

  29. Ken W Nelson Member

    Hey Wrong Way, I’m not a spring chicken at 73, so what’s holding you back? These cars keep me young! They’ll go anywhere, do more than most cars, and blow young kids minds when they see one of these along with all the “other” stuff.

    And Bob C – in 1967 in the Northwestern University library I found a study in aerodynamics of cars. Many cars were evaluated in a wind tunnel. The DS had a LOWER air drag factor than the Porsche 911 – ‘Nuff said!

  30. Ken Nelson Member

    W9BAG – An excellent high tension movie was made of the attempted assassination of De Gaulle by what I believe were Algerian sympathizers who felt betrayed by him when France was near civil war internally. Look up the original video – not a later remake – and you’ll see a terrific second attempt to kill him, after the first group shot up his DS19 as he left a meeting. Even tho most of the tires were blown, the car couldn’t be stopped – the superb suspension soaked up the bumps so it was easy to control even on flat tires, and the FWD kept on pulling – Here’s a historic photo –

  31. Bill T

    Growing up with over 100 Corvairs in our family “different” is in my blood. I remember only seeing one of these in the flesh (and for sale) and my father “almost” considered buying it, circa 1978. All the way to where we were going to look at it he spoke of the unique features of what he had remembered of the “one he drove while in the air force”. I could tell from the tone of his voice (and we were driving our home made tow truck to look at the Citroën) we might be “dragging it home”. Upon arrival we could see the “Tin Worm” had taken it’s toll. We had come all that way, so my Dad did give me the tour of all the special mechanics. He pointed out that someone had also put the wrong fluid in the system and that it (most likely) would mean the system would need a total rebuild. He always had tools with him and tried to turn the engine, it was seized. The owner wanted to negotiate however with all the projects my dad had lined up and the overall condition he declined. We didn’t talk much on the ride home. My Dad retired and moved to Boise in the 80’s where he resides now. Back in 2008 I went to visit him. After dinner we sat down to watch some TV and he asked me “Have you seen this new show called The Mentalist”. I had not. He said “Patrick Jane drives a 1971 Citroën DS 21 Pallas, do you remember that trip we made to look at the Citroën”? It’s been a long time since I have seen a Citroën in person, I would love to own a fair weather car someday.

    Like 1
  32. Jim Heaney

    The RED Fluid is probably NOT brake fluid. West Coast owners commonly used Automatic Transmission Fluid in their cars without problem. This has a “wet sleeve” motor and parts are readily available. There is a strong Citroen Support Group. Plese go for this one. Once sorted they are dependable. As with all hobby cars it is best to do your own work and learn as you go. The repair, adjustments and parts manuals for these cars is amazing and free on the internet!!! I have one in Indiana. It is not a “Looker” but won a prize for Design!

  33. Ken Nelson Member

    I forgot to put the name of that movie about De Gaulle in my note – it’s “Day of the Jackal”, with a British actor as the assassin. Don’t miss it – it’s as good or better than a lot of today’s movies.

    The Day of the Jackal (film) – Wikipedia
    Based on the 1971 novel The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth, the film is about a professional assassin known only as the “Jackal” who is hired to assassinate French president Charles de Gaulle in the summer of 1963.
    Based on‎: ‎The Day of the Jackal‎; by ‎Frederick … Release date‎: ‎16 May 1973
    Starring‎: ‎Edward Fox‎; ‎Michel Lonsdale Box office‎: ‎$16,056,255

  34. Ken Nelson Member

    I’ll say it again: No one so far has been able to identify a car that has EVER combined as much brand new innovation in so many areas – comfort, visibility, efficiency, handling, safety, aerodynamics, braking, steering and shifting in a single new automobile as the DS did in 1955. Not even Tesla.

  35. Marius

    My father had 3 DS and I learnt to drive in one of them at age 12. Great card and we only had one problem with the hydraulics. We went on long trips all over Europe with the DS towing a big caravan. The DS always stayed level even with heavy loads. After DS my father bought the CX 2.5 GTI witch also was a great car and he gave it to me when he bought the XM v6. I really miss the DS and will buy one if I find one reasonable priced.

  36. DLegeai

    …wow…3 French cars on one page?…that in itself is unusual…..I hope the DS and the Caravelle find a home.

  37. Mike

    Seller here, just came across this feature page. Car sold to a broker in NY, he said it was going overseas (he didn’t say where).

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