The text messages had been coming daily for a week or so. An immaculate 1971 Citroën DS21 Pallas with just over 12k miles on its odometer was on Bring a Trailer and Publisher Martin was bidding. After the car failed to meet reserve, he was able to strike a post-auction deal.
Good for him – but good news for me, too. The Platinum Blue Citroën happened to be located in Kirkland, WA. This was more than 200 miles from SCM World Headquarters in Portland. The car was far closer to my home, west of the Puget Sound in Bremerton, WA, so I raised my hand for delivery duty. Monterey Car Week kept me from picking up the car for a few weeks, but eventually I found myself at the shop of Citroën guru Greg Long, the seller of SCM’s new prize.
Greg showed me and my wife around his workspace (including a Decapotable that was undergoing restoration) before giving me a tutorial on the workings of a semi-automatic DS. The starting procedure was specific, but not very tricky. First, insert the key in the ignition barrel, positioned to the left of the steering wheel, as in most Porsches (Le Mans style running start optional). Then turn it to the start position. On the right side of the wheel, pull out the dash-mounted choke knob, which I would have otherwise mistaken for the headlights. Finally, push the dainty shift lever at the top of the steering column to the leftwards “S” (start) position.
The DS fired up quickly and Greg instructed me to start backing off the choke – a little more, a little more – and to bring the revs up to 2,000 rpm so the hydropneumatic suspension can start building pressure to raise itself. The car quickly inched itself upwards and I released the parking brake with an under-dash lever. After a brief driving lesson on the intricacies of the clutchless manual transmission, the DS’s nose was pointed south on Interstate 5.
I’ve driven plenty of eye-catching sheetmetal, some worth millions of dollars. I can report that the Citroën inspires just as many camera phone videos, thumbs-up, honked horns, shouted questions and beaming smiles as any exotic supercar. Except, there’s no pretention. Instead of wondering how much the car costs, how fast it goes, or what I do for a living, the question on everyone’s tongue is “What is that thing?”
Both Keith and my dad, Jan, drove Citroën ID19s in their youth. My dad’s ID19 was a loaner from his own father, and he used it as a high-school commuter in 1960s Chatsworth, CA. (Grandpa also had a DS wagon variant, known as a Safari Estate in Citroën-speak). My dad’s school-age friends nicknamed the ID “the stinkbug,” presumably for its long body, rounded tail and peculiar suspension articulation.
I was pleased that the DS I was driving was no stinkbug. On the contrary, it mostly smelled of rich leather inside, not unlike a new baseball glove. The car cossets its driver as few can – a true BarcaLounger on wheels. Greg showed me the proper DS driving position, which involves both elbows resting on heavily padded rests, fingers lightly touching the wheel at five and seven o’clock.
It was a pleasure to drive. The 2.2-liter inline four certainly isn’t a powerhouse, but it is adequately torquey. The car was happy to maintain an indicated cruising speed of 65-70 mph, though I suspect the speedometer is a little optimistic. Freeway expansion joints and other surface irregularities are simply sucked up and forgotten, the driver none the wiser. I’d put the Citroën’s ride up there with contemporary luxury cars costing multiples of the DS’s value. Now safely in Portland, I’m looking forward to hearing Keith’s thoughts on the Citroën and how it compares to memories of his previous ID19. And if I’m honest, I’m also looking forward to more miles behind the wheel, myself.
You need to get the license plate ZUT ALRS, if it is available in WA. If not, you need to find a state where someone doesn’t already have it, and register the DS there and get that license plate.
Folks can talk about the personalities of cars all they wish to, but I had parked my DS at a McDonald’s and when I came out, a man and woman were walking around it. And they said, what is it? And I said, it’s French. Ah, they said, as if that explained everything. And really, it did.
Bonne chance avec votre nouveau belle voiture, Keith.
A propos of Mr. Rosenthal’s comment, the late Click and the still-with-us Clack always say,
“The French copy nobody. And nobody copies the French.”
So glad that Keith is about to add another Star to his Galaxy of automotive experiences.
I bought a 1959 ID 19 in 1963 (in OH). The owner had brought it to the US after his job in Paris ended; he passed away a year later. His son sold it to me for $300. A new battery got is started right away. I loved it! Had lots of looks when I would stop then raise it 6″. Everyone thought the tires were flat as the Michelin X radial tires had never been seen before! I went back to college with it. I wasn’t used to FWD and lost it on a fast curve. Sold it for parts and got $600. A remarkable car that I will always remember!