A Portuguese Encounter of the French Persuasion

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We were heading back to Lisbon, making our way for the high-speed Ponte de 25 Abril. On the hand-laid cobblestone street meandering down the hill from the one-hundred-metre tall Cristo Rei monument in Almada, Portugal, sat an automobile of the French persuasion. But not just any. This automobile stopped my heart, plunked it out of my chest, and proceeded to eat it delicately with a fresh baguette and a Château Lafite Rothschild Cabarnet Sauvignon.

What lay before my windswept gaze was once described by the decadently verbose LJK Setright as “an engineers’ car, the thinking man’s car, far and away the most modern car in the world, not only in 1955 but for at least 15 years until another even cleverer Citroën should emerge from the closeted brains of that most uncompromisingly logical of design teams.

My gaze was windswept on account of my rented scooter, a method of transportation bravely chosen to weave the dense and undulating Portuguese streets despite never having mounted a motorized two-wheeler before. The Citroën Setright alludes to from 1970? The venerably unreliable SM, famed for its Maserati power and French flair. The car in Almada, of course, was the Citroën DS.

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See? Proof that what I say is true. My scooter companion has hooked upon her right arm the helmet that she luckily never needed. Just don’t make me pick the more beautiful of the two. Portugal, in its infinite wisdom, displays the year the car was made right there on the license plate. How else was I to know that it was a ’72 and not, say a ’73??

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If you just swallowed your own tongue looking at this picture, you’ll appreciate the bowel cleansing I experienced I saw the DS in person. My companion, on the other hand, didn’t see what all the fuss was about. It’s ok though, I’ve since taken her to the optometrist. She does need glasses, after all.

With the hydropneumatic, self-leveling suspension of wizards, the DS (so named because “déesse” is French for goddess) was made for a scarcely believable 20 years, nearly without change. Can you imagine if they still made the Plymouth Acclaim, originally released in 1989?

The goddess I stumbled upon was one of the later, 1972, models, but it was still in utterly fantastic shape for one coming up on 40 years old. I hope I’m in that kind of shape at 37.

The headlights were built to swivel proportionately to the single-spoked steering wheel and illuminate the corner ahead. So it’s a wonder that German automakers today think they’re being clever when they use a similar concept in their cars today. Conversely, the taillights were not built to swivel. Instead, they were built to inspire drivers aft of the DS to visit their nearest Citroën dealer.

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I’ll let Richard Hammond take it from here.

[Photo credits: author, Video: YouTube]

2 thoughts on “A Portuguese Encounter of the French Persuasion

  1. James says:

    Oh man, the DS is such a design icon. It is still drop-dead gorgeous after all these years. I am not sad we don't get to enjoy french unreliability in the US, but I do miss the flair in the design.

    Of course, you can hardly say that ANY French cars today have anywhere NEAR the flair and panache of the DS or the Citroen-Maserati. I mean, ok – the Avantime was delightfully weird. Bless Renault for even making cars like the Clio V6 and Renaultsport Spyder in modern times. But the mainstream cars – like the DS was back in it's day – are dishwater dull. Renault Megane? Snore. Citroen C5? Double snore.

    Thank god the C6 exists!

  2. [...] ode to functional simplicity was found not far from the dusty black Citroën DS, just across the Tagus river that separates Almada from Lisbon, in fact. I stumbled across is just [...]

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