Chris Barlow’s DS story.
Some years ago I had a motorcycle. A ’98 Triumph Thunderbird Sport in yellow and black. I loved it. The wife hated it in equal measure. Looking back I suspect she hated it because she saw how much pleasure it gave me, but that’s another story. Anyway one day she told me that if I sold the bike, we could put it towards buying a classic car maybe. I asked her which car she had on mind and she said “That long Citroen saloon seen in Feench movies”. I knew she meant the DS…….. It was the only car I’ve ever really been drawn to, so I sold the bike (still miss it on long summer days when the Tarmac gets sticky and you have an itch you can’t scratch) and I started looking for a DS. I joined the two Yahoo forums which are absolutely amazing, and from that I met an amazing young man called Andy Todd who restored a black DS 23 Pallas to pristine condition from what was a complete hulk. He logged every painful/joyful step of the way over several years and his unbelievably beautiful black beauty of a DS can be seen here at www.citroen-restoration.co.uk
Anyway I found one only a few miles from where he lived and he kindly offered to check it over for me so I arrived at this barn in Cheshire England and the farmer opened the door to reveal a South African imported DSuper. The interior was brand new BMW leather inc the steering wheel, which didn’t seem right to me. I wanted authenticity Chris. Also it had no registration paperwork, the chassis number didn’t match up with the log book etc. so I rang the owner who was on a yacht in South Africa in Cape Town harbour. He asked me if I liked the interior. I had to be honest and tell him it wasn’t really my cup of tea, and then he asked me if I liked the new paint job, in dark blue. I said “It’s not blue mate”. He replied “Yes it is – dark blue”. I said “it’s definitely not blue mate”. There was a pregnant pause after which came the question, “What colour is it then?” I replied in all honesty, “Lilac……” Then there was an even bigger pause. It turned out he’d paid a company to paint it dark blue before shipping it straight over to the UK so he never actually saw the finished article! I couldn’t live with a lilac DS so I decided to give it a miss. I often wonder if someone is driving a lilac DS around the roads of Britain to this day.
Anyway, just seeing a DS in the flesh made me more determined than ever to track one down and not long after I picked up a classic car mag and saw a DSuper advertised, but there was no photo. I rang the guy up and he seemed genuine so I jumped on a train to The New Forest in England to his home. The owner lived in a beautiful period Edwardian property set in mature grounds. He greeted me before walking towards his garages. As he opened the doors of his heated and dehumidified garage (I kid you not) the first car that put in an appearance was an immaculate Triumph TR4, which sat nicely alongside an equally immaculate Jaguar XJS convertible. He asked me casually if I was interested in making him an offer for either of them, but I was only there for one car! And then, as he swung open yet another door, I saw it. A white DSuper. It was a ’72 plate, left hand drive, Paris built with a manual 5 speed box. It also had it’s original burgundy jersey cloth interior. “Nice” I thought!
He told me a doctor went to France to buy one some years ago. He traversed the entire country but all he found were over priced rust buckets. Dejected, he was about to make the long trip back home, but he noticed in the classifieds of a local paper that there was a DS for sale and it was only a few miles away. He figured he would have time to go and view it before having to catch the ferry, so he trundled over to this farm in the middle of nowhere. As he pulled into the farmyard, the first thing he noticed was that it was full of chickens and delapidated farm machinery, and figured he was wasting his time again. He was about to floor it when the elderly French farmer appeared and beckoned him towards a barn. Walking inside he noticed the unmistakable slippery shape of a DS, lurking under a tatty old tarpaulin. The farmer walked up to it and unrobed it in front of the doctor. For a moment or two he just stood there staring, as in front of him was a really really nice gleaming white DSuper!! To say he was pleasantly surprised was an understatement!!
What was even more surprising was that it had only done 40000 miles. It turned out the farmer had owned it for most of it’s life and he only used it to take his caravan to the coast twice a year. The rest if the time he kept it tucked up in the barn and used a a gloriously battered old 2CV as his daily driver.
A deal was quickly struck and the doctor had his DS. The motto here is initial impressions can often be very misleading.
He imported it into the UK and kept it for a couple of years before selling it to the guy in the New Forest. He in turn kept it and cosseted it, along with another DS, a DS23 Pallas with targa interior (very 70’s) but it wasn’t in such good condition as the DSuper, so I opted for that one. Just as we were discussing the thorny subject of price, his mother appeared from nowhere and severely berated him for wanting to sell it atall. “Your father would turn in the grave if he saw you now”, she charged. He stood there looking suitably chastened and humbled while I was thinking “just give me the keys, give me the keys”. I asked him why he was selling and he reckoned it was because he knew an old “peasant” as he described him, in France who had a DS in his cellar, in bits, only it wasn’t any DS, it was an original Chapton built decap or convertible! These cars are now worth serious money as you probably know, and he was trying to steal it from under the nose of the poor “peasant” and purchase it for not a lot, but he needed the funds to do it. I don’t know if the “peasant” ever did sell to him, but I really hope that if he did, that he got what it was truly worth for it, because the guy buying it was not short of a few quid and I hate seeing people getting ripped off, especially by people who can afford it.
Anyway, I finally squeezed the keys out of him and found myself driving home in my own Citroen DS! My DS! Mine! I Chris Barlow was the now proud owner of an actual Citroen DS! It felt amazing to be driving a piece of true automotive history and I had a grin on my face as wide as a river.
Everything seemed so strange yet obvious. Good all round vision, esp from the slender A pillers. Not like modern cars, who’s A pillers are so thick that, at the right angle they can actually hide cyclists and small cars from the drivers vision. The glass let in so much light from the huge amount of glass. Modern car design today dictates that windows are becoming more like slits. ‘Orrible! The rear view mirror was so low but perfectly placed. The brakes were completely alien – immensely powerful but with zero travel on the foot pedal! The five speed column shift on the dash that was mated on sideways! And the ride quality. It was like travelling on a bed of fluid….
On the way home my adventures in a DS started before I had caught my breath. I was doing about 70mph in it when there was a huge bang somewhere under the bonnet. I looked in the rear view mirror but saw nothing and everything seemed to be normal (whatever that is in a DS) but I thought I’d better pull over to check. It was pitch black outside as I walked round the car trying to spot anything unusual, and it was then I found what had caused the bang in the first place. It was the front right hand tyre. It had blown out and was in shreds. I stared in amazement as it dawned on me that the tyre (which is the offside tyre in the UK) had burst while I was doing 70mph. In most other cars that would have been very dangerous, being an offside tyre as it often leads to the car careering across the road towards oncoming traffic. But I realised that when the tyre burst, the DS behaved immaculately. It simply kept on going in a dead straight line. I didn’t even feel any vibration through the steering column – nothing. It was effectively running on three wheels at 70mph with a front offside tyre blown out and it didn’t make a scrap of difference to the handling if the car!! Extraordinary……….!! No other car in the world would have coped as well as the DS did to such a critical malfunction. It gave, in effect a Gallic shrug and carried on regardless. I was smitten from that moment on Chris.
Since I had the DS, my daughters fell in love with it and are now taken with old classic Citroens in general. Wherever I go, people are drawn to it like moths to a flame. I even had a policemen pull me over once to give me a ticket, but halfway through his lecture he started to notice the deductive lines of the DS, and in the end he simply waved me off, into the night! It attracts women as well as men, young as well as a old. It crosses all boundaries and ages and genders. My old boss could never understand why my car attracts far more attention in a pub car park than his very expensive but ultimately bland and forgetful piece of Germanic engineering. In fact when out to the test his car attracted no attention whatsoever, while the DS pulled ’em in!
It’s been generally reliable, once it was sorted and has given me so much pleasure to own and drive. There is simply NO other car like a DS. It was the prototype of the modern automobile and still stops traffic dead to this very day. And finally, I was at a DS rally one balmy summer evening when a DS mechanic got talking to me and he said that, despite the fact that there were well over a million of them built, he said you can find two DS’s of the same year, same model and spec, and yet, he said you will never, ever, EVER find two of them alike……
And he was right. Prove it to yourself. It’s a strange but true fact. They are unique, even amongst themselves!
Viva la Deesse!
Above is a pic of my DS next to the SS Great Britain, itself an engineering marvel. I’m sure it’s designer, the great Isambard Kingdom Brunel would have appreciated it for what it is, a truly unique and breathtakingly beautiful piece of automotive history.