1966 Citroen DS 21 Cabriolet

Coachwork by Chapron

"The Citroen was taken on one of the Hamilton Rallies, invitation-only events where entrants were obliged only to bring very special cars along. Alan was in his C-type Jaguar but when the weather turned foul he drove the back-up Citroen. Some entrants thought this was a bit off especially when the Citroen proved so fast over the difficult and bumpy roads they could not keep up. Alan had great fun blowing off a couple of supposedly very hairy Astons." Backfire: A Passion for Cars and Motoring, Alan Clark, edited by Robert Coucher, 2001.

When motoring enthusiasts partake in the great pub debate about the greatest car ever offered to the public, the Citroën DS is always in the running. When it was unveiled at the 1955 Paris Motor Show, the DS represented the greatest single leap there had ever been in automotive engineering. The styling was so innovative that it still turns heads almost 50 years later. The French philosopher, Roland Barthes, said that, as an aesthetic achievement, the DS was to be ranked with Mediaeval cathedrals and few disagreed with him.

Pronounce DS in French and it is Deesse, or goddess, and that is a fair description of the car. Gods and goddesses are able to break rules and create new ones, and the DS created a new set of rules for cars. You could not fail to notice as you sat behind the steering wheel that the wheel had only one spoke, in the days before seat belts, it was designed to absorb the weight of a driver in an accident.

The hydro pneumatic suspension raised the car, or lowered it, at the touch of a button. On the move, it was the world's first self levelling suspension years before makers of prestige cars attempted to imitate it. Everything mechanical which could be powered was powered and that included the gear change, the clutch and the brakes. At the front, the DS had disc brakes and that at a time when only a very small number of competition cars had disc brakes.

For years, special versions of the DS were the car of choice for senior French officials, from the President down. The long established French coachbuilder Henri Chapron, who built the Presidential Citroëns, began to offer a Cabriolet version which was built in limited numbers. This car is one of just 180 early single headlight DS Cabriolets built from a total of 1,380 DS convertibles (from 1967 the headlights were enclosed behind glass). This car also has the optional wing mounted driving lights. Purchased by the Swiss collector vendor circa 15 years ago, it has undergone a comprehensive mechanical rebuild which was completed 3,000km ago. Work included complete overhaul of the hydraulic systems, rebuilt engine, new clutch and conversion from red to green hydraulic fluid. Cosmetically the car has been altered as little as possible save for recovering the front seats, whose leather was faded. Otherwise the metallic green coachwork livery has been retained as has the black upholstery.

Since then the car has been driven sparingly, usually by the owner's wife in the summer months, and the collection's full-time mechanic reports that it is 'on the button', ready for any trip. The late Alan Clark, the colourful British politician and great motoring connoisseur, remarked that his DS Cabriolet was one of the last cars he would ever sell and a firm favourite to drive, along with his pre-War Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost and Jaguar C-Type. Such praise illustrates how fond owners tend to become of these eccentric Gallic Grandes Routières. This one is Swiss registered.