Showing posts with label Citroen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Citroen. Show all posts

Citroën DS

Citroen DS 1950s French classic car

From an engineering perspective, the Citroën DS must be one of the most exciting roadsters ever built. Its 4-cylinder engine powered a hydraulic system - which found its way into just about every part of the car. The motor itself was straightforward - dating back to the '34 'Traction-avant'. But, the hydraulic set-up it sparked into life was revolutionary. Most notable was the suspension. Instead of springs, the 'DS' was fitted with 'self-levelling hydropneumatic struts'. As a result, the car was able to raise and lower itself in a way that had never been seen - or felt - before. Potholes and bumps were easy pickings for the DS. When stationary - with the engine switched off - the Citroën sank serenely down. The power steering, disc brakes, and 'clutchless' gearbox were all hydraulically-operated. In each case, performance was substantially improved.

At its Paris début - in '55 - the DS' avant-garde styling went down a storm! The fluid lines of the bodywork were - and are - unique. They were functional, too - cleaving cleanly through French air. Front-wheel-drive, the DS handled well. But, to custom coach-builders - like Henri Chapron - the standard car was just a jumping-off point. They created coupés and stretched limos - taking DS aesthetics to the next level.

The DS set a trend for Citroëns. The ID19, and D Super became stalwarts of the Paris taxi scene. Sprawling Safari Estates ferried many from 'A to B'. The convertible version looked stunning - and had a price tag to match. The last of the high-end derivatives was the DS23. With a 5-speed 'box - and fuel injection - it delivered 117mph. In the end, almost 1.5m DSs were sold ... a fittingly high figure for a fine product.

Citroën Light 15

Citroen Light 15 1930s French classic sports car

Not many cars can claim to have changed the face of motoring. One that can is the Citroën Light 15. Its unique selling point was front wheel drive - or traction-avant, in its native tongue. And its innovative engineering did not stop there. The Light 15's 3-speed gearbox sat in its nose - fore of the engine. Power passed to the torsion-bar-suspended front wheels via CV-jointed shafts. Said transmission system was decidedly avant-garde in '34 - when the Light 15 was released. In road-holding terms, it was a revelation. The only downside to FWD was that it made the steering a tad heavy. A subscription to the local gym, though, soon sorted that out!

There was to be a tragic twist, though, to the Light 15 tale. Its cutting edge features meant Citroën's development costs spiralled. The resulting stress contributed to the early death of André Citroën - the firm's founder. Sadly, he died without a sou to his name. At least his company was bailed out - by tyre maestro Michelin. As a result, the Light 15 stayed in production for years to come. In time, it became a best-seller for Citroën. Not that that benefitted poor André much. It was also highly influential. For example, the Light 15's FWD - and, thus, improved handling - made it a big hit with the French police. Ironically, it was just as popular with less law-abiding citizens - and for precisely the same reasons. Cops 'n' Robbers had never been so much fun! Thanks to its 1.9-litre overhead-valve motor, the Light 15 had a top speed of 75mph. Hair-raising chases duly ensued. But - thanks to the Light 15's independent torsion-bar springing - they were bounce-free. Well, almost!

The Light 15, then, was a benchmark car. It was not until '55, however - and the advent of the DS - that Citroën let it slip into well-earned retirement. After all, the Light 15 had done much to pave the way for its successor. In particular, it had pioneered the hydro-pneumatic self-levelling suspension set-up for which the DS would be celebrated. Styling-wise, the Light 15 did not change much over the years. Fine examples can still be seen on French roads today - a clear indication of its high build quality. The French have a saying, which translates to 'The more things change, the more they stay the same'. The Light 15 was a case in point. The rate of change has sky-rocketed recently. So, it is easy to forget that machines like the Citroën Light 15 have long been pushing the technological envelope!

Citroën SM

Citroen SM 1970s French classic car

The SM was almost as much Maserati as it was Citroën. The late Sixties saw the French manufacturer also at the helm of the iconic Italian carmaker. Indeed, the SM was the first showpiece from the new automotive 'double act'. And, it was a best of both worlds scenario. Citroën's slick, slippery shape was mated with Maserati's expert engine know-how. The nose - with its panoply of lights - was deftly faired in behind a slender strip of glass. At the back, a sweetly-styled hatchback sloped gently down to the rear light cluster. Between the two were some of the most eye-catching lines ever to grace a Grand Tourer. Indeed - for budding designers - the SM's window geometry alone warrented close scrutiny!

Power was provided by a scaled-down version of Maserati's four-cam V8. The resulting V6 had a capacity of 2.7 litres. There was a good reason for such precision. French tax rules hammered engines over 2.8 litres. The 'micro' Maser motor delivered 170bhp. That still made it good for 140mph. In keeping with Citroën tradition, the SM was FWD. To enable that, the gearbox/transaxle sat fore of the front-mounted motor. Citroën's self-levelling hydro-pneumatic suspension saw power to road, in safe and seamless style. Ultimately, that was the SM's trump card. The union of French and Italian technical excellence meant the ride stayed serenely smooth - whatever the speed. And - when it came to the latter - Maserati had made sure there was plenty of it!

Classic car though it now is, in its day, the SM felt futuristic. The switches and dials on its expansive dash were impeccably avant-garde. And, the single-spoke steering-wheel would have worked in a lunar landing module! Exterior lines, too, were ahead of the game. The SM's launch-date, though, proved to be its undoing. Released in 1970, it was just in time for the '73 oil crisis! With a lowish 18mpg fuel economy, the SM was dead in the water from that point on. Which was doubly sad - because, until then, SM business had been brisk. French drivers had gorged on the first luxury GT car since the Facel Vega Facel II. Citroën did what they could to stem the tide, sales-wise. Subsequently, an SM model was offered with a 3-litre injected engine. Plus, optional auto transmission. All that incurred an upwardly-revised price tag, of course. If Citroën hoped those with deep pockets would save the day, it was not to be. When the plug was finally pulled - in '75 - just shy of 13,000 SMs had been sold. Not great - for one of the world's leading manufacturers. Shame, really - since, for a few short years, the Citroën SM showcased European collaboration at its best. An exquisite mix of French/Italian style and technology!