The other day Claus wrote about Jaguar and the associated conservatism they seem to be marked by. Completely opposite to that we find the french Citroën where the term Avantgarde seems to define the marque.
It is said, that they were crazy at Citroën. Or at least diluted with Pastis in their golden days aorund the sixties and seventies, and that only the customers that bought the car had devoured even more Pastis. To me, that must be meant as a compliment, as nothing seems more in need today than the old Citroën way of madness, mixing aesthetics and innovation. Their cars back then were to my eyes innovations equal to those that gave us The Concorde or the Nasa astronaut suits from the Apollo era. Visions blended with the wildest ideas – thinking very much outside-the-box. It is avantgarde from the very top drawer and therefore, looking in hindsight, it is understandable, that the marque sometimes missed the mark when you look at the current demands of today.
When Citroën created the DS-models there wasn’t officially any specific convertible version in store. Whether it was deemed a bit to avantgarde og just plain squander, I don’t know. Something tells me the majority of post war customers did not want bold and loud bodywork – and outright status symbols – to the same extent as before the war. Yet Citroen still contracted coach builder Henry Chapron to work on a open version of the DS, the model that funded his business. They were clearly intent on seeing the most comfortable vehicle of the day without it’s characteristic roof.
Even though the roof of the DS is made of glassfiber, the frame on which it rests also supports the remainder of the chassis frame to such an extent, that one does not simply cut off the roof. Charon was therefore forced to use a chassis from the estate or Break version with a longer wheelbase, simply because it already had several necessary reinforcements, which were needed in the lower regions. Later on Citroën took upon themselves producing the cabrio in which they also utilized the Break chassis.
The french word for cabriolet/convertible is décapotable, and naturally this became the model name for the home market. Chapron built 389 examples and Citroën themselves delivered 1365 examples. Chapron took up production in 1958 and built the last in 1973. Citroën made it’s own in the period 1960 – 1971.
The last time I attended the great expo for classic cars in Essen, I granted myself the time to linger by one of Chaprons earlier creations of the roofless DS. I parted the scene, marked forever by one of the most beautiful creations which has come from mankind. To achieve producing so much aesthetics with so little means is truely an accomplishment. The car leads a double life: One while driving and another, when parked flat on it’s belly. In the latter position you truly sense how the blunt rear discretely disappears under the car. I have never experienced such levels of elegance on any other car. Decapotable all but turns into poetry.
Then there’s the dashboard. Citroën produced the DS models for so many years, that the dashboard changed design dramatically several times. From the very avantgarde to the more conventional in the seventies. Interiorwise Citroën seems to have been tamed a bit during the life of the DS, and my own 1975 model is without the most dramatic of interiors. I am almost tempted to say, it is on par with – or down to the level of – other cars. With Chapron, they went all in and you got your moneys worth of interior: A dash brimming with big and small Jäeger dials with white on black sans-serif fonts. It was all fronted by the legendary one spoke steering wheel with coiled ribbon and polished aluminium mountings. A driving position worthy of a Dupont lighter and a wristwatch from the Jura region.
It is obvious, that with the décapotable production numbers, not everyone is allowed one. The going rates are now sky high and they seldomly come up for sale. However Bonham Auctions have just sold one at their latest sale. It is from 1964 and completely restored. Price and more history can be found at Bonhams Auctions.
It doesn’t get any less conservative or any more avantgarde. On the contrary, beauty and elegance is of the highest priority and one is tempted to yell out the window: “Citroën 2016, get your act together!!!”