Almost universally admired for its cutting-edge design (and quirkiness), the Citroën DS is however also feared. Is it just too complex to be a reliable classic car?
The Citroën DS is unquestionably one of the most significant cars from the 20th century. Its design, the technology onboard and clever engineering are only some of the elements that made it stand out from the motoring crowd. It is hard to believe that it was unveiled at the Paris Motor Show in 1955, 66 years ago!
This 1970 DS 20 was bought by its current owner in March 2008. “From a young age I thought this was the prettiest car under the sun. It is something different, something special and unique – it is not your standard four-door classic. Another reason why I bought it was the thought that it could be a 'family classic', with our kids enjoying it with me and my wife.
“I didn’t pay a lot for the car, but after I acquired it, I spent the following three years to get the car to its current condition.”
The restoration included a new layer of paint as well as a long list of mechanical parts that needed attention.
“The original colour was more of a faded green compared with the colour I cherry-picked. But all the panels were removed and painted. When I bought it in 2008 it hadn’t run for 15 years. Even so, I paid the previous owner a little bit more than the asking price and requested that the car be in such a condition that I could drive back to Cape Town from Johannesburg.
“And that is what I did! When I reached Cape Town, there was a valve in the steering system that needed attention. The engine’s top had to be redone and one of the sleeves needed replacement. It also received a new clutch and timing chain. On the drive down the engine used around 1 litre of oil per 1500 km, but today it is not using any oil. The car still has its original oil pump, pistons, piston rings and bearings.
“This car was assembled in Zimbabwe and I think it was driven a lot on gravel roads. During its time there I think the gearbox got damaged as it had a significant crack in the casing. So, the gearbox has been replaced.
“I’ve driven it to George and back for a wedding, and it was also my own wedding car. However, the longest trip I’ve done was that road trip I did back to Cape Town after purchasing it in Johannesburg.
“One of things that I don’t like about the DS is that the engine is a little rough. It is also a slow car that can be rather cumbersome to drive in modern traffic. Also keep in mind that it can get a little warm in the cabin during the summer months. But, the ride quality is outstanding and there are a number of technological highlights the car offered at the time. The seats are extremely absorbent and it is very spacious in the cabin while it also has a massive boot, elements you won’t think possible if you look at the car from the outside. In fact, you can easily fit 6 people inside!
“I have the car serviced once a year and parts are actually not that expensive. But, when you start importing parts it can get costly. I recently fitted a new set of tyres. They are 195/65 15-inch in size, which is technically not the exact, perfect size, but the latter will cost you a pretty penny.
“My mechanic thinks that the car had around 300 000 km on the odo when I purchased it. Since I’ve owned it, and during these past 13 years, I’ve added another 60 000 km. So, the car now has over 350 000 km on the odo. I think realistically you need to put around R8 000 per year aside to maintain car. Keep in mind, however, that I do around 5 000 km per year with this car.
What should potential buyers look out for?
“These days it's quite tricky to find an all-original DS. Quite often the engine has been improved or enlarged or elements of the interior have been upgraded. Check it out carefully, but don’t let that put you off from a potential purchase as some owners had these upgrades done to make the car more driveable.
“Check for rust, especially below the headlights, bottom parts of the doors and in the boot. Also, rather buy one that is in a great condition than looking for a cheapie that you plan to restore – it is a massive job and not something I will do again.
“If you open the hydraulic reservoir and there are small pieces of rubber in the liquid, stay away. That means parts of system have begun to disintegrate. If the ride is very hard, that might be the suspension spheres that need to be pumped up or replaced.
“Needless to say, you need a specialist to work on this car, or if you are handy with a wrench, there are also videos on YouTube that explain some of the maintenance work on these cars.
“Finally, remember that if the engine isn’t running, you won’t be able to move the car. If the engine isn’t running, the hydraulics can’t lift the car and you can’t fit a jack or lift underneath it!
“In the end it is honestly something very special and everybody smiles when you drive this car.”
Engine: 1 985cm3 Weber Carburetted
Power: 67kW at 5 900rpm
Torque: 141Nm at 3 500rpm
Transmission: 4-speed manual. (Other models had 5-speed manual, 4-speed Semi-auto or Borg-Warner T35 3-speed auto)
Weight: 1 290kg
Years of manufacture: 1955-1975
How many were built: 1 455 746
Engine line-up of entire DS range: 1.9 Carb, 2.0 Carb, 2.2 Carb & EFI, 2.3 Carb & EFI were available at different times over the model's lifespan
Where was it built: France, Belgium, England, South Africa, Australia, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe)
What you can expect to pay for a good-condition example: up to R350 000