Citroën DS – the saga – backstory

I’ve been avoiding this topic for quite some time as I have a bad habit of putting off and ignoring anything bad in the hope that it will go away. Unfortunately when you have purchased a 1965 Citroen DS19 Pallas in “perfect” condition only to discover that it isn’t, ignoring it doesn’t tend to help. Nevertheless, I gave it a go. It didn’t work out so now I must face up to it and do something about fixing the damn thing.

Back around July 2009 I suddenly became obsessed with the idea of buying a DS. I have always loved them of course because of the fabulous ahead-of-it’s-time styling and innovative technology, but mostly I just loved the fact that they went up and down on hydraulic suspension. That’s me, a sucker for anything with unnecessary moving parts…

Anyway, after a short but frenzied search of the internet and incessant boring of my friends and co-workers I happened upon what appeared to be just what I was looking for. I had been searching for a 1967 DS Pallas but unfortunately this is the model everybody wants as it incorporates all the most desirable features – the old nose, the second dashboard, and the reliable ‘green’ hydraulic system as opposed to the older problematic ‘red’ hydraulic system. I was forced to compromise and, being me, I compromised on the hydraulics so I could still have the “look” I wanted. A 1965 DS with the old nose, the second dashboard and the older problematic ‘red’ hydraulic system was duly purchased from an old guy in the Netherlands.

DS in a field

Now this car really did look to be in perfect condition. It’s bodywork is in great shape, the chrome has barely any marks and the interior was excellent. It had been recently restored so there was no rust and according to the vendor it ran smoothly. Unfortunately, because he had imported it from Belgium to the Netherlands and never registered it I was unable to take it for a proper drive other than around his paddock. But, again, he assured me it was in great working order. So I agreed a purchase price of 8500€ (far too much in retrospect), loaded the DS on a trailer and towed it back to Belgium feeling very pleased with myself. I was living my dream and I decided to name her Brigitte.

Below are some pictures of Brigitte as she was when I collected her:

Out standing in her field

Old style nose with yellow headlights

Heading to Belgium - bloody heavy!

Parked in my garage at home

Leg cocked for tyre change

Unfortunately, shortly after I had her home and before I had had a chance to register her in Belgium a worrying pool of red hydraulic fluid began to pool beneath her. She had, as far as I could tell, 3 separate leaks. I enlisted the help of a local DS specialist who came and had a look and proceeded to tell me that yes, she was in fact leaking hydraulic fluid and that is not a good thing. She also has rust in all the doors that I hadn’t spotted and the wiring appears dodgy. Great. So anyway, he said he could fix it so I arranged to drive it to his workshop about 20kms away ignoring the fact it was neither registered nor insured – I was desperate.

After several aborted attempts due to the battery going flat I managed to get her going and out of the underground carpark (which I’m sure pleased my BMW a lot as it had been parked on the street while this upstart stole it’s carpark). The DS drove reasonably well most of the way until, as I was nearing my destination, it started to fail and try as I might I couldn’t keep it running at a stop light. She died. I called my friend and he came and towed her the remaining couple of kilometers to his workshop. Bear in mind that this had to be done quickly before the pressure left the hydraulics and she sank down on her haunches rendering her immobile. What had I gotten myself into?

The stalling problem was traced to the electrical system and my friend performed a number of repairs as well as fixing some of the leaks in the hydraulics (not all of them as it turned out later). My next task was to take her to the Belgian equivalent of the DMV for registration. Here it is possible to register an oldtimer on a special O plate for limited use which involves little or no checking of the cars road-worthiness. I still failed. We were unable to find the VIN which is, unfortunately, still necessary. Having failed the registration I began the drive back to my work where I could at least store her until I worked out my next move. We didn’t make it. I found myself in a cloud of smoke on the side of the motorway again wondering what the hell I had done.

This time, because my friend told me he had no further time to devote to this cause, I had the DS towed to the nearest Citroen garage thinking that they at least would be able to diagnose the problem and maybe fix it. Confidence was not inspired when they rang me later asking how to start the car. All automatic DS’s are started in the same way by pushing the gear lever to the left, definitely a trap for newcomers but they are a Citroen garage! Anyway, they got her going and took her for a drive after which they called me to inform me that the engine seemed fine but whilst on the test drive they broke a driveshaft… Sigh…

At this point I began to despair (more) and entered avoidance mode. The garage apparently did too as they never called me to let me know which part I had to buy so I just let it sit there… for nine months. During which time we had the worst winter in 30 years with much snow and ice. I’m scared to see what condition she is now in.

Anyway, to the present. Summer has arrived in Belgium and I began to feel inspired and resolved to do something about Brigitte. I knew I couldn’t really sell her in her current condition so I should bite the bullet and restore her, regardless of what it was going to cost me. Upon recommendation from a Citroen forum I have found a restorer in Zeeland, the Netherlands who is coming this afternoon with a truck to collect her. He is going to make a plan (I like the sound of that – it sounds efficient) and then we will determine what the restoration process should be. Hopefully it can be achieved before I am declared bankrupt.

Probably getting somewhat ahead of myself I have started dreaming about changing the colour that she is painted. She is currently blanc carrare, a very pale mint green which, if I’m honest, I don’t really like. It is colour code AC144 and is her original colour which is heartening at least. But my favourite colour is bleu d’orient (AC616) and this colour was also available from the factory in 1965 with the red interior trim. So I don’t think it will be at all sacrilegious to change it once all the mechanical gremlins have been banished.

Bleu d'Orient

So this is the backstory. Wish me luck with the transportation, evaluation and eventual restoration that is to come.

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  1. May 13th, 2010

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