The goddess that saved a French president will be celebrated at Retromobile

Like the Eiffel Tower, the Citroen DS was a mechanical marvel | Citroen photos
Like the Eiffel Tower, the Citroen DS was a mechanical marvel | Citroen photos

Some remember it as the car that, despite having two of its tires flattened by bullets, was able to use its unique hydropneumatic suspension to speed French president Charles De Galle away from an assassination attempt.

Others may remember the car through the eyes of Roland Barthes, who wrote that it appeared as if the bodywork had been undertaken by angels and “has fallen from the sky.” It reminded the famed French philosopher of a celestial goddess, and he wasn’t alone. The car became nicknamed deesse, the French word for goddess.

And Barthes wasn’t alone; the car was put on display at art museums in Milan, London and New York.

DS rode on Michelin's new radial tires
DS rode on Michelin’s new radial tires

Yet others may side with the authors of a 700-page history of automotive technology, who wrote that for two decades, cars were pretty much stagnant until entering the “next phase of innovation” with the launch in 1955 of the Citroen DS19.

DS was short for Derivation Special. It was a car that not only featured its unique suspension setup, which could raise or lower the car in 6.5 inches in ride height, but:

  • Was eight inches narrower at the rear than up front.
  • Rode on Michelin’s new radial tires.
  • Had front-wheel drive and thus a flat interior floor that provided roomy comfort for five people.
  • Front inboard brakes.
  • First production car with disc brakes.
  • Power steering.
  • Headlamps that turned with the steering wheel to light up corners at night.
  • Clutchless gear changing.
  • Curved windshield and backlight.
  • Front and rear “crumple zones.”
  • Body panels that could be unbolted and replaced easily after a collision.

    A coachbuilt convertible
    A coachbuilt convertible

Now the Citroen DS turns 60 and celebrates that anniversary — and the relaunch of the DS brand by Citroen — with a special display this week at the 40th annual Retromobile show in Paris. That display will feature some of the new DS models as well as a 1959 DS19, 1968 DS21 cabriolet, 1973 DS20 Pallas, and 1971 and 1972 SM coupes, the ’71 formerly owned by King Hassan II of Morocco.


A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.