I have had a great passion for France's Citroën marque ever since my student days in Grenoble in 1968–69. Here are the cars I have owned, past and present.

Citroën designed the DS in the early 1950s, as the replacement for their famous Traction Avant sedan. The car remained essentially unchanged from 1956 until 1975. This 1972 model has European-spec headlights protected by a glass fairing: The long-throw driving lights are connected to the steering wheel, so when you are driving at night on a curvy road, the lights actually light up the road where you are about to be, and not just the cow pasture that lies straight ahead of the car. This sedan is a DS21 Pallas, with a 2.1 liter gasoline engine and leather interior. I drove it from 1995 until 2003. It now lives happily with David in Orange, Connecticut.


The DS was voted one of the top three cars of the 20th century. The Model T got the most votes (and deserved them); the Austin Mini and DS came next; the Porsche 911 and VW Beetle were fourth and fifth. The DS was designed by a team of talented engineers who valued beauty and efficiency. It has a special hydraulic suspension that uses mineral oil and can adjust for widely varying loads and road conditions. The body was designed a team headed by an Italian sculptor. It still looks futuristic, nearly 50 years after it was created. From left to right: Bruce with his 1972 DS21, Carter Willey (Waterville, Maine) with his 1974 D-Spécial, and Jint Nijman (our Dutch friend who lives in Germany) with my 1969.5 DS21 parts car.
The Citroën H-van was produced from just after World War II until the early 1980s. As in the case of the DS, once they had a good idea, the factory saw no reason to change things just because of fashion. Chief designer Pierre Franchiset knew that metal would be scarce after the war, so he adopted the corrugated-metal technique first used in the Junkers airplane, which yields a fantastic strength-to-weight ratio. The Fench refer to this truck as «le nez de cochon» (“the pig snout”) and it was seen everywhere across the countryside as France got back onto its feet in the 50s and 60s. That's Claude Courcombette in the cab; he bought the truck new in 1977 and sold it to me in the summer of 2001. He has a nursery for fruit-tree seedlings near Clermont-Ferrand and cared for the truck as if it were one of his children.

The great majority of H-vans were simple, enclosed delivery vans. But a few were made as pick-up trucks, ambulances, fire trucks, or other specialty vehicles. Although this truck has a fairly short wheelbase, it can carry a payload of 1600 kg, which translates to 3500 pounds!

«Obélix» earns its keep here on the farm by hauling firewood and doing all manner of other chores. However, we also dust it off a few times a year to attend meets such as the annual Citroën rendezvous in Saratoga Springs, New York, or Lance Hellman's New England gathering in Portsmouth, NH. We whisper humbly that it has won Best in Class several times at Saratoga, although sometimes competing in a field of . . . one.

The motor is a 1.9-liter diesel, made by Peugeot's Indénor subsidiary. (Peugeot and Citroën merged their operations years ago and are one of the most profitable European auto companies.)

And here is my 1974 2CV6, with Carol Baldassari aboard. Carol and I bought this car in 1976 to serve as general transportation for the year we lived in Austria, where I was studying calligraphy and book design. It took us all over the place and got great gas mileage, since it is lightweight and has a 2-cylinder air-cooled motor with only 602cc displacement. Yet again, Citroën originated the design and made small, incremental changes over the years but kept the same basic car going for many decades. Like the H-van and the DS, it is an enduring symbol of French culture. I wish I'd brought it back to the States when I returned in 1977!


Home