After 18 years of secret development as the successor to the Traction Avant, the DS, pronounced in French as “Déesse” (goddess), was introduced on 5 October 1955 at the Paris Motor Show. In the first 15 minutes of the show, 743 orders for the DS19 were taken, and orders for the first day totaled 12,000.
The DS is considered a symbol of French ingenuity. Aside from the style administered by Flaminio Bertoni that was “out of this world’ in the 1950’s it boasted a unique automatic leveling hydraulic suspension system and dozens of other technical innovations that set it apart from anything else on the road. Hydraulics were also applied to the clutch, transmission, steering and brakes allowing the car to achieve sharp handling combined with very superior ride quality frequently compared to a “magic carpet”.
Citroen followed up in 1957 with the ID model that was a bit more traditional mechanically: it had no power steering and had conventional transmission and clutch instead of the DS’s hydraulically controlled set-up. A luxury version of the DS in “Pallas” trim was also offered. A station wagon variant, the ID Break, was introduced in 1958.
The DS and ID model enhancements evolved over the years. The most visible change occurred in 1967 when the DS and ID were given a more streamlined headlight design, giving the car a notably shark-like appearance. This design had four headlights under a smooth glass canopy, and the inner set swivelled with the steering wheel allowing the driver to “see around” turns. Engine displacement also increased from the initial 1,911 cc power plant, growing to 2,100, cc and in later years 2,300 cc. The addition of dual carburetors and eventually fuel injection contributed to higher power output.
The DS was used as the basis for many custom body offerings, most notably by French carrossier Henri Chapron. Rarest and most collectable of all DS variants are the convertibles, offered from 1958 until 1973. The Cabriolet d’Usine (factory-built convertible) were built in small series by Chapron for the Citroën dealer network. These DS convertibles used a special frame which was reinforced on the sidemembers and rear suspension swingarm bearing box, similar to, but not identical to the Break (Station Wagon) frame.
An excellent article by Hemmings on the history of the DS can be found here.