Exactly 65 years ago, the DS 19 was presented to the public for the first time at the Paris Motor Show and wrote automotive history right from the beginning.
On the occasion of this anniversary, DS Automobiles published the following piece of DS history that provides insights into the special relationship between the French head of state Charles de Gaulle and his DS vehicles.
As a resistance fighter and president, de Gaulle not only shaped the whole of France, but also the history of DS. His love for the avant-garde icon, the survival of a terrorist attack thanks to his DS and the armored governmental DS are part of this special relationship.
After General de Gaulle had led France’s resistance against the occupying forces in World War II and achieved great notoriety with an appeal to his compatriots, he was elected President of the Republic in 1959. His term of office lasted until 1969 – a decade that had a major impact on the country and the French people themselves. Gaullism, which describes the political ideology that goes back to him, still influences French politics today.
In addition to the political changes brought about by his term of office, de Gaulle also worked to renew the Élysée vehicle fleet after his appointment as French president. Four years earlier – in 1955 – the new and avant-garde DS 19 had already been presented to the public at the Paris Motor Show. With its elegance and technological sophistication, it perfectly embodied the ideal of France and was thus symbolic of its “greatness”. Thus the DS 19 not only thrilled the audience at the Paris Motor Show, but also impressed de Gaulle personally.
From then on, every appearance by the President, every parade, every public appointment of ministers, members of parliament and mayors was accompanied by a multitude of eye-catching, jet-black DS, which quickly became a symbol of the state presence.
De Gaulle always used the close contact to his trusted dealer to procure all vehicles. Contrary to all expectations, de Gaulle did not opt for the DS Prestige, a model in which there was a separation between the rear seats and the driver, but for the normal sedan. Since he regarded his chauffeur as a friend and confidant, he did not accept a “wall” between the two – so de Gaulle was able to talk comfortably to his chauffeur, especially on longer journeys.
In August 1962, the attack at Petit Clamart happened. De Gaulle had returned to Paris from the summer vacations for an urgent Council of Ministers meeting. A plane took him to the military airport of Villacoublay and from there he continued his journey to Paris with his DS 19. Both on the outward and return journey he was accompanied by policemen on motorcycles. On the way back, it happened: while driving to Villacoublay, a group of terrorists opened fire on the general’s DS. Two tires – one in the front, the other in the back – were hit and destroyed. Nevertheless, the driver still managed to accelerate and outrun the attackers. The convoy survived the attack without injuries.
This incident made the unique driving characteristics of the DS 19 world-famous overnight and presented the General with an equally big problem: De Gaulle did not want to know about using an armored vehicle in the future. He loved contact with people, rarely used airplanes and helicopters and always preferred his DS. Despite his initial reservations and after further indications of possible terrorist attacks, de Gaulle finally agreed to purchase a special armored vehicle – provided, of course, that it was a DS.
A team led by the young Robert Opron, a student of Flaminio Bertoni, was immediately assigned to implement the project. The construction was entrusted to the body manufacturer Henri Chapron from Levallois, who had already worked closely with Citroën for several years on the production of convertibles based on DS. The design phase began in 1964, but the death of Flaminio Bertoni and the imminent introduction of a new version of the DS 19 – more powerful and more robust – delayed completion until the second half of 1965. The new DS 21 was better able to carry the weight of the imposing armour and the bodywork at the same time. (It was a massive 6.3 m in length, 11mm longer than the presidential limousines used by US presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon at the time, – a requirement specified to give a feeling of superiority while still managing to be able to turn within the confined spaces of French government courtyards.)
The General and his wife were personally invited to Levallois to inspect the wooden “maquette” (the model) of the new car. De Gaulle is said to have initially commented the design of the new state DS by shaking his head violently. He particularly disliked the inner armour wall of the “Présidentielle”: it separated him from the driver, was several centimeters thick, immovable and could not be lowered. It took some time to calm down the high-ranking guest. Only after he had tried out the seats of the model did his mood brighten. He got up, said goodbye to the developers and let them know before he went back to the Élysée Palace: You may continue!
The mechanics of the DS Présidentielle were taken from the conventional DS 21. In addition, some extras had been added that allowed the “1-PR-75” (legally assigned license plate) to run at very low speed for hours (indispensable for parades) without the internal air conditioning failing or the engine overheating.
Inside, there was every luxury imaginable, even a “mailbox” that allowed messages to be exchanged between the rear seats and the general’s field assistant, who sat next to the driver.
The governmental DS was delivered in 1968. However, the General only used it three times on official occasions, as he preferred his new DS 21 Pallas at that time, which he had bought as usual from his friendly dealer.
After Charles de Gaulle lost the referendum on constitutional reform, he resigned in 1969 and left the leadership of the country to Georges Pompidou. The new president was supposed to use the armored state vehicle more often – but in the meantime fashion had changed so much that the design of the “1-PR-75” was finally outdated. So the classic DS sedans came back into fashion: Neither time nor fashion could harm them, as they are characterized by a timeless style. On official occasions they were often flanked by two four-door SM convertibles, which are still part of the Élysée fleet today.