Why was the DS steering wheel designed that way?

 by Ken Nelson…..

The French seldom do anything without having a very good reason. Imagine what happens in a head-on collision when your body slams into that steering wheel. Remember the DS was introduced in 1955, when no cars I can think of had belts, let alone shoulder belts.

Granted, there’s no guarantee that single spoke will be at the planned 7:30 position – i.e. – straight ahead orientation – but it’s only one spoke – not two or three. 

So, your chest slams into that wheel, if you’re centered on the wheel or not, the RIM bends over, your chest doesn’t get a straight tube punched through your breastbone and most likely kills you, as that tubular – not solid STEEL RING inside all other wheels ever built – bends over and SLIDES your body away from that single spoke which is a hollow tube with a smooth surface on it, and SPREADS the impact over a much larger area of your body than a CENTRAL SPEAR, as used on every other car in the world. 

ANY lateral deflection is better than hitting a straight center column.  Further, the center tube, having one very smooth bend with nothing to CATCH and HOLD the impact on your guts, bends ALSO, away from center, to further lessen the force imposed on your guts.  

Further still, if you look at the steering setup, the steering column ENDS at the rack, which is BEHIND the radiator, halfway back from the car’s nose, and the entire powertrain, as the transmission is AHEAD of the engine, would have to be pushed thru or under the firewall, to shove that steering column back thru the dash and anywhere closer to the driver. It won’t happen.  

And how many cars much newer than the DS have steering shafts that reach from right below the front end, all the way back to the driver’s chest? When did other brands first get collapsing “safety” columns? What – the ’70’s?  

Now, I’m not finished:  If you’ve ever looked under the hood of a DS, you might have noticed that, as the spare is mounted directly behind the front bumper and ahead of the radiator, you essentially have the VERY FIRST PROTECTIVE AIRBAG put into production. If someone doesn’t think of that as BRILLIANT, they’re just not thinking period.  And that’s not even noting the 3-foot crush distance from bumper to radiator to absorb the energy of a head-on.  

OK, I know – you’re saying ENOUGH ALREADY.  WRONG!  I’ve expressed this not humble opinion often before:  The DS has to be the most INNOVATIVE car ever designed – bar none.  No one has ever challenged this opinion by naming another example. I’m still waiting – but there’s too little space here for my whole soapbox litany.

The DS has stood the test of time. It STILL looks like it came from another planet, and that may be right.  And it still has outstanding features that aren’t equalled in any other car.  Is it perfect?  No, but a better combo than I’ve seen elsewhere.

I’ll never forget the look on the face of a 10 yr old kid on the grubby streets of downtown Wilmington Delaware as I came off I-95 back around 1972 in my ’67 DS.  He was on the sidewalk with a buddy and yelled; “Look at that SPACESHIP!”  Still is, and always will be – and not only for the shape.  He wasn’t old enough to have been brainwashed by advertising – he was responding with his brain.  If I’d only had an I-phone camera back then…


  1. Thank you for your explanation of a great safety design for a great car. Back in the day I just wish I had the “guts” to buy one. Looking back I’m very sorry that I didn’t as I had a friend who owned several over the years and swore by all of them as being the greatest cars ever.

  2. Too bad it didn’t offer a full automatic and self canceling turn signals of that era. Probably now they do offer all this as they are part of a merger of other companies and probably have more conventional styling inside and out (and in a way a plus the dash controls are probably a lot better).

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