1971 Citroen DS21ie or how to glide on the road in 2016
The Citroen DS is, along with the 2CV and perhaps the SM, a symbol of the french automotive industry around the world. Its incredibly weird mechanical and hydraulic systems, ingenious and over-engineered, would, throughout the years, define “french awesomeness” and “french mechanical nightmares” like nothing else.
This particular 1971 DS21ie Pallas (“ie” stands for “injection électronique”) came with the semi-automatic hydraulic “Citro-matic” transmission. With the slightly more powerful DS23ie, this is the DS that collectors want, sometimes at all cost, with prestine low-mileage un-restored cars being sold for way over 50000€ (55000 USD). This is not one of those despite fitting the criterias/options for being desirable. I payed 9500€ for it (the cheapest running citromatic DS in France at the time) and it is in need of a good restoration. A manual Pallas will cost about 4000€ less in similar conditition. It will be restored in Japan early next year.
Anyway, let’s figure out how this car/boat/spaceship stands, some 47 years after it came out of factory
I have a bit of bias when it comes to the design of this car, but, despite appealing to my personal taste, I think it's a car that passes the test of time and still today doesn’t look outdated. Strange, unique, futuristic? Yes, of course, but Bertoni and Lefèbvre’s creation manages to still turn heads and put smiles on people’s faces today, and this is what matters in a car like this. If it’s known, loved and appreciated by almost everybody 60 years after the first car rolled out of the factory, it’s a design win in my book.
As far as the interior design goes, it stays fairly "luxury french typical" with leather, massive door handles, ashtrays everywhere, leg room in the front and in the back. This is the perfect luxury car of its days. Quality is not comparable with what France produced a few decades later. It is robust, well built, well finished and it lasts for many, many years. This specific car was clearly not very well taken care of, but the interior took it like a champ. Appart from the seats that need some new leather, the rest of the car still look very good today and everything works, which is quite incredible for something french on wheels.
The dashboard also has lots of buttons! What do they do?? If, like me, you don’t have the car’s manual and have to figure it out yourself, that will drive your interest for thousands of kilometers! You can also raise the car up and down on the fly while driving and that, my friend, will make your local stanced-Hondas community jealous as hell!!
Concerning the engine now, the 2.1L inline 4 cyclinder engine’s sound is mediocre at best. Maybe the carburated version sounds better, but the injection model... meh. Acceleration is not much better either and I have been a bit underwhelmed with this. I was expecting a bit more grunt and the 109hp engine coupled with the very long gears is slow. It will still reach 150km/h with no trouble whatsoever, but it will take lots of time to get there. Downshifting at speed being rather weird and difficult, this lack of power does not help at all. The gearbox sucks. I hated it, plain and simple. While shifting up is fairly easy and relatively smooth, getting the car to go smoothly and downshifting at speed are a pain in the ass! Downshifts require you to blip the throttle to rev-match the engine. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to do it correctly! I’ve managed to do it 3 times in total since I have owned the car (you can watch one of those time at 7min05 in the test drive video!). Usually it will just slam itself into a lower gear with more or less brutality (8min30 in the same test drive video) and won’t give you enough time to revmatch it properly. I HATE this transmission.The more powerful 2.3L fuel injected engine that produces 140hp is definitly recommended in order to glide in style across countries.
But let's focus on the great things about this car, and most importantly, the brakes! The motherfucking awesome brakes! It’s THAT good. Not only is braking extremely powerful, but with the disc brakes being located against the gearbox, on the inner drive-shafts instead of against the wheels, it is one of the most stable and perfectly straight braking I’ve ever experienced in a car. Simply incredible! Replacing discs is... another story though. Citroen billed 9 hours of work in order to change discs which are terribly hard to access. It is also impossible to speak of Citroen brakes without mentionning the infamous mushroom brake that replaces the pedal. I personally love it! It takes 30 seconds to get used to and you will also love it, I promise you! Little downside being that if the hydraulic system fails while you drive, the brakes will fail as well. Just a little detail, not that big of a deal.
Then, there's the ride. What Citroen DS are known for. This is one of the most confortable car I’ve ever driven. Sure you feel a bit disconnected from the road, but going over speed bumps and railway crossings without even bothering to slow down is awesome. Coupled with very typical ultra soft seats with no holding capabilities whatsoever, you have a car that can be easily compared to a sofa on wheels. Doing thousands of miles at a time is no big deal in this and you will arrive at your destination (if it doesn’t break down before that) fresh and ready to do whatever you want.
As far as the handling goes, it’s actually fairly decent for a boat on wheels. It will understeer like crazy of course, but it grips fairly well and it is an extremely predictable car. The suspension system keeps the body roll to a minimum and the car, a bit fat and goofy, is almost fun to drive. You can watch me drive it on french roads near my place in France on this video:
So, should you get one? Yes! Like with most cars I review, its value won’t be going down anytime soon. A normal Ds21 or 23 Pallas goes for around 15 to 20000 euros in France and prices can double or triple outside of the country. Even if I think a cheaper (and slower) ID would be a better investment for exportation, this one is still bound to see its price go up and up and up for the next few years. A very good investment, granted that you can do your own mechanical work on it of course.
The Citroen DS21ie or any other DS for that matter, is a car to drive at least once in your life. Something you might not understand immediatly, but that you will definitly get once you get yourself behind the wheel. Find one, drive one, enjoy one. Add this to your to-do list before you die, it is your duty as a car geek!
EDIT: This article was originally written in early 2016. The car is now in Japan and is undergoing a complete restoration. It had a complete rust repair job along with a brand new paint. Next step: the interior. It will then be sold to a new owner.