Citroën DS: The Most Far Out Car Ever

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I bought a Citroën DS 19 in 1968, when I was 21.  Like most the the crazy exotic cars I bought and loved, I threw some money and some love at it.  I had it pained silver with a royal blue top, and had the seats done in crimson red.  It was a nice ride.  And the smoothest in the whole world too.

David Byrne drove one.  Even though the DS was introduced in 1955, it is still used in science fiction films because it looks so futuristic.

I could go over the curb into the UCLA Recreation Center olympic pool by just raising the car up and going over it (guess i didn’t have a parking pass).  People used to marvel and wonder when I started it up:  it rose up as the nitrogen sphere air suspension filled up, then settled back down again in kind of a wobbling motion.   You could fold the front seats back and they went flush with the back seats, making a perfect double bed.  Sweet.

On the other hand, all the components:  steering, brakes, suspension, etc. were run by a hydraulic heart.  If the heart went sour, everything stopped working.  And there was only one shop at the time that worked on Citroëns at the time:  Don Runnell’s Citroën Service, on Pico and Dorchester (30th St.) in Santa Monica.  Later there was Challenger Motors on Melrose Ave. near Seward St. in West Hollywood.

Once I drove the DS up to San Francisco with two friends.  We picked up a hitch hiker near Fort Bragg, north of SF, and as we were winding around mountain passes, the hitch hiker got car sick and threw up.  The car’s air suspension caused sea sickness.

Some people found the DS ugly;  I once got turned down on a first date because she said she hated my car.  Never saw her again.  I find the DS — DS stands for “Déese””–Goddess” in French–to be surrealistically beautiful.  It was introduced in the Paris auto show in 1955 as the most modern car in the world, which it was.  In the U.S., it was advertised as the most comfortable car in the world, which it also was.  It also was the safest car on the road anywhere at the time.

Shortly after the car was introduced, French writer Roland Barthes wrote an ode to it in his wonderful little book Mythologies.

There is a 1974 DS 20 for sale in Santa Monica now:  $53,995.00.  When I begged my mother for a DS 21 station wagon in 1971, it cost $3200.00 and she wouldn’t help me buy the car.  So sad.  I had to buy a Saab instead.

Jay Leno rhapsodizes on his DS in his great car-geek series Jay’s Garage.  Make sure you watch the surreal advertisement on the car’s suspension, with the avant-garde music.Also please read how a DS once saved French president Charles DeGaulle’s life:

http://jalopnik.com/5928024/how-the-citroen-ds-saved-a-french-presidents-life

Concours d’Elegance: Images from the Greystone Mansion Show Sunday 5/4/14

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I had the good fortune to attend yesterday’s 5th annual Concours d’Elegance in Beverly Hills at the 1920’s Greystone Mansion, organized and presented by the City of Beverly Hills and Friends of the Greystone.   I took a few photos, many of the famous cars’ emblems, symbolic of the brand heritage and design.

There were plenty of coveted Porsche 356 Speedsters, the precursor to the 911, which arrived in 1963.  There was the Ferrari Lusso, favorite Ferrari of Steve McQueen, memorialized in a book by jazz photographer William Claxton.  There was the Ferrari Dino, the first rear-engine design for the legendary Italian car maker (Enzo Ferrari is said to have remarked when being challenged by rear-engined Porsches “the horse doesn’t push the cart”).  The Dino also was a memorial to Enzo’s son Dino, who died if muscular dystrophy in 1956 at the age of 24).  (sorry the image is sideways and I can’t fix that).   There was also a couple of Ferrari 275 GTB’s, one of the last of the front-engined classic V12 cars in the 1960s, before Ferrari started using six and eight-cylinder engines.  I stole my dad’s 275 out of the garage one night for a joyride a long time ago.  There is no sound as beautiful as a Ferrari front engine V-12.  It is music to the ears.

There were some classic 1950s American cars, including an Oldmobile and a Pontiac (see pix of logos).   1950’s American cars often had jet-age elements, as you see on the Pontiac hood ornament.  Another jet age reference, the Olds Rocket 88 also launched the first rock and roll r&b classic, Jackie Brenston’s song “Rocket 88” (song is here:  http://blogs.kcrw.com/rhythmplanet/jackie-brenston-rocket-88-and-the-demise-of-oldsmobile/) A couple of Mercedes Benz 300sl Gullwings, both with matching luggage.   My dad has a 300sl Gullwing with matching crimson luggage;  my mother hated the car because it was so hard to get in and out of…just try it sometime!  It didn’t help things that the cab always smelled of gasoline!

The Alfa Romeo emblem is a 14th century Milanese family crest  (Alfa is based in Milan).  Two European luxury cars popular among the elite in Europe, Hollywood celebrities and French writers.  The Dual Ghia was a favorite of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra and other Rat Pack members.  (again sorry I can’t flip the image).  Albert Camus, the existential French-Algerian writer who mused on death and suicide died in the French-made Facel Vega while driving back to Paris with his publisher Michel Gallimard.

The world’s smallest woody, a Morris mini-minor, complete with surfboards; another English classic, a 1970s-vintage Rolls Royce with a picnic ready to be enjoyed.  There was also an early Rolls with the red hood logo;  it has been commonly believed that the logo went from red to black after the death of Henry Royce in 1932–not true–the color was changed to go better with new exterior colors.  We also see the super-powerful turbocharged Bentley Blower from the 1920s, a car to be reckoned with in early auto road racing.  Another British classic is the 3-wheeled Morgan.

Then there is a classic 1963 VW Bug, complete with large accordion sunroof.

There were a lot of other cars, too many to mention in this post. Also many classic motorcycles.  I wish there had been a Citroen DS and maybe some classic Maseratis, as Maserati is making a comeback in the U.S.  Nevertheless it was a enjoyable time for all auto enthusiasts, collectors, and spectators.

 

rr in red 1920s Bentley Blower 20’s Bentley Blowerbentley logo picnic is ready 1972 Rolls Roycerr in red Early Rolls with Red letteringpackard wheel 1930s Packard1930s Packard hood ornament citroen 2cv Citroen 2cv, only Citroen there.ferrari 275 gtb Ferrari 275 GTB, classic V-12ferrari lusso Steve McQueen’s fave: Lusso

ferrari-dino-577x430Ferrari Dino, so named after his early death.MB 300sl w. matching luggage Mercedes Benz 300sl w. luggage

1953 Pontiach hood ornament 50’s Pontiac hood ornament50's Oldsmobile hood emblem Oldsmobile logoalfa romeo emblem Alfa’s Milanese family crest3-wheeled morgan Morgan 3-wheelersurf's up brighton beach Surf’s up on Brighton Beach!1963 VW Bug Everybody’s favorite, a ’63 Bugfacel vega Facel Vega: Camus died in onefacel vega emblem dual ghia emblem

dual-ghia-577x430Dual Ghia:  Rat Pack’s car of choice

356 hubcap 356 Porsche Speedsterearly speedster early Speedster (note early plate)

 

1920s Bentley Blower Bentley Blower 1920sbentley logoBentley Blower

photo credits:  Cherie Chen

 

images-2 images-1  Touring of Milan was the Italian coach builder for the most beautiful Alfa Romeos and Bond-era Aston Martins.  Superleggera means “superlight”.

Those Crazy Russians: In the Circus, On the Roads

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The other day my twin sister sent me a video of Russian drivers.  It was insane.  Are all the drivers, car & trucks, and pedestrians, looped on vodka?

Today I read about Russian circuses, and how parents pay $10-20 to have their children’s pictures taken next to Siberian tigers and snow leopards.  Even though one of those kids got his head bitten off.  The parents defended their actions by saying life is full of risks and without taking risks, you really wouldn’t be living. Hmmmm.  They even cited Mikhail Lermentov’s example—he wrote the first Russian novel, A Hero in Our Time  in 1841, before the more famous Dostoyevky and Tolstoy published their famous novels. Read More →

Those Inscrutable Faces

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A friend of mine, Pat Darrin, whose famous car-designer father, Howard “Dutch” Darrin designed the iconic and long-lived Citroën Traction Avant (1934-1957)–made famous by the film Diva-recently loaned me a cool book called “La Grande Histoire de l’Automobile–Les Jours de Gloire 1950-1959.   Some of my favorite cars came out during that period, including some beauties my dad owned–Ferraris, Maseratis, a Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing, which my mother hated because it was so hard getting in and out of it.   They say the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, and I’m a car nut too. I’ve also had some great cars–a 1963 Citroën DS 19 (DS 19-23 were produced 1955-1975)  immortalized in Roland Barthes’ brilliant little book Mythologies, a 1959 Jaguar XK-150S among others.  My older brother Larry is indifferent about cars, though he did manage to strafe the gears of my old man’s Ferrari 250 GT as a teenager. I had less fun:  I had to clean and wax all of them, including the Borrani wire wheels.   I do remember, however, the thrill of riding in those fast cars when my father put the pedal to the metal and I felt the torque plus the whine of those great engines.   My twin sister doesn’t even drive and like my brother has no interest in such things.

So–in this French book there is a picture of the young, androgynous Françoise Sagan, already famous for her precocious novel Bonjour Tristesse, published in 1954 when she was only 17.  Successful writers are crowned superstars in France, and Sagan was no exception.  She also loved driving fast, exotic cars, and almost died when she crashed her Aston Martin DB 2.     Read More →

TESLA S: A PARADIGM SHIFT IN AUTOMOBILE DESIGN

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A friend of mine told me he was picking up a the new Tesla sedan today, the S model no less.  Then I saw another one parked in the underground parking in my building this morning.  It is a sleek beauty.  I read about Jay’s Leno checking it out with the Tesla’s chief designer:

http://www.jaylenosgarage.com/cars/tesla/2012-tesla-model-s/index.shtml#item=263630

Today I was lucky to go for a ride in the new one.  It is one gorgeous car, the trim, door handles, the interior design is ultramodern and everything has been thought out…from a clean sheet of paper.    It is a paradigm of auto design.

I got a love of cars from my Dad, who had a few beauties:  Ferrari 250 GT, 275 GTB, 308 GT, 300 SL Gullwing, Maserati 3500 GT, as well as some Park Ward and Mulliner Rolls and Bentleys.  I am a car nut and I’ve had a Jaguar XK 150S, a Citroën DS 19, and a few Porsches, mostly purchased used.   I poured a ton of money on the Jag but wound up giving it away for $1000 in 1971.  Now it’s worth a bundle.  Oh well.    I’ll bet that in experiencing this amazing new vehicle and studying its parameters,  other designers are scratching their heads and planning to come up with their own all-electric designs. Read More →

Lamborghini: Birth of a Supercar

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I love cars.  I’ve owned a Jaguar XK 150S, the model predating the E-Type, a Citroën DS 19, an Alfa Romeo 2000 Spider, etc.  I loved them all, especially the Citroën.  One time David Byrne arrived late at the studio and had to park illegally.  I offered to park his car.  He told me nobody knew how to drive his car.  I asked what kind it was, he said a Citroën with Citromatic and the button brake, and I said “just give me the keys”. Read More →