Cape Town - It was at the Paris Motor Show in June, 1955, when a marvel emerged from under a cloak of secrecy. Later, the famous contemporary French structuralist philosopher Roland Barthes would say that it had looked as if it had fallen from the sky.
The marvel was the Citroën DS 19 and its unveiling was a revolution, not just a revelation. And as such, over the years it left an indelible mark on many people who had turned into fans.
Fans such as Edwin Müller and his 17-year-old son Edwin jr, of Worcester.
Now, 60 years later, to see an original DS or ID on the road is rare indeed. But for those who know and respect them, it is a special sight. Recently, public interest in the DS has fuelled a resurgence, after a pristine restored model was featured in the TV series The Mentalist, driven by the lead character.
At the same time, it also fits in perfectly with the so-called hipster fashion movement that focuses on a modified old-school appearance and requires accessories that include café racer motorcycles and artisanal coffee and beer.
But for the Müllers, fashion is the last thing on their minds. For these two technicians and DS aficionados these cars are not such rare sights at all. That is because their workshop usually contains quite a few.
The Müllers have carved a niche for themselves as repairers and restorers of these grand old cars after developing a love for them over the years.
“I grew up with the DS. My father bought his first, a white one, in 1967, and he owned a number of Citroëns after that,” Edwin sr explained.
As a youngster, and while training as a diesel mechanic, Edwin sr drove a DS, but as an apprentice he found it too expensive to maintain and by 1990 had to sell his last one.
It was in 2011 when his love for the cars was reignited.
A SHARED PASSION
It happened after Edwin jr had a chance experience with the car when a family friend took him for a drive in a DS. The boy was smitten. That evening, Edwin sr found his son engrossed, trawling the internet for anything he could find on the DS.
“I saw it as an opportunity for my son and I to work together and share a passion,” he explained.
Now, Edwin jr is also completing his apprenticeship as an automotive technician and hopes to go further and learn panel repair and spraypainting. Already, the two enthusiasts are maintaining the cars of several members of the very active Citroën Club in Cape Town and have taken on several restoration projects, including an ultra-rare Citroën Safari station wagon.
“The cars have become quite valuable now once they are restored,” Edwin sr said. “The spares are available, but they are expensive. I am looking at finding other sources.
“I love all classic cars, but the DS is my passion. I might like many of the others, but it is with the DS that I want to stay.”
The fact is that the DS had become iconic. Within the first 15 minutes of its first exposure on that day in 1955, 743 orders were taken and by the end of the day the tally was up to 12 000.
The first characteristic of the car that struck people was its ultra-modern design. In a world of upright noses and bulbous fenders, the DS arrived with a sharp, flattened and aerodynamic front end, leading to a gradually sloping roof and rear end.
It is said that the designers used a rough-carved block of ice and blew hot air over it to find their design.
And then, the reports from the journalists came in. They enthused about the ride, handling and technology. The hydraulic suspension allowed a ride so smooth, it was incomparable to anything else on the road. And yet, despite the forgiving ride, the car had road holding unmatched by anything in its class.
A more affordable version, the ID, was released later. The French pronunciation of DS, Déesse, means “goddess” and the car soon assumed this nickname.
Interestingly, ID is pronounced in such a way that it sounds like the French word for “idea”, another point well-used by the marketers.
And so the DS, as well as its lesser sister the ID, went on to become one of France’s most enduring success stories.
By the time production finally ended on April 24, 1975, almost exactly 40 years ago, the success of the DS had made it nearly impossible to emulate, even by its own company.
The cars that followed it from its own stable were almost a letdown by comparison.