1966 Citroen DS21 Chapron Decapotable - Bonjour, Mademoiselle

Sam Smith
Andrew Yeadon
1966 Citroen DS21 Chapron Decapotable - Bonjour, Mademoiselle


"The hydraulic spheres are installed hand-tight, even though they contain more than 2000 psi; I've included a spare, but they almost never fail. Watch the fluid level in the reservoir - if it's too low and the suspension is set on high, the pump will suck air and send it straight to the brakes. The clicking and snapping you hear is normal; that's just the regulator cycling on and off. The pump will growl a little as it loads up, but too much clicking is bad, and it could mean that a sphere is going."

Chris M. (he's asked to not have his last name printed) is walking around a red 1966 Citroën DS21 convertible, stopping at each corner to elaborate on one or more of the car's various quirks. He's spent the past eighteen months mechanically restoring this Citroën, so he knows it well. I'm standing next to him with a friend of mine, a bespectacled San Francisco software engineer named Michael Chaffee. The past hour has been a crash course in the French Approach to Everything: hydropneumatics, coachbuilding, brake bias, even industrial design. Chaffee and I exchange cautious glances. We're about to drive the Citroën from Chris's shop, in Seattle, to a place 2889 miles away, and listening to Chris is like being prepped for space flight, or maybe a bungee jump into the sun. The overwhelming vibe is largely, "Know this, because if it breaks and you don't know it, you're probably screwed." And on a DS - a mid-century engineering miracle blessed with a hydraulic suspension and virtually nothing simple or conventional - "this" apparently includes everything but the cigar lighter. And maybe the floor mats.

"Also, you want to be careful about flat tires. If you get a flat, you might not notice. Because the suspension is always working to keep the body horizontal, you can drive along and not know you have a dead corner. It tends to trash the tire, and the spare fits on only two of the wheels."

Chris pauses for a moment, an earnest look on his face. My head is filled with worrisome, cartoonlike images of dancing hydraulic pumps, all of them growling like French poodles. It suddenly occurs to me that America is a very, very big place. Chris smiles.

"But really, I'm sure you won't have any of those problems or need anything."

I breathe a small, tentative sigh of relief. Chaffee chuckles, biting his lip a little. Chris starts the DS, and it slowly rises up off the ground, clicking and snapping away.

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