Development of the first DS began in 1938 under the same forward-thinking leadership that had commissioned the extraordinary Traction Avant, but with a new and more strategical management at the helm of the company.
In 1935, the new owners of the French marque entrusted Pierre-Jules Boulanger with the management of the company and the challenge of taking the founders dreams and aspirations to a new level, which he duly did with expert navigational skills.
Sophisticated as the DS was, the new management implemented numerous changes which included less advertising and a much more discretional approach. In fact, the brand was to be veiled in secrecy with access denied to anyone and everyone who wasn’t directly involved in the project.
The ‘maison du mystère’ (house of mystery), as the French firm was renamed, closed all of its doors and duly proceeded to purchase a large fenced-in lot to carry out specific prototype testing, and even prohibited the exchange of information between the different teams.
The Center for Projects, which included the design department led by Flaminio Bertoni, was regrouped in Paris, in the centre, on rue du Théâtre. Everything was so secretive that even the technicians themselves had access restrictions to some of the labs and technical areas.
The development of the DS continued for no less than seventeen long years and even included those of the Second World War when testing and development continued, but always in secret, far from Paris, on the La Ferté-Vidame track and in its peaceful and more sedate surroundings.
By today’s standards, this is quite normal. Everything was analysed and studied at the workbench, tested in the labs and included those hideous camouflaged prototypes we tend to see in various magazines looking for a scoop from less innovative generic brands.
Everything was carried out at the Ferté, but only André Lefebvre, the chief engineer, really knew the DS 19 thoroughly. For the rest of the engineers, the car remained a mystery. And let’s not talk about the operators who, in theory, would be in charge of building it.
DS – First Twenty
The first twenty DS 19s, required for presentation and road testing, were built by the hands of the engineers themselves. In the historic factory on the Quai de Javel, a part of the warehouse was completely emptied and detailed surveillance was installed at the only entrance – no one could enter.
It was then and only then, that the technicians who had developed it were able, for the first time, in 1955, to see the complete car.
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Among the brilliant ideas that circled around in the head of André Lefebvre, the chief engineer who presided over this thoughtful the project, was to build an extremely modular car. Citroën even designed the car with a low centre of gravity, where body panels were strategically positioned and therefore easily removed if and when that time became necessary. These body parts were designed with lighter materials, allowing for more efficiency and better aerodynamics.
The steel body elements, aluminium hoods (initially the rear one), Plexiglas rear window and fibre-glass roof were superimposed on a steel frame of a certain thickness, necessary to give rigidity to the structure of the vehicle.
Each of these components was screwed and not welded to the body, which helped guarantee the rigidity of the assembly, while the rubber seals assisted the other elements when joining individual sections, lessening vibrations and resonator issues.
This unique formula set by Lefebvre in 1939 remained intact until the end of the production of the DS and was even inherited by other Citroën cars, such as AMI6 and the same 2CV, utilising the same characteristics for simplicity of construction and ease of repair.