Classic Citroen DS a perfect fit for adventures
THE WOTTON'S CITROEN DS WENT JUST FINE ON A TRIP AROUND AUSTRALIA
Steve Wotton has always been fascinated by Citroen’s DS. “The first time I saw one was racing in the Lady Wigram in the early 1960s, when I was still at school.” He finally joined the Citroen Car Club 15 years ago, and acquired this 1974 D Special four years later.
“It was driveable, it was being used but was looking tired, with a car-sales paint job but not in good order. We drove it for about eight years, and did 32,000km before rebuilding the engine, and fitting a five-speed transmission in place of the four.”
The original engine was a 1985cc unit, this one’s a 2300 from the DS range – produced from 1955 to 1975, with four engines, three transmissions and three body styles.
Steve did the motor mechanicals at Auto France, supervised by Dave Jones, who’d assured Steve that more parts are available now than 20 years ago, including remanufactured panels. They also redid the bodywork. “Every panel is removable, we took the panels off, repaired the roof and boot frame, then I stripped the panels to bare metal and had them done by a fussy old-school panel beater. We reskinned the lower doors and remanufactured the bottom part of the frame. We got someone to paint the roof – it’s fibreglass and that cost moonbeams.”
The colour isn’t original, and Steve did the gorgeous purple paint himself, in a temporary paint booth in the shed. “With lots of sanding — we had trouble with dust.”
Steve and Florinda Wotton with their 1974 Citroen DS.
The brief was a 50k finish, “We got it to 30k – when you’re driving past at 30km/h it looks good.”
It’s got stone chips now, and has gone through three windscreens “It’s our car for adventures,” Florinda says and she’s not kidding. In the past two and a half years they’ve done nearly 40,000km in her, including a jaunt right around Australia ...
A friend in the Citroen club planned the trip, for the 60th anniversary of the DS. They took tools, checked the hydraulic system was tight, fitted an electronic ignition, put three cars into a container and shipped them to Brisbane. They drove from there to Port Douglas, across to Katherine, Mt Isa and down to Alice Springs — carrying 20 litres of fuel and 20 of water, “I only used my fuel once.” Then to Uluru, and onwards: “160 kilometres of dirt and sharp corrugations — that was hard — there’s one of our hubcaps in there somewhere.”
They needed a permit and were asked if they were in 4WDs. “We said, ‘We’re driving Citroens, we’ll be fine’. The permit was $5, I don’t know what $4.50 was for, but 50c was for road maintenance.” They drove back north to Darwin, Kakadu, round the top and south to Perth to service the cars.
“We met a lady with her own four-post hoist, a nurse, she was thrilled people were using it. She’s starting a restoration of a 2CV.”
From there they toured down the Margaret River, through Calgoorlie, across the Nullarbor, “That was cool, we were cruising at 100 with the windows open, the car tapers so you can drive with the windows down — and the heater was on as the temperature light kept coming on.” Florinda said she had her feet up on the dash ...
They ended up at the Australian Citroen 60th anniversary celebration at Rutherglen, then onwards via a mountain pass that took them above the snowline, passing skiiers en route, before they finished again in Brisbane.
Florinda said the cars were a magnet, particularly in Alice Springs, “The guys would get up and their fan club was already out there.” Everyone seems to know someone who had one. “On the loop back from Alice in the dirt, we followed signs to a lookout, and a guy hopped out of this old 4WD and his grandfather had one.”
Any trouble with the cars? “Paul’s car had a pinhole in the hydraulic system, which we repaired in Darwin, and we lost a hubcap and a mudguard bolt — there’s only one, so we held it on with a peg.” They didn’t take spares, only cable ties and insulation tape, “After all, what do you take?”
That hydraulic system was innovative at the time, and still feels remarkable. It was used not just for the brakes and power steering, but the suspension, clutch and transmission. An engine-driven pump pressurises the closed system to 2400psi (165 bar), self-levels the car and delivers both sharp handling and a ride so smooth that the notes I wrote while under way are just as clear as those penned over a cup of coffee. Even the steering is hydraulic, once the pressure is up.
“When you aren’t turning the wheel the pressure equalises, so you never get bump- or torque steer,” Steve said. That’s not the only innovation, as the single-spoke steering wheel collapses in a collision, the spoke helping you fall inward, so you don’t hit your head on the A-pillar …
The Wottons don’t aim to part with their DS. Steve hopes to pass it on to a grandson one day, “My son said it’d better not bypass him.”