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The car that saved de Gaulle’s life

French auto-maker introduced the Citroën DS in 1955.

These people really aim very badly.
~General and President Charles de Gaulle

Events of the evening of 22 August 1962 would shape the plot of a 1974 Academy Award winning thriller, The Day of the Jackal.

Riding in his chauffeur-driven black Citroën DS 19, President de Gaulle, 71, and his wife were headed to a Paris airport to fly to their summer home.

As their motorcade passed two vehicles, machine-gun fire raked the fast-moving Citroën. The Organisation armée secrète (OAS) had targeted de Gaulle for assassination.

As many as a dozen gunmen opened fire; as many as 16 were arrested. Nine stood trial, and three were sentenced to death.

Details (contemporaneous and contemporary) differ: about 150 bullets; eight bullets struck the body of the car; bullets punctured two-or-four tires; people died, people didn’t die.

What’s undeniable is that the Citroën and chauffeur saved their lives.

Citroën unveiled the futuristic, aerodynamic DS at the Paris Motor Show in 1955. It looked, and performed, like nothing else on the market.

Citroën long had a history of developing cars that were well ahead of their time in terms of design and features. The 1934 Traction Avant was the world’s first unibody front-wheel-drive car, pioneering a setup that would become the standard in most passenger cars.

In 1940, Citroën chairman Pierre-Jules Boulanger hid engineering designs from invading Germans. When World War II ended in 1945, France, like most of Europe, had been maimed. Boulanger knew that the country needed cars that were “fuel-efficient and built to handle extremely rough terrain. He also wanted the DS to be most sophisticated car in the world.”

Rather than springs and shock absorbers, the Citroën DS sported a hydropneumatic suspension system that relied on “interconnected, fluid and gas-filled spheres to smooth out road imperfections.” With this system, the car could adapt to changing road conditions and always remain level.

It also means the car could be driven safely with one tire completely missing:

In 1934, Citroën had introduced Traction Avant, the world’s first front-wheel-drive production car. The DS expanded on that innovative history:

Four disc brakes (equipped in a production car for the first time in the world), standard power steering, new-age materials, a fibreglass roof to reduce the car’s weight and increase the body’s stability, a semi-automatic transmission that didn’t require constantly pressing a heavy clutch pedal, directional headlights and a host of other innovations that even the cruisers from Detroit couldn’t have dreamed of at the time.

The Citroën chauffeur Francis Marroux had been driving the president the prior year during an assassination attempt. In this 1962 attempt, the car entered a skid; Marroux recovered and raced to safety.

de Gaulle, from military officer to elected office

During World War II, de Gaulle became a leader of the Free French movement in exile after France surrendered to Germany in 1940. He became president in 1959, ushering in France’s Fifth Republic. The country was still recovering from WWII, and de Gaulle sought independence from cold warriors the Soviet Union and the United States.

Earlier in 1962, he helped the French colony of Algeria (1830-1962) achieve independence after years of uprisings. In response, the OAS targeted de Gaulle for assassination.

In 1969, de Gaulle intervened to prevent Italian automaker Fiat from purchasing Citroën outright. Instead, he limited foreign ownership to 15 percent. Six years later, “the French government funded Citroen’s sale to a group that included its French rival, Peugeot; the result was PSA Peugeot Citroen SA, formed in 1976.”

The Citroën DS was in production for 20 years.

Many of its innovative features were later adopted by other manufacturers. Most significantly, however, was that in an age increasingly characterized by global interrelatedness and uniformity, the DS 19 stood for individuality and difference.

Citroën was founded on 04 June 1919. On 16 January 2021, the PSA Group and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles completed a 50-50 merger; the new company, Stellantis. Fiat, for some definition of that company, succeeded in the end.

Citroen ad
Citroën ad, eBay.

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Daily posts, 2022-2023

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