When I remember the cars my Dad drove when I was growing up, the cars that immediately spring to mind are the P6 Rover V8, the Lancia 2000, the Triumph Herald and the various Saab 900s. This is strange when considering we had one particular car for a lot longer than any of the aforementioned. Undoubtedly, it also took me on more trips to the seaside or Welsh mountains than any other. As a result of this, I probably associate Simon Bates and ‘Our tune’ with this car, listening as we did at the time, to Radio 1.
I talk of the Citroen GS. Some 2.5 million Citroen GSs were sold between 1970 and 1986 (if you include the GSA from 1980). That’s more than the MK3 and MK4 Cortinas put together, yet when was the last time you saw a GS?
There are perhaps three things I associate most with our Citroen GS Pallas. Oh yes, we had the Pallas – top of the range of course. Which effectively meant you got some rubbing strips down the side and bigger wheel trims. But back to the three things…
Firstly, was the fact that the hydro-pneumatic suspension meant the ‘car moved up and down’. Secondly, the fact that the entire interior was finished in blue. OK, so there might be a little fuzziness brought on by the past 25 years, but I’m pretty sure it was totally blue, right down to the dashboard mounted hand-brake. I remember the hand-brake very well. Finally, I remember the noise. Distinctively Citroen – a kind of gargled throatiness with a gentle humming background. I’m pretty sure William Woollard wouldn’t have described it this way. See the video here for a demonstration (wait for the end). Also check out Citroen’s party trick of driving on three wheels. A decade of TV commercials were built on this principle! Just don’t try it in a Cortina!
Looking back, being chauffeured around in the back of a GS probably singled me out as having a pretty cool Dad. At the time, I was quietly envious of my friends with their Cortina Dads or Cavalier Dads. But oh no, my Dad was a little left field. A little avant-garde. A little bit of Parisian flair in our little corner of Hampshire.
In 1971, the Citroen GS was voted European Car of the Year, beating the Volkswagen K70 (remember that?) and the Citroen SM on to the top of the podium. A good start for the gargling hummingbird. At the time, the design was unlike anything else on the market. With the SM and CX to follow, you can see why the 70s and 80s are considered to be a golden age of Citroen design. Thankfully, the company has begun to rediscover this flair with recent models, with the DS3 being a prime example.
So the design was exceptional for the time. It also meant that the car was incredibly aerodynamic, with the best drag co-efficient figures of any car of the time. The GS was also incredibly light, weighing between 900 and 950 kg depending on whether you opted for the saloon or hatchback. Zut alors! – what’s not to like about the GS?
Which brings us nicely on to the subject of power. Or lack of it. When launched, the GS came equipped with an asthmatic 1 litre engine – not nearly enough. The largest it even came with was an Autostrade storming 1.3 litre, meaning that the car’s achilles heel was undoubtedly the wheezing engines. Blame the French taxation laws for this, as they were, at the time, linked to the size of a car’s engine. Debiles!
There was, however, one very interesting engine option available, but one which Citroen would rather the world forgot. Wankel’s rotary engine is normally associated with the NSU Ro80 and the Mazda RX7/RX8, but it was also available in the GS in the special edition Birotor. Unfortunately for Citroen, the engine suffered the same issues as the Ro80 – high fuel and oil consumption and poor reliability. Oh, and they also chose to launch it at the height of the 70s fuel crisis. What’s French for “D’oh!“?
Just 847 Birotors were sold, but Citroen were so ashamed of the car, they attempted to buy them all back rather than support them with spare parts! Very few survive today, making them extremely collectable. At the time of writing this blog, I’ve found one for sale in south west France. See ad here: http://www.carandclassic.co.uk/car/C72371/
Like many cars of the era, the majority of Citroen GSs ended up in the scrap yard long before anyone thought of them as being collectible. Rust was a huge issue for the cars and many of these once great cars found themselves being used as cheap motoring vehicles or runarounds. When a mechanical issue ruled the car to be financially bankrupt, they were simply scrapped. The clever suspension would eventually become a lead weight around the car’s neck. A shame, as for me, the GS is a genuine classic from the period.