1975 Citroen Pallas – Harry Crawford

I have always been mad about old cars – I think I must have owned quite a fleet last life time and have been trying to recover it ever since. I remember as a 10 year old reading an early Wheels magazine in 1955 with an article on what cars would look life in 1975, very rocket-like with glass-bubble tops as I remember. The writer of the article should have look at the DS model Citroen released in ‘55. With only one slight change in the mid 60s the design was still modern in ‘75 (according to your taste in style) and certainly was still mechanically radical as well as very distinctive.
 
As a kid I read the tester’s reports and they always seemed to be captivated by the DS (ds pronounced in French sounds like their word for Goddess and hence this very appropriate name). My first encounter with a Goddess that impacted on me was when I was registering my first car, a 1928 Austin 7 Chummy in the mid 60s.   In those days the motor registry had moved from its original Canberra location where the Museum is now, to a special building in Mort Street. It had a narrow pit that the Austin could fit over with about an inch to spare and then you went to the brake test area. This consisted of four metal plates connected to hydraulics that shot red fluid up glass columns to show the amount of movement generated by each wheel in its plate when the anchors were thrown out. The Austin only weighed as much as all this metal and so it was expecting a lot to get its primitive cable system to have much effect. So the compulsory annual test was a bit of a nightmare in my student years. Anyway one year when I had got through the test I saw a Valiant come through after me. With a lot of noise and the Valiant standing on its nose, the front columns went up to some 90 odd and the rears 20 something (I presume 20% of 1 g). Much better than the Austin which I think they would let through on about 25%. But then the next car was a Goddess. The driver braked, the car stayed perfectly level, no noise and all four columns over 80!
 
This very quiet display of competence impressed me, the only odd point being that the car squatted down as the pressurised suspension fluid was diverted by the brake button to the huge inboard discs at the front and the rear drums. I later found the delights of this brake button being lower than the accelerator.   To apply the brakes you did not have to lift your leg, you just pivoted your foot on the heel so that the ball came over the brake valve button.
 
Understandably then my second car was a ‘62 model Goddess. This I enjoyed enormously on many runs between Melbourne and Canberra. However, I wondered what the road testers were raving about when I first drove it around town. But one day I got into a tight spot on the Hume Highway when overtaking and I sure found out. At 70 mph the car came alive and effortlessly went to 90 mph whilst remaining absolutely rock steady on the road. After a time driving a Citroen you realise that there is no need to avoid potholes or slow down for speed humps – they just do not affect the car, even in tight corners.
 
The suspension system is a metal sphere for each wheel with pressurised nitrogen gas sealed in the top half by a rubber diaphragm, which has suspension fluid on the other side that connects the actual spring mechanism (helium) to the road wheels. No shock absorbers or to use that more accurate term, dampers are needed. The fluid is pressurised by an engine driven pump. After the car has been standing a while this fluid gradually loses its pressure and the car sinks. Starting the engine pressurises the system again and up she comes! The driver can use a lever to divert extra fluid into the system and so obtain extra ground clearance or to raise the car 5” for jacking. When jacking, a stand is put under the raised car and then the lever pushed down below normal setting and all the wheels are then withdrawn up into the guards. Quite unnerving to watch!!
 
When released in ’55 this pressurised suspension fluid also operated clutch, steering assistance and gear change but this level of complexity was gradually dropped. It is front wheel drive with the inline engine intruding slightly into the cabin and with its gearbox mounted up in the nose ahead of the wheels. This was the pattern of the earlier Traction Avant, which I think was copied from the ‘20s Miller Specials in the USA. In the ‘60s Citroen redesigned the 4-cyl 1900cc engine and made the body even more aerodynamic by reshaping the panel below the front bumper to give better airflow around the front wheels and under the completely flat floor and lower engine enclosure. The headlights were also enclosed behind perspex with the inner ones mechanically linked to the steering so that you can see around corners! Like lots of French cars with their long travel suspension systems there is self-leveling of the headlights also. Talk about complex!
 
My car is one of the last models and is a ‘75 Pallas model with 2300cc carburetor engine, 5spd manual, power steering and the swiveling headlights. It is painted jet black. I saw it at a repair shop near my Sydney residence. They specialise in Citroen and this one had come in for hail damage but the lady owner then bought another car. I bought it from her for somewhat less than the repair bill, which had included a complete respray. I did the deal over the phone whilst walking in to see the diving at the Olympics and I picked the car up from the repair shop when I returned home from an overseas trip. I have not yet met the previous owner!
 
I have done upholstery repairs and am getting little details like clock, petrol gauge and boot struts sorted out. I figured when I saw it that it was a lot cheaper and quicker to buy this car than to repair all the little dints and respray one I bought 10 years ago and that is not this sought after model. Most panels are aluminium and the rear guards come off in about 30 secs by undoing one chrome external bolt with the wheel brace. The front guards also come off with about 5 min work but that is about the end of the easy stuff.
 
Another nice little feature of this design is that with the high dash and low rear window, the mirror is mounted on the dash! This puts it where your eyes are looking at the road. However, the real delight of these cars is their ride on poor surfaces. The suspension is the key to this but is also helped by the large 15” wheels and a very long wheelbase. The original ‘55 design also incorporated radial tyres and this one has the asymmetrical Michelins XASs. Ettore Bugatti is quoted as saying that ‘Andre Citroen makes the fastest lorries around’. That about summarises this car compared to current models. I am currently enjoying the car as my everyday transport for highway work and enjoy flashing past moderns on the rough secondary roads where you can relax a little about police presence. In a few years when my black shark qualifies I will put it on Club rego but I have taken this opportunity to write this as providing background on these rather unique goddesses that we have not seen in the club till now.
 
Harry Crawford, Foundation Member CACMC.
Republished from August 2001 issue of The Colonial.
 
POSTSCRIPT 2012
 
My Cit is now on club rego now and my apologies that you don’t see it more often. I had a bonnet fly up in my face going around City Hill one day. My fault, only one latch secured but I still have to rectify the damage and I have only had time to get the little red and yellow Austin 7 up to scratch. Various members keep asking after the Cit. However, many repair tasks are extremely difficult. I still have a couple of specially modified spanners I used once and often I feel that these cars need a blind mechanic who knows how to work by feel alone in hidden spaces. The unparalleled ride does make it worthwhile though. A good illustration of this was provided when they averaged 150kmph across the unsealed Nullabor in the 1968 London to Sydney.
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