By on June 15, 2015

Charles de Gaulle's Citroen DS

The suspension setup known for helping to save the life of late French president Charles de Gaulle will soon join him in the pages of time.

Citroen’s famous hydraulic suspension is being discontinued by PSA Peugeot Citroen, Reuters reports, and will self-level its last car when the current C5 sedan concludes its production run.

The discontinuation of the decades-old system, which combined a hydraulic pump with several nitrogen-filled pneumatic spheres to deliver a ride unmatched for decades, is part of CEO Carlos Tavares’ ongoing cost-cutting actions throughout the company. A source close to the Tavares says he believes other modern suspension systems can offer a comfortable ride just as well as the one under classics like the DS and SM.

Speaking of the DS, the hydraulic suspension under the DS of de Gaulle helped the car’s driver maintain control during an assassination attempt in 1962, where 12 gunmen killed two of the president’s motorcycle guards, as well as shot out two of the DS’ tires. In spite the assassins’ efforts, de Gaulle and his wife survived.

Similar systems were implemented by Rolls-Royce, Mercedes and Audi, but few others took the legendary setup beyond Citroen’s assembly lines.

[Photo credit: Davide Oliva/Flickr/CC BY-SA 3.0]

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57 Comments on “Citroen’s Famed Hydraulic Suspension Rides Comfortably Into The Sunset...”


  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    The morning of my departure from Paris via train to Calais and the hovercraft to England, the tour group my father and I were with saw several taxis arriving to ferry us from the hotel to the station. 2 Peugeots, a Simca and an iconic black DS rolled up. Without a sideways glance between us, my father and I made 3 long strides to the passenger doors of the DS, quickly depositing our bags near the trunk and ensuring our tour of France would finish in an appropriately relaxed fashion.

    The ride was like nothing I had ever experienced before; the numerous cobblestone paved sections we crossed over still penetrated to the interior, but in the DS they felt more like a distant rumble our backsides instead of the jarring rattle we had experienced in weeks prior during our vehicular forays across the country.

    Upon exiting at the station and retrieving our bags, one of our companions mentioned, “you 2 really wanted to ride in that Citroen; I didn’t even have time to think about which car to choose.” Indeed.

    I can imagine that suspension system being one of the major bugaboos for vintage Citroen owners, but its overall performance – coupled with what must surely be a very supportive servicing aftermarket – will keep them happily rolling serenely into their long sunset.

    • 0 avatar
      skog

      I’ve owned two Xantias. The system is actually very, very easy to maintain, and cheaper than a conventional car.

      The only thing you really need to do is to change the spheres around every five years, they will set you back about 35 GBP a piece. With a special tool i picked up on ebay for 15 GBP i changed all four in about half an hour.

  • avatar
    stroker49

    Buying a Citroen with iron springs is like buying a Harley with an in line four!

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      I disagree; Citroen’s suspension is more technologically sophisticated than its alternative. Harley’s engines are just louder and less powerful.

      • 0 avatar
        redliner

        I will concede that they make less horsepower, but they make much more torque, especially when appropriately tuned.

        In fact, its darn impressive that you can get nearly 100hp per liter out of an air cooled v-twin. I personally find the deep thrum and diesel-esq power delivery of the v-twin on my Buell XB12 is a nice change of pace from years of riding buzzy four cylinder bikes.

        • 0 avatar
          JuniperBug

          I actually have no beef with V-twins, nor do I have a problem with Harleys for what they are, in the same way that I don’t care that a vintage V-8 Cadillac is slower than most things on the road today. I just like giving Harley owners a hard time.

          The bike in my avatar, which I used to own, happens to also be a V-twin.

        • 0 avatar
          Bunter1

          Hi Redliner,
          I used to accept the torque/HP trade-off answer at face-value.
          Folks tend to compare (not saying you did) a Harley motor to a crotch rocket like an R1 and say “see, no torque”.
          Try comparing them to similarly sized multis with a touring or sport touring purpose. The sixes in the Gold Wing and BMW 1600 make similar or greater torque with more power and a wider RPM range.
          This also applies to many two valve auto engines that defenders claim the “torque defense” on. The engine curves just don’t reflect it.
          I suspect there is a greater sensation of low end torque because it is the dominant characteristic of the engine. However an engine that supplies both low end torque and high rpm surge will leave a less distinct low end impression because it continues to deliver the goods well after the “torque” engine has signed off.

          Just something to ponder.
          Cheerio.

          Dennis

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Let me fix that:

    “A source close to the Tavares says he believes other cheaper suspension systems can offer a comfortable ride just as well as the one under classics like the DS and SM.”

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Exactly. And with modern materials science we ought to be able to build a hydraulic/pneumatic suspension that is as reliable as an anvil. Thought not at a build price that Mr. Tavares would like.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        Sure we can…. for the right price.

      • 0 avatar
        skog

        The suspension system is reliable, if you understand the basics of how it works. It took a friend of mine ten minutes to tell me, and that was it. I owned two Xantias after that.

        Now i drive a 2004 Merc W211, and i miss the Xantia every single time my bones shake going over bumps.

        • 0 avatar
          Roberto Esponja

          I gotta say, I have never seen a Citroen suffering from a case of droopy butt and yet I have seen plenty of Lincolns and Mercedes Benzes riding on their bump stops.

  • avatar
    brianyates

    I have to disagree with Mr Tavares. In my opinion the hydropneumatic suspension still gives a better ride than any modern car I’ve driven.
    It’s still possible to buy recharged spheres and indeed new ones from various sources, and no, they’re not that difficult to work on either. I’ve owned DS’s, CX’s and a BX.
    Perhaps some of your readers will remember seeing a Top Gear episode in which Clarkson extolls the joys of the CX he happened to be driving, yes they’re quirky cars , that’s what makes them neat to drive.

    • 0 avatar
      thornmark

      I remember traveling from Paris to La Baule in the summer of 1976 in a DS.

      THe owner replaced the Goddess w/ a CX on our return. The thing I remember most about the DS was the wider front seat and the truly tiny brake button on the floor plus the wonderful floaty ride and the way the car settled when turned off.

      THat and the 2CV are genuine automotive icons.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    If it involves a pump, it isn’t safe under carbon taxing schemes. This is just another idiot tax for the Europeans.

    • 0 avatar
      stroker49

      ?

      • 0 avatar
        redliner

        …because pumps have to be powered by something (the engine). The parasitic nature of the pump increase fuel consumption. Burning fuel produces carbon emissions, which are taxed.

        It is also of note that none of PSAs competitors have this problem, because they all use boring suspensions, so this puts PSA at a disadvantage.

    • 0 avatar
      chaparral

      While what you say may sound logical, you are wrong here.

      The CO2 output of a Citroen C5 is the same with the steel springs (VTR) and the Hydractive (Exclusive).

      Go to https://www.fleetnews.co.uk/cars/co2-emissions-calculator/citroen/ and select the Citroen C5. Now compare the various trims available, apples-to-apples, with the 2.0 HDi 160 engine and a manual transmission. You will find that all of them come out at 129 g/km.

      My guess is that the pump’s energy consumption is offset by the better coast-down results that go in as inputs to the test cycle. I don’t think anyone’ll be able to get a direct straight answer out of Citroen on how or why, but Hydractive doesn’t do any worse on official/taxable CO2.

  • avatar
    stroker49

    Sad! The only one in production now with the hydropneumatic system is the C5. And the C5 is also offered with iron springs :-( All the smaller ones have iron springs and C6 is no more.

    It dosen’t matter if a suspension can be as good by other means! This is the last feature of a real Citroen (they are not quirky any more).

    You can make a good motorcycle without a 45 degree V2..
    You can make a good motorcycle engine without desmodromic valve system..
    You can make a fast car w/o a boxer six in the rear….

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      I just checked their vehicle configuration page; the C5 is also available in a brown diesel wagon version with a 6 speed manual transmission. With the HP suspension that should place this automotive unicorn at the apex of the modern not-buying-new automobile connoisseur pyramid.

  • avatar
    brianyates

    cjinsd, I’m not sure I understand your comments re. the pump on the Citroen, it is a sealed system. care to elaborate.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      There is an engine driven pump that maintains pressure in the Citroen suspension system. You can read about it here: http://www.autoevolution.com/news/citroen-hydropneumatic-suspension-explained-49954.html

      This means that the Citroen system consumes energy during static fuel consumption testing, while coil springs do not.

      • 0 avatar
        ekaftan

        The Xantia was the last car with an engine driven pump. C5s have an electric pump and it only runs briefly to maintain pressure.

        • 0 avatar
          CJinSD

          The energy to run the pump has to come from somewhere. Driving an alternator to run a motor to turn the pump doesn’t save all the energy. It also adds weight.

          • 0 avatar
            skog

            Weight? It weighs about 2 pounds. The energy put into it is minimal.

            You’re probably losing more power due to AC or bad tire pressure.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            A/C and bad tire pressure aren’t factors of government fuel consumption testing for tax and fleet purposes. 2 lbs for a pump, an electric motor, many yards of high pressure lines, pressure spheres, a reservoir, an accumulator, and whatever else? That’s awesome. I guess I shouldn’t have ordered them to stop offering the system.

          • 0 avatar
            ekaftan

            The pump in a C5 runs for around 10 seconds on startup, and then only if you change the cars height or if the road is very bumpy and the car decides it needs more road clearance.

            In normal everyday usage it maybe runs every 10-20 minutes. Not really a big energy spender.

            Older Citroens had an intentionally leaky system to allow brakes, suspension and steering all from the same system. C5 and C6s only run the suspension on this system. Steering is electric and brakes are conventional ABS/ESP system.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    And thus Citroens truly cease to be, well, Citroens.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    In college I had an opportunity to buy a Citroen SM with the 3-speed auto. A guy who became a good close friend owned an import shop and did restoration of European cars. I got to drive a Mini Cooper S that I would describe as the world’s most awesome go-kart, with a stunningly roomy cabin. He built it out of three Minis, harvesting the parts to put one together. I helped him put the remnants of the other two into a trash dumpster. Imagine the trouble you would be in if you did that today! (not to mention the money you could get for the scrap versus just throwing it out)

    He worked on Alpine a lot – had a magnificently restored Tiger as his summer daily drive, Mini, and Citroen. Neat guy – learned a lot about wrenching from him.

    The Citroen was so cool, but I was a relatively broke student with a car payment as it was, and thankfully I had the good sense not to buy an obscure French car with a rather complicated engine and suspension. But it was a great car.

  • avatar
    cpthaddock

    Very sad. Not completely unlike General DeGaul, I am alive today thanks to Citroen’s Hydro-pneumatic suspension. I understand this might cause some to wish they’d discontinued the system much, much sooner.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Early in my career, I worked on off-highway trucks with nitrogen/oil suspension systems. That’s still pretty much the industry standard.
    But I can see where the cost is an issue for pass cars.

  • avatar
    brianyates

    Rideheight,Citroen HAVE been mass producing this suspension system since the mid fifties. I rather think that Lexus/Acura may have missed this particular boat.

    • 0 avatar
      RideHeight

      Toyota and Honda missed a technological boat? Well, that boat just sank so maybe a different phrase should be used, like “wisely avoided”.

      • 0 avatar
        360joules

        “Wisely avoided” – not. It is/was an amazing suspension that has to be ridden in to believe. As an exchange student riding shotgun to my German host father as he hammered one in through corners with minimal body lean while it’s isolating rough road surfaces is something you have to experience to believe. He told me that a perfect car would have a BMW inline 6 with a Citroen DS suspension manufactured by Daimler.

        • 0 avatar
          RideHeight

          Curse my thickheaded stupidity!

          I now see that it was so great they don’t make it no more.

          • 0 avatar
            360joules

            I wasn’t trying to insult you. History is riddled with brilliant engineering that failed in the marketplace e.g. Tucker or the Chrysler Airflow. But riding in a car making a hard turn on a bumpy country road that isolated the bumps while not leaning in the turn was just some amazing engineering.

  • avatar
    shipping96

    I used to think these cars were really ugly. Then I met a friend who’s a Citroen fanatic which caused me to re-examine the cars. I admire their uniqueness and suspension. What a pity that they’re giving that up. Cars are becoming, for better and worse, homogeneous.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    Rumor is the 1st parachute regiment of the Foreign Legion was behind a conspiracy to discontinue the hydraulic suspension. An unnamed source had only the following to say: “Non, je ne regrette rien.”

  • avatar
    Joss

    When you hit that toadstool you’d get significant nosedive on the ID/DS. I think I remember it being parodied in a Tati.

    When the pump failed no choice but to tow on all fours cause you had case of crouching tiger.

  • avatar

    I’ve wondered if the hydraulic suspension, with added accumulators, could store the absorbed energy from the suspension travel and apply that energy to propel the vehicle via a hydraulic hybrid pump.

  • avatar
    red60r

    A brown Citroen is featured in a wonderful car prank in the movie “Real Genius”, which starred Val Kilmer. His character left the villainous nerd Kent’s DS rising and falling like an asthmatic elephant seal gasping for breath.

  • avatar
    mcs

    Not all Citroens have had hydro-pneumatic suspension. My 83 Visa had MacPherson struts up front and trailing trailing arms with coil springs at the rear.

  • avatar
    hawox

    i still miss the cx citroen. more recently i had the chance to use the c6 and c5. fantastic ride, i have never seen a modern saloon with same confort.

    sorry but take the idraulic suspension off and there is no reason to buy a citroen over a much cheaper ford.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Active suspensions, whether pneumatic, hydroneumatic or magentic or whateveyou are a warranty and reliability nightmare. Using it on anything but high end cars puts Citroen at a cost disadvantage, so I’m not surprised they’re ditching it.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    “where 12 gunmen killed two of the president’s motorcycle guards, as well as shot out two of the DS’ tires.”

    This driver, he deserved a large medal and lots of money.

    • 0 avatar
      Advance_92

      Francis Marroux remained de Gaulle’s driver until the President died and served his widow until she moved to a retirement home.

      No one was even wounded in the assassination attempt at Petit Clamart despite all the shooting.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    It’s a cool system and an industry trademark, but let’s face it: The French probably shouldn’t build anything with with that much propensity for breakdown.

  • avatar
    piro

    Ah yes, take away literally the only feature that would make me want a Citroën. That’ll work.

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