Classic Cars

Citroen GS

Lance Cole looks back to a stylish Citroen that had everything except protection against the deadly rust

After two decades in the design doldrums, Citroen has, with its new C4 model, returned to daring to be different. But the C4's roots lie not in its immediate ancestors, the bland and boring Xsara or the ZX, but in the Car of the Year 1971 - the characterful GS.

Whilst the limelight always falls on the Citroen DS as the 'goddess' of Citroen design, it is the GS that kept Citroen alive into the 1980s. But because we expected a Citroen to be bold, the shock of the new GS in 1971 failed to make the impact on the public's perception that it might have done had it sported a Ford badge - as happened when Ford's first Focus morphed its Citroenesque curves upon us.

Yet the GS was the world's first small car with hydropnuematic suspension, and the first small car with a chopped 'Kamm' tail (named afetr Dr Kamm) and teardrop aerodynamics that were years ahead of the opposition). It also had a large cabin, great ride and handling and was a modern design that stood out from the usual fare of the time- Vivas, Cortinas, and associated 'three-box' car designs.

Perhaps only the Rudloph Hruska designed Alfasud came close to the GS- both sharing a flat four boxer engine design, fwd, Kamm tail, and other traits. And the GS had not just all round disc brakes, but in-board brakes -taken from racing car design to improve handling. Its liquid mineral suspension also gave it the ride of a Rolls Royce too. The air-cooled engine was unburstable as well.

The GS started out as 'Project C' and 'Project F' -1960s Citroen prototypes for a new smaller, family car. 'Project F' is shrouded in legend, for it looked very much like the later Renault 16 - itself a milestone car in design terms. Had there been industrial espionage involved? Such were the rumours.

Designed by Robert Opron under the influence of Flaminio Bertoni at Autmobiles Andre Citroen, the GS was expertly styled; it needed no rear wiper and kept its flanks clean through tuned airflow control. It looked right from every angle and as with all Opron designs, captured the light beautifully. It even survived being stretched into the long tailed GSA hatchback in 1979 with its grafted-on plastic bumpers. The GS estate - a flat-floored favourite with French farmers and British families carried on almost unchanged.

Special editions such as the sporty X1, the black painted, red-striped 'Basalte' and the strangely named GS 'Cottage' (was the world's first unintended, gay market car?) made the most of the 1015cc, 1220cc and 1130cc engines that the car was offered with over the years.

The ultimate GS had to be the rare twin rotor, Wankel engined, Birotor. In 1974, through a tie up with NSU, the GS became a powerful, turbine smooth cruiser, and the only rotary car with hydropneumatic suspension and brakes. Often painted a rich antique gold and with Pallas trim, 847 Birotors were sold.

Citroen bought them all back as they were troublesome, and too thirsty as the 1970s fuel crisis raged: In their brief lives the Birotors wowed France, they were equally at home swishing through a rainy Paris, or storming down the Autoroute du Soleil. Only one right hand drive Birotor was made and today it lives in Australia.

In the end, it was rust that did for the GS and the GSA- just as it did for that only other car at the time to offer advanced design- the AlfaSud (or Awful Sod as they became known).

The GS had a strong hull with thick doors- good in a crash, yet when water got under the 'Tectyl' undersealing, they rusted away from the inside out -seriously weakening the structure. Very few remain on British roads. Yet the Dutch still have a love affair with the GS and many still populate Amsterdam.

The suspension was never as complicated or as troublesome as some suggest - my local village garage mended my GS's hydraulics with a re-sleeved pipe for £20 whereas the Citroen dealer wanted £500. My GSA stormed up the M4 to London every day for years, its 'boxer' engine burbling away as the airflow cleaved over the car in silence. An Autocar road test editor once told me that he thought the GS was one of the best cars ever designed. Despite understeer and roll, the GS was superbly controlled, and fast too.

After 2.5 million GS/GSAs came out of the factory, the car died in 1986, but was quietly reincarnated via production in Yugoslavia and Indonesia. The Balinese loved the GS, as did the Zimbabweans. Out in the tropics, GSs do not rust away - they just keep on going.

So died the GS, a greatness wasted in the world of the mundane, for want of some proper rust proofing. But perhaps uniquely, a car re-born 20 years later, in the superb Citroen C4, a car that is not a retro-pastiche, but finally, at last, a real spaceship of a Citroen - just as the GS was.

Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning:The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier league

The Independent's live blog of today's Premier League action

Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    KS1 Primary Teacher

    £100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Supply Teacher re...

    KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

    £140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

    Year 1/2 Teacher

    £130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

    Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

    £140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam