Disappointing Dealer: 1970 Citroen DS21 Safari – Sold?
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January 4, 2023, Update – We confirmed the listing for this “Classifind” expired, so with no replacement found, we’re assuming this ride is “Sold?” While this one got away, please reach out either by email or call us directly if you’d like to be informed when we come across something similar.
Love it or hate, the French Citroën DS was a front-wheel-drive engineering masterpiece built from 1955 through 1975 across three generations in either four-door, station wagon, or convertible versions. While its distinctive aerodynamic, futuristic body design earned it the nickname “spaceship,” the innovative hydropneumatic suspension combined with disc brakes (the first mass-produced car to use them) helped the DS set new standards in ride quality, handling, and braking.
Despite its popularity in Europe, it didn’t sell well in North America. While promoted as a luxury car, it did not have the basic features that American buyers expected to find on such a vehicle, such as an automatic transmission, air conditioning, power windows, or a powerful engine. Designed specifically to address the French market, the dare-to-be-different DS was really out-of-touch with most American tastes.
This black over red cloth 1970 Citroën DS21 Safari, once listed in December 2022 on Craigslist in Seattle, Washington, is a notable exception. Sadly, the seller transparently explains he bought their Citroen sight unseen from an LA-based Exotic Car dealer that did not present the car honestly as the fit and finish of the restored interior is sub-par. There are electrical issues to sort out, and the seller describes the brakes as “iffy.”
Once offered for $15,000, Classic.com, the analytics and search engine for the collector car market, confirms the ask is slightly below the one-year rolling average of this guide’s summary for Series 3 Citroen DS21s produced between 1965 and 1972. By clicking on the green dots in the graph below, you can navigate to each comparable car sold as a way to help you evaluate the price of the Safari featured here:
As a second data point, the Collector Car Market Review Online Tool reveals the seller’s ask falls between this guide’s #4 “Fair” estimate of $8,500 and its #3 “Good” appraisal of $17,400.
French automobile manufacturer Citroën produced its innovative, front mid-engine, front-wheel-drive executive car across three series of one generation between 1955 and 1975. Citroën offered the DS in fastback four-door sedan, wagon, and convertible body configurations. The DS was known for its aerodynamic, futuristic body design and unorthodox, quirky, innovative technology. It set new standards in ride quality, handling, and braking, thanks to being the first mass-production car equipped with hydropneumatic suspension and disc brakes. The 1967 series three also introduced directional headlights to a mass-produced car.
The DS was sold in North America from 1956 to 1972. Despite its popularity in Europe and regard for its design from the American motoring press, it did not sell well in the United States and a little better in Canada. While promoted as a luxury car, it did not have the basic features that American buyers expected to find on such a vehicle, such as an automatic transmission, air conditioning, power windows, or a powerful engine. The DS was designed specifically to address the French market, with punitive tax horsepower taxation of large engines and very poor roads, and not for a market where those constraints were removed.
Further harming the DS’ prospects on the other side of the Atlantic was an inadequate supply of parts for the vehicle. Jay Leno described the sporadic supply of spare parts as a problem for 1970s-era customers, based on his early experiences working at a Citroën dealer in Boston. Additionally, the DS was expensive, with a 115 horsepower vehicle costing $4,170 in 1969, when the price was $4,500 for a 360 horsepower Buick Electra 225 4-door sedan. The Electra had an automatic transmission, power windows, and a much larger engine. It was hardly the only competitor to the DS to have these features as options or as standard.
As a result of the insufficient supply of replacement parts, an inability to compete with bigger and more luxurious cars sold for the same price, and having not been designed for the North American market, sales for the DS were mediocre on the North American market, ultimately reaching a total of 38,000.
US regulations at the time also banned one of the car’s more advanced features: its composite headlamps with aerodynamic-covered lenses. Based on legislation that dated from 1940, all automobiles sold in the U.S. were required to have round, sealed-beam headlamps that produced 75,000 candlepower. The regulations did not allow the DS’s quartz iodine swiveling headlamps designed for the 1968 model. Even the aerodynamic headlight covers featured on other cars, such as the Jaguar E-Type, were illegal and had to be removed. It was not until Ford Motor Company lobbied to have composite headlamps allowed that the sealed-beam headlamp requirements were finally rescinded in 1983. However, European lamps were legal in Canada, including the directional headlamps.
The hydraulic fluid change in 1967 also fell afoul of American regulations. NHTSA follows the precautionary principle, also used by the Food and Drug Administration, where innovations are prohibited until their developers can prove them safe to the regulators. The castor-based LHV and synthetic LHS fluids used in European-market DSes were not certified in North America, so cars sold there used conventional brake fluid instead. Brake fluid (as well as LHV and LHS) is hygroscopic and miscible, readily absorbing and mixing with moisture, the idea being that within a closed hydraulic circuit, these properties will ensure pockets of non-soluble water will not form and cause corrosion of the system from within. The design of the DS’s hydraulic system used much more fluid. It allowed much more moist air into the system than a simple hydraulic braking circuit, so the fluid’s hygroscopic properties were not preventing corrosion as intended. Brake fluid also did not provide the viscosity and lubricity suited for use in the suspension, clutch, and gear change mechanism. Mineral-based LHM fluid was designed to remedy these issues. Still, Citroen was obligated to demonstrate the new fluid was safe for automotive use before it could be installed in American-market cars. It took NHTSA until January 1969 to approve it, so in the US market, about half the production of cars in the 1969 model year use the older red LHS fluid, and half use newer green LHM fluid, neither of which is compatible with the other.
The FCIA French Cars YouTube Channel features this 1970 Citroen commercial for North American customers:
In addition to being disappointed with the quality of this Citroen DS20 Safari’s restoration, the seller also notes the title has the model and year incorrectly listed. Those two hints gave us pause as we would do a thorough background check on this car’s VIN to confirm whether two cars were used to build this road ready restored example.
Here’s the seller’s description:
I recently bought this Citroen Station wagon, sight unseen from a well know exotic car dealer in southern California.
When it arrived, I was quite disappointed. It was not as described to me, and while it is a solid, presentable, running and driving Citroen Station wagon, I have bad feelings about it now after being lied to a bit by the seller… I will be honest in my description.
This car DOES start right up, goes into all gears, and runs well. The brakes are iffy. Hydraulics seem in good order. It has steering headlights, but they are not hooked up.
The paint job looks very good, but it does have scratches, dings, and nicks.
Car was taken apart for a ‘restoration’ ; new paint, headliner, seats / seat covers, door panels, etc, and while going back together I think some things were put together wrong . Some electricals do not work (blinkers, for example) , vents disconnected, some wires hanging down under dash.
Car is actually a 1969/ 1970 ID20 F wagon. Titled as a 1973 for some reason. Correct VIN on Title, but wrong model year, as far as I can tell.
Small tear in the rear seat. some loose and missing trim inside.
All that being said… this is a dramatic looking car, and has a lot of potential. I do not want to lose too much money on this thing, and if I do not get close to what I am asking for it, I will just keep it and fix it up over time. I do need the money quickly, and have 4 other cars for sale right now ( 1985 Westfalia camper, 1971 Jaguar XJ6 series 1, 1971 Jaguar XKE , 1967 Jaguar MK2 ) and so whatever sells first will go, and the others will stay here. Also have some cool vintage motorcycles for sale , moto guzzi eldorado, BMW R100/ 7 , old Vespas, too.
If you have any questions, want to see the car, or want to buy the car, send your phone number so I can call you. That is how I do business, thank you. If you do not want to share your phone number, I am afraid we can not do business.“
Show or go: What would you do with this restored 1970 Citroen DS20 Safari? Please comment below and let us know!