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Distinctly successful.

SOME people have greatness thrust upon them - but few cars.

Yet in August 1962, the Citroen DS reached national hero heights in France when its cutting-edge engineering saved the life of president Charles de Gaulle.

The president and his wife were in their official Citroen DS on their way from the Elysee Palace to the airport when they came under fire from around a dozen men of the OAS, a paramilitary organisation that had objected to de Gaulle's role in granting France's former colony of Algeria its independence.

As the DS sped down the Avenue de la Liberation, the group opened fire on the presidential DS and its outriders. Two of de Gaulle's bodyguards were killed, the rear window was shattered and the car riddled with 140 bullets.

At least three tyres were shot out and the car went into a skid but, due to its innovative hydraulic suspension system, the vehicle automatically stayed level. This enabled the driver to get out of the skid and escape.

This year, the DS celebrates its 60th anniversary and, as finest hours go, this moment in history heads up quite a legion of them for one of France's legendary cars.

It was first introduced to the public at the Paris Motor Show in 1955 and immediately created a sensation.

The fashion for desirable cars in that era was very American, with lots of chrome and tailfins. The DS, pronounced in French as "Deesse", meaning goddess, was none of these things.

It was futuristic looking, sleek and had that unique hydropneumatic suspension, which includes an automatic levelling system and variable ground clearance.

Nor did it have a jack for lifting the car off the ground to change a tyre.

Instead, the hydraulic system was put at its topmost setting, the car raised up and a stand inserted into a special peg. The suspension was then adjusted to its lowermost setting. The flat tyre would then retract upwards and hover above ground, ready to be changed.

In the first 15 minutes of the Paris show, 743 orders were taken for this stunning new-look car, and the total for the first day was 12,000. So admired was the design that Citroen were invited to display a DS body at the Milan Triennale, an international exhibition of art and design chaired by the architect Gio Ponti.

Designers and petrolheads alike have regularly put it on their list of the world's most desirable cars.

But as well as looking good, the DS was a bit of a flyer, too, and its independent suspension made it fabulously comfortable.

It won the Rallye Monte Carlo in 1959 and Pauli Toivonen drove a DS19 to victory in 1962 in the 1000 Lakes Rally.

In 1966, the DS won the Monte Carlo Rally again, when the BMC Mini-Cooper team were disqualified due to rule infractions.

Two years later, the Mini was again involved with the DS when a drunk driver in a Mini in Sydney, Australia, crashed into the DS that was winning the 1968 London-Sydney Marathon, 98 miles from the finish.

Almost a decade later, the DS was still competitive in the grueling 1974 London-Sahara-Munich World Cup Rally, where it beat more than 70 other cars, and was one of only five that managed to complete the entire race.

Sadly, a year later, in 1975, the last DS rolled off the production line in Paris. (The one millionth DS was recorded on October 7, 1969, and clad in gold bodywork).

It was the car of choice for French taxi drivers and the French, as a nation, refused to forget the legendary DS. In 2005, 1600 DS cars and their drivers gathered in Paris and drove in procession down the Champs Elysees past the Arc de Triomphe and other Parisian landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower.

And as well as de Gaulle, it has been the favourite car of a whole host of heroes both real and fictional.

Astronaut Yuri Gagarin was a fan as was painter Marc Chagall and actor Jeff Bridges.

Newly appointed as president, Francois Hollande rode through Paris in another, 21st century Citroen but a DS all the same - his bespoke DS5 HYbrid4 Laundulet. It has starred on the big screen as well as the small screen - in Back To The Future II, Gattaca with Uma Thurman and Scarface with Al Pacino.

Simon Baker chose it as Patrick Jane's car in The Mentalist because he thought it suited his eccentric character and he was a fan of Columbo Peter Falk, who drove another French car, a beat-up 1959 Peugeot in the detective series.

A station wagon version was introduced in 1958 with a steel roof to support the standard family roof rack. An ambulance configuration was similar to that of the Break but with a 60/30 split in the rear folding seat to accommodate a stretcher.

Frenchman Manuel Boileau used a 1971 DS ambulance to travel around the world from 2005 to 2008 - a 50,000-mile journey across 38 countries.

While travelling through Laos, he located the 1974 DS Prestige belonging to Sisavang Vatthana, the last King of Laos, which is now preserved and restored by specialists in Bangkok.

Frenchman Manuel Boileau used a 1971 Citroen DS ambulance to travel 50,000 miles around the world from 2005 to 2008

CAPTION(S):

INSTANT HIT n The Citroen DS is unveiled to great acclaim at the 1955 Paris Motor Show

LAST OFF THE LINE n The final DS at the Paris factory

SPORTY n The DS at the Rallye Monte Carlo in the late 1950s

GOLDEN n MOMENT A rally of 1600 DS cars took to the streets of Paris in 2005 - its 50th birthday

LIFE-SAVER The DS used French by Frenc presidentresiden Charles de Gaulle
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Feb 6, 2015
Words:959
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