Although artist and designer Flaminio Bertoni had envisaged a convertible version when he designed the the radical DS saloon, Citroen’s resources were already taken up in producing the innovative technology of the saloon. This left the doorway open for an independent coachbuilder – Henri Chapron to design and produce the first Citroen DS Décapotable in 1958.
The DS saloon had already been in production for three years and while Citroen had yet to put their ideas of a convertible into action they were initially unenthusiastic in Chapron’s plans. They did not grant approval and refused to sell chassis for his cars leaving him no choice but to buy complete cars from a local dealer and then convert them.
His first car had quarter-lights before the side windows, the doors were lengthened by 10 cm (4 inch) and the gap between them and the standard rear wing filled with a fibre-glass panel. The second car was developed further with the removal of the quarter-lights (which became an option) and the addition of a vertical chrome strip hiding the join between the side panel and rear wing. This Citroen DS Convertible was then displayed at the 1958 Paris Salon and received a rapturous response.
The ‘La Croisette’ title was used for the early drop-top DS coming from the name of the glamorous coastal road of Cannes in the South of France. 25 of these unofficial DS convertibles had been built by 1959. A ‘Le Caddy’ version was then developed alongside the Le Dandy coupe using a neater a one piece rear wing. Demand was so high that Citroen relented and wisely allowed Chapron to become an official sub-contractor of the convertible. The DS was redesigned by Chapron using Citroen’s proposals and these official cars are known as Usine (factory) Cabriolets and sold throught the Citroen dealer network. Citroen provided the reinforced rolling chassis from the DS Break (Station Wagon) for the DS Usine Convertible. Production of the Citroen DS Convertible ended in 1973.
The cost of this exclusive car and the limitations of the small French carrossier meant that relatively few Citroen DS Convertibles were actually made and it has become the most highly prised variant of the car. Original convertibles have gained a high value their exclusivity gave rise to replicas being made more recently from DS saloons by companies such as Dee-Ess Conversions.
The Citroen DS was a ground-breaking car that not only had beautifully elegant coachwork but was also bristling with advanced technology. Both saloon and convertible featured self-levelling hydropneumatic suspension which achieved new levels of ride quality and handling for a road car. It was also the first mass-produced car to feature power front disc brakes, had power-steering and a clever semi-automatic transmission.