Accessible Classic: The Fantastic, Forgotten Citroën GS
Photography by Carl Legelius, Claes Johansson, Simon Hamelius
Launched in 1970—the same year as the famous SM—the GS filled an important slot in the Citroën range. Up until the GS arrived there had been an obvious gap between the frugal 2CV and its derivatives and the large and luxurious DS. GS stood for Grand Series to really point out that this was the marques’ new volume car.
The 13.7-ft long (4.2-metre) GS was aimed at the growing middle class, and competed both in size, performance and price with cars like the Ford Taunus/Cortina, Opel Ascona, Saab 96, Morris Marina, Fiat 124, Alfasud and Volkswagen K70.
Why pick the GS over the more mainstream competition? Simple: its advanced construction and unrivalled ride comfort. It had the hydropneumatic suspension and brake system of its larger siblings, disc brakes all ’round, and a newly-developed, high-revving air-cooled four cylinder engine.
I drive a 1975 Citroën GS 1220 Pallas. It has the slighter larger engine of 1,222-cc, compared to the first cars, offered with just a 1,015-cc engine. The Pallas trim in the Citroën range means it’s the top model with more brightwork, thicker carpeting, and higher-spec upholstery. Even today, I think it’s really elegant—and has aged remarkably well.
It was bought new by a man in Kiruna, the northernmost town in Sweden—a small community north of the Arctic Circle. Rather oddly, he only drove three cars in his life, the first a Model T Ford, the second a ’50s Ford Taunus 12m, and finally, the Citroën GS. He must really have felt the technical development of the car industry with each trade-up!
After some 30 years of pedantical ownership (he was well known at the local Citroën garage) he sold the car to an enthusiast who had a light restoration of the car carried out. There was no rust at all and the tobacco brown interior was in very good condition, but the original metallic paint work was very matted down by time.
When I was 18 and just had received my driving licence in the mid-eighties, there were plenty of GS models around to choose from. Better yet, they were dirt cheap! I ran a string of them, buying them for a song, enjoying their comfort and roadholding until an expensive part broke, usually after a year or so. Then it was passed on to another motorist even more cheaply—or scrapped.
This example, however, was a whole new deal: a GS in almost mint condition. I was proud to really care for it, and I only used in the summer time. As soon as I got behind the one-spoke steering wheel, I felt at home. Despite its humble engine capacity, the GS is a car that loves to be driven…and the feel of performance you get out of the 1.2-litre engine is a lot stronger than the 60 horsepower its specification says.
The feeling on road is of a much larger car, with stability and road holding that beggars belief—just look at those narrow tires! The only thing you have to adapt to is the high-revving engine: 5500–6000 rpm on the motorway sounds a lot but feels totally effortless for the car.
When you compare the GS with the often three times more expensive SM coupé you see many similarities.
In period, the Citroën GS lived up to its name and became a big seller—at least by Citroën standards. Together with its facelifted successor, the GSA, more than 2.5 million cars were built. Today, sadly very few still exist…and the interest even among Citroën enthusiasts is very limited.
I think the GS is even more fascinating than the larger DS and SM—because, like the 2CV, the GS was a “people’s car” that drove as well as the very best cars of its era.
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