Market Finds: Would You Drive A Citroën DS That’s Been Through The Guillotine?

Would You Drive A Citroën DS That’s Been Through The Guillotine?

By Andrew Golseth
March 18, 2016

Citroëns are weird. I know, generally, our like-minded community of automotive misfits have a liking for the peculiar, but the French marque is unquestionably the least…conventional car…even though it sold millions of 2CVs, DS, and other “weird” machines. Can’t be that odd, right?

Though lacking in the feedback department, the hydropneumatic suspension offers unparalleled ride quality not even the finest luxury brands can mirror. That’s just one of the many Citroën staples often acclaimed, but there are so many more hallmarks. It mastered variable steering, composite wheels, auto-adjusting rain-sensing wipers, and self-leveling swiveling headlights that corresponded to steering input. It was so far ahead of its peers, it’s amazing the rest of the world managed to catch up!

The French nameplate has offered a buffet of models to suit a large range of palates. Sure, they all stand deliciously independent, but from an aesthetics perspective, the DS is likely the most Citroën of them all. Now, the sedan is certainly collectable, the wagon is a unicorn, but the two-door convertible? Now, that just adds another dash of obscurity I think we all can appreciate.

Take this 1966 Citroën DS21 Décapotable for example. That name, Décapotable, has there ever been a cooler direct translation of “convertible”? “Decapitate” is the first thing that comes to mind, which is actually the story behind this originally standard DS21 sedan.

The Citroën DS was built on such a sturdy chassis that its body panels were essentially just aesthetic covers rather than integral structural components. This gave coachbuilder Chapron a perfect platform to build bespoke convertibles.

Initially, Chapron attempted to convince Citroën into making a deal, but Citroën denied an official production partnership. However, Chapron was able to purchase DS models post-production and hack their lids off.

Which is exactly what it did here. Unsurprisingly, the expenses associated with purchasing new DS and turning them into custom drop-tops wasn’t exactly the cheapest solution, but Chapron did it anyway, and the world is better for it. In all, only an estimated 1,365 décapotable Chapron customs were made, of which less than 500 were DS21—making an authentic DS21 Décapotable both rare and a bit pricey in the collection realm (more than twice this imposter’s estimated selling price).

This DS21 started out life like all Décapotables did—as a standard DS21.

Here’s the catch: this isn’t one of those scarce Frenchy custom Chapron cloth-tops—this is someone else’s rendition. Now before you go all purist on me, remember that none of the original Décapotable were really official Citroën models. The way I see it, this “black-market-plastic surgery” example shouldn’t be dismissed as “unworthy” without taking a closer look.

If the pictures are anything to go by, it doesn’t appear to be amiss—though, no name is credited with the scalping and we’d call our Citroën-minded friends for a second opinion before making a bid. As it sits now, it looks like a near-identical recreation to that of an authentic Chapron built “originals.” If we can accept fiberglass “Shelby Cobras,” I think this real DS21 made to mimic a period-correct custom can get a pass—though perhaps not quite at its current estimate.

Under the bonnet putters a 2,175-cc four-cylinder orchestrated by a three-speed automatic transmission. The car features piped seats, a radio, power steering and brakes, and the factory plush hydropneumatic suspension these cruisers are praised for.

Even if it’s not an authentic Chapron Décapotable, it’s still a Citroën DS21 convertible, and how can anyone blow their lid over that?

~139 horsepower, 2,175 cc four-cylinder, three-speed automatic transmission, hydropneumatic suspension, front disc and rear drum brakes. Wheelbase: 123 in.

Vehicle information
Chassis no.: 4374339

Photography Courtesy of Auctions America

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Michel Coenen
Michel Coenen
7 years ago

I’m sorry, but the article is totally bulls**t about the relationship between Citroën S.A. and Henri Chapron.
Let me explain, as Cabriolet and Chapron-expert and coördinator for the Dutch Citroën ID/DS club, I think I know a little bit on this subject.

Yes, it is true that Chapron first built special bodied DS’ses on the basis of a berline (saloon). In 1958-59 he built both a few coupé’s and cabriolets.
But Chapron already had a long standing relationship with Citroën and from spring 1960 till September 1971 he built the so called “Cabriolet Usine” (usine means factory) or in a more face name “Décapotable” in conjunction with Citroën. Those were not “chopped off” cars (which is something Americans seem to have a strange liking for), but cars he built ordered by Citroën, on the basis of specially constructed chassis he acquired from Citroën. When those cars were finished they were bought back by Citroën, sold to their dealer and then to the customer.
For Citroën he also built the Prestige, between 1956 and 1975, which is a saloon with separation wall between driver and passenger, for government officials and heads of industry.

Citroën already had plans to build DS cabriolets back in 1954, but they lacked time and production space to build them themselves. When Henri Chapron showed his own – very expensive – cabriolet in 1958, they started a collaboration to build a cheaper cabriolet – designed by Flaminio Bertoni of Citroën – to be constructed by Chapron but sold as an official Citroën DS. Which became the Cabriolet Usine.
In return Chapron’s special bodied DS’s were the only officially recognised and guaranteed DS’s with a different body (apart from Ambulances, which is a different story). And Chapron became the unique right to use the special chassis also for himself.
Because, parallel to these “offical” production lines, Chapron also built, with the okay of Citroën, his own special bodied and more luxurious cabriolets, coupe’s and saloons on the basis of the DS, between 1958 and 1978. They all have a different top and rear, which separate them from the “factory”-cars.

Henri Chapron was a famous French coachbuilder who started his company in 1898, building bodies for Hispano-Suisa’s, Delahaye’s, Delage’s, Rolls Royce’s, Salmson’s, etc., etc. After the DS, Chapron kept building special bodied cars including Citroën CX’s, till he died in 1978 and his company died in 1984.

At that period there were other coachbuilders in France, Germany, Switserland who built cabriolets on the basis of the DS. But only in small numbers, because they had to buy a saloon and demolish it partly. Making those too expensive.

About this replica: From the pictures it seems a relatively well built car. Replica’s do around € 30-40.000 less then original cars in the same condition. Which means that a justified price for this car in Europe would be € 100.000 – 115.000, for a car in good – though not concourse – condition.
The price in the U.S. will be less, so the mentioned $ 85.000 – 110.000 seems right. If the car is in a good running, rust free condition.
Which is why a lot of the Cabriolets Usine that were sold in the US have been shipped back to Europe. Where this car is the pinnacle of Citroën.

Linda N Brian Schick
Linda N Brian Schick
7 years ago

In a word, NO!

7 years ago

Alpina never had a relationship with Porsche. Alpina does have an ‘official’ unofficial relationship with BMW however.

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger
7 years ago

Would I drive a completely one off after market ‘ chop top ‘ DS ?

[ recognizing the historical fact that Chapron had a very ‘ official ‘ unofficial relationship with Citroen much like AMG had with Mercedes before Daimler purchased them and Alpina and RuF still does have with Porsche etc ]

Why yes I would . Fact is if I were in the market for a chop top DS I’d even consider buying this little b***ard child assuming all is in order with both the car and the conversion

But would I pay that much for this ‘chop top ‘ ? Not a chance . Fact is I wouldn’t even let you pay that much for this to give to me after you’d purchased it . But …. all guesses are .. somebody with more money than discernment will pony up . Proving once again that the Bubble is alive and growing … towards its eventual demise

What should this be worth in my opinion ? Considering any way you look at it this is a very molested classic …. $25k – 35k .. tops … for the fun and fashion factor .. and only the fun and fashion factor . Not to mention it’d look awfully good in front of my MCM …. 😉

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger
7 years ago
Reply to  Guitar Slinger

PS; I should of included Bauer’s ‘ official ‘ unofficial relationship with BMW back in the day in the list as well as that’d be the most relevant when discussing Chapron’s situation . FYI ; Rereading the article the fact that this one was chopped anonymously … takes the price down a further $5k – 7k minimum … regardless of the quality of work done