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When Brooks Stevens dreamed of designing a Citroen DS

Published in blog.hemmings.com

The Citroen DS had an uphill battle coming into the U.S. market for many reasons we won’t run down here. Suffice it to say, none of those reasons (save for maybe the headlamp issue) had to do with styling. Regardless, Brooks Stevens apparently thought that what the Goddess needed was an American-style makeover.

Or, at least, that’s what we can divine from a handful of renderings Stevens did promoting his visions for a DS “Americaine” version that we came across in the Milwaukee Art Museum’s collections. Does it look like a DS? Barely. And that was probably Stevens’s point – this was 1957, after all (September, to be specific), and Americans wanted chrome, two-tones, fins, wraparound windshields, funky reverse-slant C-pillars, so why shouldn’t Citroen slather up a car with these things too?

Whether he actually pitched the idea to Citroen, it’s hard to say. It doesn’t appear Stevens had a formal relationship with Citroen from our quick perusal of a few relevant sources, including Glenn Adamson’s “Industrial Strength Design: How Brooks Stevens Shaped Your World,” and we don’t see any other obvious Citroen designs in the Milwaukee Art Museum’s online collections. And from looking through Citroen references, it doesn’t appear the company had any intention to redesign the DS for the American market. So all indicators point to this being a flight of fancy on Stevens’s part.

But not a flight of fancy that came entirely out of the blue, as we can see from another couple renderings of his, dated March 1957 (above) and August 1957 (below).

Both show a similarly shaped sedan, apparently named Scorpion. That name and the vents just behind the rear door suggest maybe Stevens had a rear-engine design in mind for the rendering, while the sideways baloney-cut headlamps suggest Stevens was still thinking about the Paxton Phoenix. In which case, maybe Stevens just reworked some earlier designs to fit another idea that arose after a three-martini lunch with a Citroen importer or a three-baguette lunch with a Citroen executive. After all, just as we see how Stevens recycled elements of other designs multiple times to refine his ideas, we see elements of these designs appear throughout Stevens’s other renderings.

Take, for instance, this September 1956 rendering with similar wheelcovers, a similar beltline flaring out to divide the tailfins in two, and those A-pillars that Stevens seemed hung up on for at least a few years in the late Fifties and that later appeared on his renderings for the Scimitar.

Anyway, we digress. DS Americaine: Oui oui or wee-wee?