Giant Test #Citroen-GS
1971 never has a car been so uniquely and completely qualified for our CAR of the Year title as the Citroen GS - the four-door saloon launched in August last year (1970 – Drive-MY remark) to fill the abyss between the Ami 8 and the D (DS/ID series and D-Super). It is new from end to end but that alone is not qualification enough; what counts most, is that the GS is so clearly a milestone in automotive engineering, for it brings into the mundane world of the small family saloon a degree of sophistication (to say nothing of complication at times) of design seldom found among the automotive ranks. That it does so at a price that makes it strictly competitive with its lowly, often crude rivals is little short of a late-model miracle.
Sales of the GS in right-hand-drive form are due to start in Britain within the next month or so at a price still to be fixed but confidently expected by the sales people to be between £1050 and £1100 for the #Citroen-GS-Club
version (price 1971). Even looking on the dark side and putting the figure at £1100 the GS will still compare brilliantly with, say, a Cortina 1300XL four-door trim at £1077, Fiat’s 124 at £985, an Avenger Grand Luxe at £1055, the Peugeot 204 at £1095, the #Renault-12
at £919, £1113-worth of Triumph 1500 or a four-door SL Viva at £995. The Citroen towers with consummate ease above these and all other possible rivals. In its native France, where tariff barriers operate for rather than against it, the GS competes even more strongly on a price basis.
‘How can they do it at the money?’ is a question that is answered only in part by Citroen’s confident dedication to the long production run and correspondingly low unit prices. To some extent the answer must lie in the ability of Citroen’s farsighted engineers to start from first principles each time, untrammelled by preconceived beliefs, and to come up with the right answer so often. Not that they are invariably completely right. The D range that first appeared in 1955 was an even more momentous development than the GS, yet there were shortcomings like the agricultural engine and the roll-prone 44 cornering that have persisted through to the current models a decade and a half later. There were peculiarities also in the controls but the feeling at Citroen then, as now, was that the driver must accept the education that Citroen motoring necessarily imparts.
The new GS also has its oddities. As a result of Citroen’s uncompromising approach to design the driver warms to them sooner or later and if he does not then the fault is his rather than Citroen’s. This feeling that everyone is out of step except Citroen has buoyed the firm up since pre-war days when even the stoutest hearts must have fluttered occasionally during development of the 15 series, again with the D and in more recent times with the Citroen 2CV and its derivatives. In fact, each new Citroen has proved to be an outstanding success and the GS will not be the one to break this run of triumphs. It is complicated as only a Citroen can be, yet it has been designed with longevity very much in mind. The ability to reconcile two such seemingly opposite requirements is just one aspect of Citroen’s undoubted and longstanding design and engineering prowess.
STYLE AND ENGINEERING
The GS should prove as ageless as the rest of the Citroen family, for it is a slave to none of the current fashions in body design although there are, admittedly, features that it has in common with other European cars, but more for aerodynamic purposes than aesthetics. The semi-fastback tail comes under this heading. The roofline falls away at an angle shallow enough to allow the bulk of the air flow in this area to remain in contact with it, then ends in an abruptly cut off transom of a tail that is fully in keeping with Kamm’s principle that if the rear body shape cannot be followed out to its logical conclusion (which would make the GS unduly long) then it is best terminated early and as a flat panel. The effect of this is to provide a valuable stabilising effect at high speed. At the other end of the body, the nose is fairly smooth although not as sleek as that of the original DS Citroen. But the GS does share with the DS a notable lack of excrescences on the body and is in fact 15 percent more aero- dynamically efficient.
As in the DS (and virtually every other volume-produced car) unitary construction is used. And, like all Citroen, the GS has driven front wheels. The engine, however, follows the thinking previously applied to the smaller Citroen in that it is air-cooled. In choosing the specification the engineers had to bear in mind equally a need for the excellent reliability and longevity in the face of minimal service that the French expect to give to their small cars, plus compact layout, low weight and reasonable power. These conflicting requirements have been met in a power unit that appears mundane on the surface yet contains a wealth of fascinating thinking in matters of detail. Basically it is a horizontally opposed four-cylinder unit, the crankcase, cylinder barrels and heads of which are cast in light alloy. The crankshaft, following normal practice in flat fours, has three main bearings. Thus Citroen have arrived at an engine that uses the very minimum of space and can, therefore, comfortably fit forward of the front wheels.
The bore/stroke dimensions are substantially oversquare at 74mm by 59mm, which makes for low piston speeds and correspondingly low rates of wear. For long-term development elbow room is available for a long-throw crank to take the capacity out to, say, 1300cc instead of the present 1015cc. Single overhead camshafts are driven by cogged belts and operate inclined valves via rockers. Carburation is by a single Solex downdraught twin-choke, with the second power barrel being vacuum operated. It feeds down to the inlet ports through long, curved inlet tracts that have a highly beneficial effect on midrange torque. Maximum power is 55.5bhp at 6500rpm and the peak torque of 52lb/ft occurs at 3500rpm. Even 6500rpm seems a brisk enough speed for a mild engine like this, yet the extraordinary thing is that it can be revved up to a full 8000rpm. Although power does drop off considerably at that dizzy speed it is still coming in strongly 1000 revs farther down the band. All this is made the more remarkable by the rugged, Volkswagen-like nature of the Citroen engine. Inspection of its components soon reveals that strength and solidity are the watchwords of design rather than low speed reciprocating and rotating masses. The importance attached to reliability is carried through into simplified service arrangements: oil filter, alternator and carburettor are all easily accessible on top of the package, while the contact breaker set is a one-piece package that plugs into the distributor. Citroen foresees a minimum engine life between major overhauls of 60,000 miles. A nine-bladed cooling fan is attached directly to the nose of the crankshaft so that the V-belt is responsible for driving only the alternator. As is usual on nominally air-cooled engines like this one the lubricant plays a major part in carrying heat away. In the Citroen warm oil is also ducted around the inlet manifold to provide a hotspot at the junction beneath the carburettor before passing to the cooler.
Departing from normal #Citroen
practice the all-indirect gearbox has Porsche-type baulk-ring synchromesh. Control is by a floor lever slotting straight into the back of the rearward-projecting transmission housing, to the relief of those who had feared another Citroen column, facia or power-operated gearchange. Power is fed back to a final drive unit located between gearbox and engine and then out to the front wheels. The wheels themselves, with three-stud mounting, are unfashionably large 15inchers and their rims are seemingly none too wide at 4.5in. Still, the generous tyre diameter does benefit tread life and also brings overall gearing back to normality, the transmission ratios themselves being rather low. The all-independent suspension is similar in principle to that of the DS and therefore by definition infinitely more advanced than that of any other small-to-medium car. The linkages comprise double wishbones (angled to give anti-dive geometry) at the front and single trailing arms astern. The springing medium is hydropneumatic strut, the cylinders of which are interconnected and draw their pressure from an engine-driven pump. Self-levelling is automatic regardless of load and, as on the DS, the driver has a three-position manual override control by which he can increase the ground clearance for offroad motoring, even raising the car high enough to help with wheel changing, although a manual jack is needed for the last few inches. Anti-roll torsion bars are fitted fore and aft.
The hydraulic pump of the GS also supplies pressure for a fully power-operated (as opposed to power-assisted) brake system. Again this follows the pattern of the #Citroen-
with large inboard discs on either side of the differential in front and much smaller outboard ones for the back wheels. Control is by a normal pedal which in turn actuates a concealed DS-type button — an un-Citroen-like concession to the masses. The steering seems quite ordinary by comparison with all this complexity and the DS, for that matter, being a straightforward rack-and-pinion mounted low down behind the wheels.
USE OF SPACE
By one-litre standards the #GS
is a big car although this is not the basis on which it should be judged, for its performance as much as its overall dimensions put it up into a higher category than this would suggest.
At a fraction over 13.5ft in length the Citroen comes some way up the size scale, although not quite as far as its appearance in photographs suggests. To put it in perspective the GS is similar in size to an Austin Maxi, being an inch or so lower and narrower and some three inches longer. Surprisingly, perhaps, the GS is not all that much larger than Citroen’s own Ami 8. The GS is five inches longer, three inches wider — and more than six inches lower. Space utilisation is excellent considering the amount of machinery to be packed in. This has been achieved by cramming the engine compartment as only Citroen can. The power unit itself takes up remarkably little room thanks to the cylinder configuration and forward location. The ancillaries, conveniently placed on top, begin to steal some of the area and then comes the hydraulic pump and its network of pipes. The absence of a water radiator saves room, but then there is the oil cooler to be accommodated and, on top of everything, Citroen have found room for the spare wheel. The fact that below and behind all this lurk the transmission, drive shafts, inboard disc brakes with hydraulic and manual calipers, not to mention the steering and suspension, indicates that not a cubic centimetre has been wasted.
At the opposite end the engineers have reduced to the bare minimum the space given over to suspension. The hydropneumatic struts are mounted horizontally, parallel to the trailing arms, and the antiroll bar wends its way around a fuel tank located below axle level. The silencer is set transversely behind it, which ensures that a vast compartment is provided for the boot extending forward beneath a deep parcels shelf. Its square, box-like shape means that every inch of its remarkable 16 cubic feet capacity is usable. Access is by lifting a counterbalanced lid that forms most of the vertical tail panel and spans the full width of the luggage locker.
The Citroen’s wheel-at-each-corner layout ensures that the passenger compartment is kept well within the wheelbase yet at the same time is far from cramped. Leg and headroom in the rear seat compare well with that in externally larger cars and particularly well with the Citroen’s price rivals (1970 Drive-MY remark). Width is also there in plenty due to the pronounced tumblehome, slim doors and curved glass. The back seat, though, is not wide enough to take three average adults in reasonable comfort. In the front compartment the transmission housing takes up enough legroom to preclude a middle passenger even if a bench seat were to be fitted. On top of this a console has been formed, sloping down and backward between the seats to provide a home for the radio, when fitted, and the ride height control. Directly in front of the steering wheel what could have been a Rover-like tray with non-slip mat and ideal for maps, dark glasses and the other paraphernalia of long-distance travel is only a flat piece of plastic cowling. The front passenger has a lidded compartment, a small cubby hole and there is a tray beneath.
COMFORT AND SAFETY
Not the least of Citroen’s achievements with the GS is the extraordinarily low noise level. Air-cooled engines had hitherto been accepted as unavoidably noisy — the absence of muffling water jackets and the presence of a massive fan prevented them being anything else. Citroen wanted the simplicity and reliability of air-cooling without the noise penalties and this the engineers have obtained. To a great extent the silencing is carried out at source, rather than by the external insulation of acoustically dead panels. The belt drive to the camshafts helps, of course. Less obviously, the cylinder heads have been made extremely rigid (incidentally eliminating the need for head gaskets) thus reducing one of the major, if unexpected, sources of mechanical sound in an air-cooled power unit. As a result it is uncannily quiet by air-cooling standards, although no better than average when compared to water- cooled engines. On the test car more noise came from the transmission which, being all-indirect, gave one no respite from its low whine even when in top.
By way of compensation for this gaffe wind noise is as near-completely absent as you would expect in one of Citroen’s aerodynamic designs. In this respect as in so many others the GS is streets ahead of the competition and indeed compares well with cars of two or even three times the price. Much of its commendable silence stems from the uncluttered shape, but to make doubly sure the doors are properly sealed to shut out noise. So well sealed, in fact, that air hisses in again when it opens.
Having ensured an outstandingly quiet ride for the occupants, #Citroen
really outdo themselves by also supplying them with a supremely comfortable one. The hydropneumatic suspension absorbs virtually any road imperfection and it does so quietly; tyre noise is only a very minor irritant manifested mostly on cats-eyes. The entire system works even more efficiently than does its counterpart on the big Citroen. There is a much more pronounced — and welcome — damping effect that completely eliminates any unsettling lurching and at the same time the car remains on a remarkably even keel. Dive and squat have been all but eliminated by the angled front wishbones although there is still a tendency to initial body roll as the steering is suddenly turned and before the angle is steep enough for the anti-roll bars to have much effect. Beyond this point, though, the bars restrict roll satisfactorily.
Ride comfort is further enhanced by the splendid seats. Firmer than on other Citroens, they provide anatomically correct support together with a good deal more lateral support than their appearance suggests. The trim material has a soft, 46
tenacious texture that grips the occupant. A reasonable amount of longitudinal adjustment is provided for the front seats but even after trying several permutations of seat travel and backrest rake most drivers find themselves in a slightly unusual position. The steering wheel, with its delightfully soft, thick and grippy rim, is at a shallow angle which forces one to sit quite close for cross-arms — as opposed to rim-shuffling — driving. The rest of the controls, however, are well laid out, though the handbrake, for all its ultimate convenience, takes some getting used to: it is a horizontal pull-out loop set high in the facia and released by a trigger in one corner.
Most of the electrical services are controlled by switches (they are too short to be called stalks) protruding from the steering column cowling and reachable without taking a hand from the wheel. The one for the washers and two-speed wipers is confusingly near the winker (non self- cancelling)/horn/flasher control.
The heating and ventilation systems — through-flow of course — are of average efficiency and versatility by liquid-cooled engine standards, which therefore makes them unusually effective for an air-cooled vehicle. Fresh air can be ducted through eyeball outlets at the ends of the facia and the remainder of the controls are simple.
The blower — still a rarity on air-cooled cars — has only one rate and is noisier than the engine at speeds up to 50mph. Heat is drawn from around the cylinders which warm up as quickly as one might reasonably expect with an engine using so much alloy. A heated rear window is an optional-cost extra and well worth the money since the glass is mist-prone most of the time.
Instrumentation is uninhibited. The voltmeter and fuel gauge are straightforward enough, as is the double row of 10 symbol- marked warning lights for practically every thing including brake pad wear and suspension pressure failure. (With 10 such lights a systems-check device would be a good idea though.) But the rev counter is a weird affair in which the dial is curved to follow vaguely a right-angle shape and the speedometer is even stranger: a hidden drum rotates to show the speed as a number visible through a magnifying plastic lens. Rather meaningless braking distances are also shown. This device has its own variable lighting in daylight when the sidelights are off. As an attention-getting gimmick it works splendidly but as an instrument it is a disaster. A normal speedo can pass its message to the brain at a glance, but this thing calls for refocusing the eyes from the road ahead to read a number — necessitating in turn a conscious downward glance — then refocusing yet again to see the road. Tests we carried out show that at 80mph you cover around 120 feet while your eyes are performing this operation — 120 feet, that is, when you are not seeing the road clearly. In this instance Citroen’s first- principles approach has regrettably misfired up eccentricity alley. In all other aspects the GS is one of the safest production cars yet from any manufacturer. Its approach to the subject is a sensible, empiric one that makes a mockery of the uninformed, hysterical laws now applying in America and parts of Europe.
In the GS the safety thinking is of a practical rather than legislative nature. Lighting, for example, uses quartz-iodine bulbs for the main beams, going on to normal tungsten for the deep (the cheaper Confort model lacks this feature). In the driving compartment knobs and switches are tucked out of harm’s way and the steering wheel has the usual Citroen single spoke curving away into the column. Impact-absorbing padding has been placed here it is needed rather than where it will look best to a safety-conscious customer or fit in most easily). The door handles both inside and out are slim and safe-looking yet easy to use and the front seats carry mounts for slot-in neck-restraining head rests. And, of course, the structure or' the car is impact-absorbent by virtue of deformable end assemblies protecting stiff centre section with outer longerons ward off midships-ramming assaults. Our only quibble in this area is with Citroen's decision to attach a section of the rear bumper and rubber overriders to the relative fragile boot lid.
PERFORMANCE. HANDLING, BRAKES
The GS is not the most willing of starters. On the test car in nippy weather it needed some churning away on the usual steering lock/ignition/starter key before it would pick up and run. After that careful adjustment of the manual choke was needed for the CAR march 1971 first mile before the knob could be pushed home and the engine would run unhesitatingly. Although the engine will pull smoothly from remarkably low revs it develops no realistic torque until nearing 3000rpm, but from there on it makes light work of third and even top gear. Driven hard, it responds with acceleration that seems good rather than outstanding for a car in this category — until you remember that it has a capacity of only a single litre and weighs well over 17cwt. Seen in per-spective then, the #Citroen
performs very well indeed and its apparent lack of low speed torque is compensated for in the upper range.
Thanks to its fine aerodynamics the Citroen possesses especially remarkable abilities near the top of its performance curve where the fashion-conscious shapes of its rivals rob them of so much. The GS’s maximum speed is a commendable 92mph and it is reached in a surprisingly short distance; the last few mph do not need as long a run-in as is necessary on lesser cars. As a bonus the fiat-four power unit is eminently revable. In short bursts it can be taken 1500 revs past the nominal red line to an easy-breathing 8000rpm. At this point, of course, power has dropped off considerably and the only possible practical point of 8000 is to extend the intermediate gear speeds momentarily for overtaking. On the other hand power still abounds at 7000rpm and it was this figure that we used in our testing. Acceleration times would have been even more notable had the gearchange been quicker. Despite the presence of Porsche baulk-ring synchromesh, and the absence of a lengthy remote control linkage, the change is neither particularly quick nor outstandingly positive, though it is quite light.
The fault — such as it is — appears to lie with the selector mechanism rather than with tardy synchromesh. A further minor shortcoming is a mild tendency to surge at low speed due to a lack of balance between soft engine/transmission mounts and torsional elasticity in the drive shafts.
Citroen’s engineers have already cured one source of surge that manifested itself on early GSs and was traced to too abrupt cutting-in of the second carburettor choke. The transition on to both chokes is now completely smooth.
We have already enthused about the quality of ride provided by the all-independent hydropneumatic suspension but the roadholding provided by this unique system is correspondingly even better. The familiar front-wheel-drive sensitivity to throttle is all-but entirely absent. The GS does corner best when accelerated through the curve, naturally, although it has no unpleasant surprises in store for the driver who lifts off half-way round. The very limited change of attitude does no more than reduce the understeer to a more neutral condition. In fact, the understeer is never particularly pronounced even when cornering at the most unlikely rates. The GS has such a truly tenacious grip of the road that its sheer road- holding capability is not matched by any of its competitors. Eventually, however, even the Citroen will let go. Whether it does so at front or rear depends on whether or not power is being applied at the time. Even then it remains manageable to a degree for the steering is not unduly low geared. Many drivers would, perhaps, welcome a higher steering ratio but the price of it would be the loss of the gratifying combination of lightness and dampened sensitivity available at present. Steering response is excellent without being as unnervingly over-developed as it is in the big Citroen with power-assistance.
The brakes rate similarly high marks. Citroen’s preference for discs all round pays off in reducing fade, though the inboard front ones — basking in both engine and transmission heat — must get rather warm at times. Complete power operation means that they are not so specially progressive, but a driver new to the car soon learns to live with the extra delicacy required. The cars in production are a good deal less sensitive in this respect than the ones we first drove (see CAR October #1971
- Drive-MY remark). Forsaking (we are pleased to note) the button of the DS, Citroen have given the GS a conventional-looking brake pedal even though it only controls a valve. Its travel is greater than that of the DS’s button, yet it is still less than three- quarters of an inch in total. The angled front suspension ensures that the #Citroen-GS-Pallas
stops and starts on an even keel, nose dip as well as lift under acceleration being still-born.
Wet-road behaviour is as good as it is in the dry. Everything happens at rather lower speeds, unavoidably, but thanks mainly to the Michelin tyres that are an intrinsic part of any Citroen it does so predictably and, in any case, at speeds above those most drivers are ever likely to attain in the rain.
And finally the fuel consumption figures, while not the best in the one-litre class, are still reasonable for a car of the Citroen’s performance, weight and carrying capacity.
Even during a year in which it had its stablemate, the #Citroen-SM,
to contend with, not to mention the Range Rover, the GS emerges as an indisputable #CAR-of-the-Year.
The results of our prolonged Giant Test evaluation reinforce the foretaste we had when it was announced in August and back up the opinions of a majority of CAR of the Year judges. Indeed, the GS could rate as car of the decade. Every aspect of its design and behaviour demands superlatives. Performance, handling, braking, comfort, safety, space utilisation and accommodation are all at least as good as those of the opposition, and on most counts the GS exceeds any rival in every respect. But the really astonishing thing is that such a technically advanced car can be produced at such a low price. In France, even more than in the UK, it is a fierce contender in the market place. At twice the price it could be a steady seller and a noteworthy example of transport engineering. At the figures Citroen are setting for it the GS is near-incredible.