23 Oct 2013

Spotted - Citroen DS ‘Le Dandy’ by Henri Chapron

Graham King finds a little gem in the classifieds - this week, a unique and rather beautiful Citroen DS coupe.

Car: Citroen DS21 ‘Le Dandy’ Coupe by Chapron, Price: EUR129,500, Where: The Gallery Brummen

Engine: 2175cc, 4-cylinder, Power: 109bhp, Torque: 121lb/ft, Top speed: 109mph (DS21 saloon)
In the classic car world ‘rare’ is a relative term. A Jaguar E-Type is rare to most people as it is hardly an everyday sight. But there are several thousand of them in the UK alone, which is a lot in classic car terms. Even the Ferrari 250 GTO is actually quite common, $50 million price tag or not, since 39 of those were built and many are still in regular use.

To qualify as properly rare, a classic car has to exist in numbers you can count on your fingers. On that basis, this Citroen DS ‘Le Dandy’ is the rarest of the rare because it is literally unique. It is the only one of its kind and you will never find another. We’ll come back to why that’s the case, but first some context.

We all know how much of a stir the Citroen DS caused when it was launched in 1955. It was so advanced in engineering and styling that it may as well have arrived from another planet. It is still astonishingly beautiful and some of its innovations have only recently become widespread - headlamps that swivel with the steering, for instance.

Henri Chapron was one of France’s best coachbuilders during the middle part of the 20th Century. He rose to prominence during the Twenties, bodying French luxury cars from the likes of Talbot and Delage. His creations were always undeniably beautiful and relatively restrained - the work of his contemporaries Figoni & Falaschi was operatically flamboyant in comparison.

Most of France’s luxury car makers didn’t survive World War II, taking the coachbuilders that relied on them with them. But Chapron survived, at least in part thanks to the Citroen DS. Despite having a monocoque chassis its body panels and roof were unstressed, so making radical changes to its styling didn’t require any complicated structural work.

Chapron’s best known interpretation of the DS is the coveted ‘Decapotable’ convertible. He built nearly 400, many unique in their detailing, before Citroen contracted him to produce an official version. He also built various DS-based limousines for French presidents and several coupes, of which the ‘Le Dandy’ was one variation.

Chapron built around 50 Le Dandys. The Gallery Brummen’s is one of only two that were built in 1966 and, as with so many of Chapron’s creations, it is unique in its detailing. The main difference is a higher roofline, which frees up more interior space and apparently makes it a genuine four-seater. But given the lack of any rear quarter glass, it’s probably rather claustrophobic in the back anyway.

This particular Le Dandy isn’t quite as pretty as some others I’ve seen, though it is still a hugely desirable object. And a very usable object at that. With its 109bhp, 2175cc four-pot engine, it should be more than capable of keeping up with modern traffic while you luxuriate in its smoother-than-silk ride, thanks to the trademark hydropneumatic suspension.

You would need to be a very particular type of character to drive this Le Dandy. Glamorously louche, with a hint of flash, I think. Just the thing for a run down to Cannes. Or maybe Biarritz. With an impossibly pretty girl in the passenger seat. And Prada luggage in the boot. I’m getting carried away, but you get the point…

The DS Le Dandy is slice of French glamour and luxury that transports you back to a time of effortless cool and easy elegance that doesn’t really exist anymore. It is really rather wonderful and I want it. Badly.

Article by Graham King