A Citroën saves the life of Charles De Gaulle

Image from the article titled Today in History: Citroën saves Charles De Gaulle's life

Photo: SEBASTIEN BLANC / AFP (Getty Images)

If you take a chance on your life while driving your car, you will want this car to be the safest, best performing vehicle you have ever driven. And on August 22, 1962, when a group of snipers opened fire on French President Charles de Gaulle, that is exactly what the Citroën DS 19 did.

(Welcome to Today in History, the series where we dive into important historical events that have had a significant impact on the world of cars or racing. If you have anything you would like to see falling on an upcoming weekend let me know at eblackstock [at] jalopnik [dot] com.)

The DS was an incredibly beautiful and streamlined car, with sloping lines and a well-thought-out design – and because it was French-made, it made sense that the French president was interested in being driven in one.

Why? Because of two things: the 1.9 liter engine with assisted shifting, which gave it speed, and the hydropneumatic suspension system which could automatically adjust the height of the car to keep it level and allow the driver to stay in control.

In 1962, a group called the OAS, which roughly translates to Organization of the Secret Army in English, decided that de Gaulle had betrayed France by handing Algeria over to Algerian nationalists in a long war that was seen as an important moment in the history of decolonization. At the time, the OAS was also responsible for detonating an average of 120 bombs per day in Algeria, and it did not bother to light up occasionally a school or hospital.

Thus, on the evening of August 22, 1962, the 12 armed men of the OAS opened fire on de Gaulle’s black Citroën DS 19 while the president and his wife were driven to Orly airport. The presidential party received 140 bullets. Two motorcycle guards were killed. The DS rear window was smashed and all four tires were punctured. But de Gaulle, his wife and their driver all managed to get out unscathed.

This is partly due to the DS. The group was going about 70 miles per hour, which made them a much more difficult target. The hydropneumatic suspension also enabled the driver to quickly emerge from the disaster.

For this reason, when Fiat was considering buying Citroën just seven years later, de Gaulle prevented the Italian company from buying a controlling stake in Citroën. Instead, the French government aided in the sale of Citroën to Peugeot in 1975, creating the merger company PSA Peugeot Citroën SA.

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