Chapron Citroen DS21 Concorde Coupé 1965
Citroen’s magnificent, space-age DS turned the motoring world on its head when it launched at the 1955 Paris Auto Salon. Onlookers at the show were stacked ten-deep, gendarmes were called in to control the crowds and visitors began waving their Francs at Citroen representatives to secure a deposit on this most remarkable machine. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this scene was the fact that Citroen’s stunning new creation was a mid-priced family sedan! Amidst the chaos, Citroen representatives took more than 12,000 deposits on the first day of the show! Despite the humble purpose, the DS was a technological tour de force, featuring a high-pressure central hydraulic system controlling the suspension, steering, four-wheel disc brakes, and semi-automatic gearbox. Suspension was fully independent and the car used revolutionary radial tires from Michelin. It was wrapped in a gorgeous, futuristic body penned by Italian sculptor Flaminio Bertoni and French aeronautical engineer Andre Lefebvre which the French theorist and aesthete Roland Barthes described as having “fallen from the sky.” The DS would go on to become an enduring symbol of French ingenuity, creativity, and Avant Garde style. More than a million were built over twenty years, with everyone from middle-class families to heads of state counted among the proud owners.
While Citroen focused on building the four-door saloon and perfecting the complex systems, France’s most prestigious coachbuilder, Henri Chapron, found room for improving the design. Despite a decline in custom coachwork, Chapron remained busy creating panels for Salmson and Hotchkiss and custom bodies for the Citroen Traction Avant, and he emerged after WWII as one of France’s most prestigious and prolific coachbuilders. Henri Chapron was at the Paris Auto Salon when the DS debuted, and he vowed to put his mark on the beautiful new machine.
Despite his status and connections with Citroen, Chapron had great difficulty in obtaining a DS chassis directly from the factory due to overwhelming demand from the public. He was forced to purchase a new DS from a dealer, which he then converted into a cabriolet. The factory had initially planned to build a cabriolet version but once they saw Chapron’s creation, they came to appreciate that his team had the necessary skills to perform the complex conversion.
Production of the official Decapotable Usine models occupied much of the workshop’s time, yet Chapron still created other unique variants of the DS for limited production and individual clients. These included the Dandy fixed head coupe, four-seat Concorde coupe, and Majesty limousine, all of which are coveted by today’s collectors for their quality and unmistakable style.
beautiful 1965 Citroen DS21 Concorde coupe by Henri Chapron. This car is one of approximately 35 examples built by Chapron, and it is one of just six from the second series, distinguished by the “finned” rear wing treatment. Build records supplied by the coachbuilder show that chassis number 4.350.009 arrived at Chapron in October 1965, and was assigned the commission number 7550. It was completed and invoiced on the 10th of December, 1965.
According to the documentation, Chapron built this Concorde to special order for Monsieur Jean Lavail. The build records list his business address as the prominent architectural firm CETAB – and this handsome Concorde was no doubt a fittingly sophisticated motor car for a successful French architect. Appropriately for a coachbuilt car, this example included a host of luxury options. The high specification as listed on the build sheet includes power windows, leather trim, optional Jaeger instrument cluster, Radiomatic FM radio with automatic Hirschmann antenna, Marchal fog lamps (including a pair faired into the lower apron!) and Robergel wire wheels. The handsome Midnight Blue and Shell Gray livery it wears today is the original color scheme as specified on the build sheet. All-in, Mr. Lavail’s invoice totaled nearly FF 41,000, which would have been the equivalent of over $8,000 US Dollars. By comparison, a new Cadillac DeVille cost less than $6,000, and the exclusive Citroen would have been on par with the cost of a new Cadillac Series 75 Limousine.
While it is not clear how long Monsieur Lavail owned his DS Concorde, it appears that it spent the majority of its life in France, with French registration papers showing it changed hands in 1985. That owner, a professional Citroen mechanic, bought the car as a complete and original example, although it is understood that it was not running at the time. He gradually refurbished it, treating it to a light restoration in 2000, and is said to have rebuilt the engine during his ownership, although records are not available. For the next 33 years, the owner enjoyed and cared for his unique Citroen, maintaining it in excellent condition and using it regularly on the road.
Henri Chapron stands proudly among the greatest coachbuilders in France. From his pen came some of the most beautiful and distinct motorcars ever created, even in the post-war era when custom coachbuilding was on the decline. The crisp and elegant DS Concorde is one of several interpretations of Citroen’s “goddess” created by Chapron, with a form that was equally at home in the heart of the Champs-Élysées or cruising the French Riviera. This striking DS represents the coming together of two legends of French Avant Garde design, and is ready for continued enjoyment in the hands of its next enthusiastic caretaker.
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