Automotive

This Day In History: A Citroen Saves Charles De Gaulle’s Life


Image for article titled This Day In History: A Citroen Saves Charles De Gaulle's Life

Photo: SEBASTIEN BLANC/AFP (Getty Images)

If you’re going to have an attempt made on your life while riding in your car, you’re going to want that car to be the most capable and safest vehicle you’ve ever ridden in. And on August 22, 1962, when a group of shooters opened fire on French President Charles de Gaulle, that’s just what the Citroen DS 19 did.

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

The DS was a shockingly gorgeous and streamlined car, all sloping lines and thoughtful design — and because it was French-made, it made sense that the French President would be interested in being driven around in one.

Why? Because of two things: the 1.9-liter engine with a power-assisted gearshift, which lent it speed, and the hydropneumatic suspension system that could automatically adjust the height of the car to keep it level and enable the driver to maintain control.

In 1962, a group called the OAS, which translates roughly to Secret Army Organization in English, decided that de Gaulle had betrayed France by giving up Algeria to Algerian nationalists in a long war that was considered an important moment in the history of decolonization. At the time, the OAS was also responsible for setting off an average of 120 bombs a day in Algeria, and it didn’t mind lighting up the occasional school or hospital.

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So, on the evening of August 22, 1962, the 12 OAS gunmen opened fire on de Gaulle’s black Citroen DS 19 as the President and his wife were being chauffeured to the Orly airport. The Presidential party sustained 140 bullets. Two motorcycle guards were killed. The rear window of the DS was shattered, and all of its four tires were punctured. But de Gaulle, his wife, and their chauffeur all managed to escape unharmed.

That, in part, came down to the DS. The party were driving at approximately 70 miles per hour, which made them a much more difficult target. The hydropneumatic suspension, too, enabled the chauffeur to speed out of disaster.

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Because of that, when Fiat was considering buying Citroen just seven years later, de Gaulle prevented the Italian company from buying a majority stake in Citroen. Instead, the French government helped the sale of Citroen to Peugeot in 1975, creating the PSA Peugeot Citroen SA merger company.

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