• Matteo Licata

The Timeless Charm Of The DS Décapotable

Citroen has been making forgettable econoboxes for a very long time now, but it's not always been that way.

There was a time in which the Parisian brand sold what's perhaps the most effortlessly glamorous automobile ever made, the DS Décapotable.

Except it actually wasn't Citroen's idea.

Henry Chapron was, by the time the revolutionary DS was launched, the last survivor of the great pre-war French coachbuilders.

Like pretty much everyone else who witnessed the car's launch at the 1955 Paris Motor Show, Chapron was deeply impressed by the DS's otherwordly appearance. Unlike everyone else, he vowed to build a convertible example, which he first presented at the 1958 motor show.

By the time Citroen and Chapron reached an agreement, and the Décapotable became a catalog model in 1961, the famed coachbuilder had already converted about 25 DS into convertibles.

Available from 1960 until 1971, the so-called cabriolet "usine" was made from a specially-reinforced chassis factory-supplied to Chapron, who then no longer had to cut up brand new cars as before.

Nevertheless, each vehicle still was the result of skillful handiwork from Chapron's craftsmen. For example, each Décapotable pair of doors, which were 3 cm longer than the saloon, was made by cutting up and lengthening two standard DS front doors. Each of the rear wings was crafted in steel from two sections, and the finished body required plenty of grinding and lead-loading to get rid of all unsightly seams.

Curiously, the small boot lid was instead made from fiberglass.

It's, therefore, no surprise the DS Décapotable ended up being quite an exclusive proposition, costing roughly double the price of a base saloon.

Consequently, the total number of Décapotable "usine" made amounts to 1365 units, or a tiny 0.1% of all DS built, making these cars extremely collectible.

Yet DS convertibles are deceptively easy to find on the classic car market, and that's because their production has never really stopped.

Chapron himself is believed to have made at least three more, the last in 1978, the year Henri died, using a 1974 saloon as a starting point. Chapron's atelier closed its doors in 1985, but, since then, plenty of others have been emulating his work, with varying degrees of success, by chopping up helpless DS saloons.

And that's precisely what happened to the car featured in the video.

It started life as a run-of-the-mill D Super, and it's been converted sometime in the late 90s by the previous owner.

However, the factory convertibles' beautiful lines are rather faithfully reproduced, and 99% of onlookers will never know the difference while you cruise by looking fabulous.

That's why even declared homages like this one can easily fetch higher prices than a standard saloon, which, needless to say, is an excellent incentive for Chapron wannabes to keep decapitating Citroens.

Anyway, if you happen to have about a quarter of a million burning a hole in your pocket, here's Roadster Life's mini-guide to spot a Décapotable "usine" from a chopped saloon.

1) First and foremost, beware of cars built after 1971.

While Chapron made a few more convertibles after that, any post-71 Décapotable must be considered suspect, and a well-documented history is a must.

2) It may seem a trivial detail, but most chopped saloons don't come with sun visors on the windscreen's top rail. Original cars did have them, though.

3) Due to their construction, the Décapotable "usine" has a rear overhang longer by a couple of centimeters, and the rear bumper is longer to compensate: it's not the same element from the regular DS saloon.

4) Perhaps the most important giveaway of a non-original Décapotable is the number of jacking points. Citroen supplied a reinforced chassis to Chapron with strengthened sills that, like the Safari or Break, had two jacking points per side rather than one.

Of course, this doesn't pretend to be a detailed buying guide, so my advice is not to rely solely on an Italian Youtuber if you're evaluating such an expensive purchase.

My personal preference is for classic cars to be kept as original as possible. Still, I'd be a liar if I said to you that I didn't enjoy cruising on this silver convertible on such a lovely Spring day. There's something extraordinary about an open DS that's unmatched in the automobile world. It is indeed a gorgeous car, but in a different way than many others are.

What's unique about the DS Décapotable is, in my view, how it manages to be almost impossibly glamorous, yet in a uniquely delectable and carefree way. You can't help but smile once you step inside.

Don your favorite sunglasses, rest your elbow on the door and relax as the Décapotable transports you in a parallel universe where you're a beautiful movie star, time is irrelevant, and you don't have a care in the world.