Our Cars : Keith’s Citroën GS – 500 miles on

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Getting to know the Citroen GS – after picking the car up from Aldershot, a quick motorway blast shows this car to be supremely competent (Picture: Andrew Freeman)
Getting to know the Citroën GS – after picking the car up from Aldershot, a quick motorway blast shows this car to be supremely competent (Picture: Andrew Freeman)

Back in March, I blogged that there was a real danger of AROnline going French. The fact that there were a pair of CXs on the books, and I’d arranged to buy a sweet little GS from Chris Salter bore well for my classic French quota.

To me, it seems like yesterday, but on checking my odometer, it looks like I’ve clicked past 500 miles since picking up the car from Aldershot. And that means it’s time to take stock of what is – currently – the only running car in my classic fleet.

The 1979 GS 1220 Pallas had been fastidiously maintained in the hands of its previous owner and, as a consequence, is an absolute beauty to drive. The aircooled flat-four fires up eagerly, it rises quickly on its suspension and glides along rough roads without drama. In short, it’s absolutely lovely to drive.

Testing times…

Back in June, I put it in for an MoT with my favourite tester, Ken Perrin, who runs Citycall Garage in Burton Latimer. As always with the annual test, I pace around like a nervous father in the maternity ward and, usually, this is justified.

Maybe that was tempting fate – after the sucking of air through teeth, and a number of lengthy conversations underneath the car, it failed its test. I knew that was coming; it took an age to get it through its emissions test (that was down to the choke being stuck on).

With a sinking heart, I listened as Ken listed the issues with my car.

  • The rear number plate lamps weren’t working
  • The CV boot was unsecured
  • The front seatbelt mount was loose
  • Front indicators not lighting orange

In truth, it wasn’t a big deal to sort. Ken fixed the issues within half an hour, and retested the car to a pass. And I was a happy boy. To me, this clearly demonstrates just how important it is to find a tester you trust, and who understands the unique needs of old cars. I doubt Kwik Fit would have worked through the failure points so diligently…

Free to enjoy the GS

With that hurdle out of the way, I got it insured by Hagerty (£110 per year on a classic policy), and I’m now spending my time enjoying driving the GS. And I can tell you this: it’s an absolute joy.

Starting with the ride and handling, it’s hard not getting carried away by how good this car is. The smooth ride is a given – with Hydropneumatic suspension, it remains flat and composed at all times. But what surprises me after years of BX and CX experience is just how flat it is in corners.

Forget the notion of wallow and lean – it handles beautifully, and inspires a great deal of confidence. The brakes are also sharp and keen, with plenty of bite and feel through the pedal. Again, this inspires total confidence. And you know what – I’d say that dynamically, it’s more than a match for what most people will say is the 1970s dynamic champion: the Alfa Romeo Alfasud.

And the rest of it?

Lovely! Once you get used to the indifferent fuel consumption (28-32mpg so far), the short gearing (4500rpm at 70mph), and scattergun ergonomics (two sets of heater controls and weirdly-arranged stalks), it’s amazingly easy to live with.

Seating comfort is excellent, and it’s wonderful driving something so tiny on today’s roads. Compared with modern cars, it’s an absolute pint pot (see the picture above), and yet it’s commodious inside and the boot is large and well shaped.

Threading through town centres is a cinch and grabbing a parking bay is a joy to behold. Yeah, it doesn’t have power-assisted steering, but who cares?

What needs doing?

It might drive pretty much as well as it did when it left the factory, and it looks great in pictures, but the GS is far from perfect. The list below probably represents the sum total of all the bits that need sorting.

  • The driver’s door needs painting
  • The passenger front door needs de-rusting and painting
  • The front valance needs repairing/replacing
  • The rear seats needs fabric repairs
  • It needs a spare wheel!

And, er, that’s about it.

Like all of these cars, I tend to say I’m going to keep it forever before selling it on to fund my next project. But in this case, I’m absolutely enjoying driving this car, which is proving reliable in service and fun to drive.

Bear in mind that it’s a pukka 1970s classic, it gets lots of recognition from other drivers, and there are only about 40 examples left in the UK, it was surprisingly cheap to buy. Think I’m kidding? I reckon it’s worth a fifth of an equivalent Ford Escort Mk2 now.

There are plenty of specialists out there who will keep it on the road, too. And in the AROnline universe, it surely deserves a nod for being one of Alex Moulton’s favourite cars… I’ll keep you posted how it goes!

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

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33 Comments

  1. Wonderful car. When I was growing up in the 1970s two of my friends’ parents’ had these and it was quite otherworldly to go out in one of these, although very noisy I recall. One friends father changed job and had a new company car: a Marina. D’oh!

  2. Great car but seems crazily low geared even by the standards of the time, which probably explains the poor fuel economy. I think the gearing was raised on late models so perhaps it would be possible to retrofit a diff. from the later 1299cc cars?

  3. These seemed to be overlooked compared to the other FWD pre-PSA Citroens.

    I know they had a bad reputation for reliability at one time, when I guess they had fallen into “banger” territory & new owners weren’t maintaining them properly.

    This has the more conventional dash, IIRC the earlier ones had “bathroom scale” style dials & the later ones had the quirky switchgear from the Visa.

  4. Are you sure you haven’t photoshopped that photo of the GS between the Honda (Civic?) and VW (Touran?) as it looks ridiculously small 🙂

  5. Citroen de facto replaced it with the lower end of the BX range, and wouldn’t re-enter the mid-size market until the ZX of the early 90s, a much overlooked and underrated car, if a little too Peugeot-ised for Citroen purists. It has survived well into long life successfully in the Chinese market, both as a Citroen hatchback and specially derived saloon, but also with bootleg models that look like Mercs, Audis etc.

    • I’ve heard the ZX is popular around bangernomics circles thanks to the relative mechanical simplicity & the XUD diesel engine.

      • As a thrifty 20-something they were 10 a penny, cheap to buy (everyone wanted the 306) and cheap to run. (A revelation compared to the Orion that was scrapped)

        Had 2, an XUD hatchback and briefly an XUDT estate (that I was given! 180k miles and still running well!)). Only issues were glow plugs (driving between N.Ire snd Scotland and the bitter winters) the end one of which is awkward to get at, and the alternator went (easily replaced with one from a Peugeot – the cross platform PSA parts had their uses!)

        Used to run it on a bit of biodiesel.

        Comfortable yet not wallowy, and the estate was huge – the old fella used to borrow it to pick up furniture and appliances.

        About as much street cred as a Hyundai Atos though.

  6. 28-32 mpg was probably acceptable in 1979, and a Mark 2 Escort wouldn’t have been much better. I think the smallish engine working a large body for this class of car would explain the economy figures, but I do believe the bigger engined GSA was more economical. Yet you can put up with the fuel consumption for such an interesting looking car to drive and own.

    • the GSA had a 5-speed box, early ones had the dash as per Keith’s car, the later ones had “biscuit barrel” controls and the bathroom scale speedo. Handbrake in the dash acting on the front wheels, and thus a useful emergency brake. radio in between the seats, in front of the suspension level control.

  7. Did the flat 4 use any technology originally intended for the long in the pipeline flat 6 which was intended for the DS & SM, but cancelled due to the Masarati V6 being available?

    • It depends on how you define “any”. The absolutely madcap decision to design a brand new air cooled engine as late as the early Seventies was said to be Panhard’s revenge for being taken over by Citroen. It was mostly Panhard designers who,were,responsiblw for the GS engine whereas the large six cylinder was designed by Walter Becchia, who was impresses by his persknal BMW motorcycle.

      • I assumed the Citroen design department would have a few ideas floating around until the right use was found. I didn’t realise the Panhard engineers were involved in the GS.

        IIRC BMW flat twins were used in the 2CV prototypes before Citroen designed their own engines.

        • The famous 2CV prototype with mono front light, mono wiper and hand crank for a starter has a watee coled engine. The switch to air cooling came later. Walter Becchia was experimenting with a water cooled 1,800 cc flat six for the DS, with simply did not have enough power and was replaced by the old TA engine with a new head at the very last minute. Don’t think there was a flat six planned for the SM, as this car was intended for the Maserati engine from the beginning.

          • A flat 6 engine was designed by Walter Becchia for the DS in water cooled and air cooled versions but was dropped because of the cost of the new engine.

          • Here you can see both water and (later) air cooled engineshttp://www.citroenet.org.uk/passenger-cars/michelin/ds/01.html
            They are stated as overweight and having not enough power.

          • the same again happened to the CX, which had to make do with the DS engines after the Comotor Wankel experiment failed.

  8. Glad to see that some still survive.
    Also glad to see an interior picture, which shows a more “normal” Citroen dash. But even so they still had to have some crazy features. If memory serves, what looks a bit hand brake like between the seats is to actually raise or lower the suspension, and the hand brake is just to the left of the steering wheel (level with the column stalk) and looked like a grab handle, which you pulled out of the lower edge of the dash board! Also, can’t see the radio in the picture, was this between the seats on the floor in the centre console?

    • Yes, a rather dangerous set up as you’d need to look down to change stations if you didn’t have a passenger. I’d imagine if you wanted to switch stations, or frequencies( Radios 1 and 2 had two in those days), you’d need to stop the car.

      • Thank goodness ergonomics have improved in the 30-40 years since.

        In my modern-day Skoda you just have to use a touchscreen tablet embedded halfway down the centre console to change station, which doesn’t feel dangerous at all… (/s)

  9. Great car. Love the interior photos.
    It’s really good to hear ongoing updates on the ups and downs of owning a classic.
    Too often we just get a “woohoo look what I bought” story, and then the car disappears off the face of the earth…

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