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BBC Autos

The Roundabout Blog

The car that saved a president

About the author

Editor of BBC Autos, Matthew is a former editor at Automobile Magazine and the creator of the digital-only Roadtrip Magazine. His automotive and travel writing has appeared in such magazines as Wired, Popular Science, The Robb Report and Caribbean Travel + Life. He lives in Los Angeles with his wonderful wife and four-year-old daughter.

 

Bullet-riddled but unbeaten

A police investigator examines bullet holes in the Citroën DS 19 that helped French president Charles de Gaulle escape assassination on 22 Aug 1962. (Keystone / Getty Images)

On the evening of 22 August 1962, a dozen gunmen from a dissident French paramilitary group called the Organisation de l'Armée Secrete opened fire on President Charles de Gaulle and his wife as the couple hurried down Paris’ Avenue de la Liberation in the back seat of a black Citroën DS 19.

The would-be assassins believed that de Gaulle had betrayed France when he relinquished control of the northern African nation of Algeria, a move that concluded a long and bloody war with Algerian nationalists. At least 140 bullets showered the motorcade. The Citroën was ravaged – gunfire raked its flanks and blew out at least two of its tires. On a rain-slicked and unevenly surfaced road, the unstable car entered a dramatic skid as de Gaulle’s chauffeur, Francis Marroux, struggled to maintain control.

But the DS – a car known as the Goddess – had a secret weapon. The car’s innovative, self-levelling hydropneumatic suspension quickly adjusted wheel position, adapting to the flattened tires and keeping rubber in contact with the road. This allowed the driver to recover from the slide and regain control as he accelerated to safety. The de Gaulles were unharmed, and mythic status for the dazzling DS, already the preferred ride of French movers and shakers, was secured.