GENERAL INFORMATION '56-'65
“…The one thing that was consistent about Citroën in the USA was that nothing was consistent…”
Richard Bonfond, September, 2022
Many people have asked about the changes and modifications that Citroën made to import the DS model into the USA and Canada. While there have been attempts at this before, we have tried to do a more in-depth review of the unique changes and modifications that the USA and Canadian DS models had.
The parts books were very helpful in this endeavor, but unfortunately, there are a few mistakes, omissions, and murky areas. So we have tried to fill in the blanks in this article, at least to the best of our ability. Due to the lack of complete documentation, this article has relied on the knowledge of several experts to fill in as many gaps as is possible. We would like to thank the following people for their assistance in the preparation of this article (listed alphabetically);
Richard Bonfond, Dr. Danche (nuancierDS.fr), Chris Dubuque, George Dyke, Greg Long, Georges Menguy (citrowagon.fr), Allan Meyer, Chris Middleton, Lon Price, and Carter Willey.
If any readers see any errors or omissions, please let us know.
Governmental regulations drove many changes to DS’s imported to North America. The first highly organized attempt of the US government to regulate automobiles happened in 1966 when president Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law landmark legislation concerning motor vehicle safety. This act ultimately created the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) and resulted in a set of design and test standards called, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS).
Before the FMVSS’s were first mandated on 1968 cars, there was an uncoordinated patchwork of state laws and federal laws in place for automotive safety and emission control. Many of these laws specified design practices created earlier by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), a non-governmental organization that was founded in 1905. It would have been this uncoordinated patchwork of laws and industry design recommendations that Citroën would have had to navigate when trying to import DS19’s.
Canada had their own requirements and laws. The most significant change to Canadian laws appeared to have happened in 1971 when Canada adopted automotive safety rules similar (but not identical) to the US rules. Canadian rules were called, Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS), a name and acronym very similar to the US version. But since the first DS19’s predated the CMVSS by 15 years, early Canadian rules were probably a bit like the early US rules; sporadic and not highly organized into one agency.
FIRST DS’s ON USA SHORES
The earliest indication that a DS19 was in North America was on January 4, 1956 when a very early car, S/N 129, arrived by ship in New York. There are several accounts of this car’s arrival in the USA. Following is how the story goes…
"...A mechanic from Citroën named Claude Braux, along with Luigi Chinetti (the Ferrari importer for the US), drove the car in miserable weather from New York to Chicago, an 800-mile (1300 km) journey! It is said that the temperature was -16 C (3 F) and there were endless snowstorms. But the car made it to Chicago where it was hastily cleaned and prepared for the Chicago Auto Show, which opened on January 7, 1956, only three days after it had arrived in New York. Not much spare time in that schedule!..."
The car was described by a local newspaper as, “...the hit of the show…”. Here is a photo of S/N 129 at the auto show.
First DS in North America
The first DS in the USA may have been S/N 129 in Chicago, but it looks like California and New York City were the epicenters for the first DS’s that made it into dealer showrooms. I found that new DS19’s were at several dealerships in California as early as April of 1956. Challenger Motors (LA), Hanzel Motors (Oakland), and Meder Motor Sales (Hayward) all had DS19’s on their premises by April.
Citroën's brand ne w showroom in New York at 300 Park Avenue opened at the same time (first week of April, 1956) with actress Betsy von Furstenberg attending the grand opening.
For other cities in the USA, it looks like it might have been a few months later. By the fall of 1956, more DS19’s were being displayed in many cities across the USA.
Note that the first DS's in the USA were imported by Citroën themselves. They had come into the USA and set up headquarters in LA and New York in 1955, about a year BEFORE the DS became available. As well shall see below, they took a very different approach in Canada....
EARLY CANADIAN IMPORTATION
The earliest appearance of a DS in Canada that I can find was in January of 1957 when a DS19 was displayed at Stanley Park in Vancouver after it was used in a rally event from Vancouver to Manning Park and back, a 14 hour journey. We discovered that this car was brought to Canada for the rally by Ralph D. Gage, one of the co-owners of a Citroën Dealer in Seattle, called French Cars Inc. Incidentally, he came in third out of nearly 200 participants! This is very possibly the first DS to ever be in Canada!
On the other side of Canada, the Montreal Gazette newspaper reported that in August of 1957, there was only a single DS in all of Montreal.
In wasn’t until 1958 when things started to really happen in Canada. In March of 1958, a man named Alain Feraut (One of Citroën's Export Managers), was dispatched from Citroën headquarters in Paris and travelled across Canada trying to recruit Canadian businesses along the way to become distributors for Citroën and Panhard cars. He started out in Montreal in March of 1958. He then travelled west and arrived in Vancouver and Edmonton by May.
Alain Feraut in a 1956 photo
Bonfond Family Archives
Instead of setting up a formal presence in Canada as they did in the US, the approach taken by Citroën was to have Alain Feraut convince Canadian businessmen to become independent importers. In central and eastern Canada, Feraut was able to recruit Auto-France, Ltée in Montreal and Jim Fergusson Motors in Toronto. For the western provinces of Canada, it was Double Nine Motors.
Keep in mind that the above three businesses were being set-up as independent distributors, not as just dealers. So while all three had customer-facing operations, they were also acting as wholesalers to recruit other dealerships to sell the cars they were importing. To support this strategy, the Canadian provinces were divided-up to establish a specific territory for each of the wholesalers. The boundaries shifted a bit, but for the most part, Auto-France had Quebec, Fergusson had Ontario, and Double Nine had four western provinces; British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. See below.
APPROXIMATE TERRITORY DISTRIBUTION
Let's start with the most well known of these independent distributors; Auto-France, Ltée. Auto-France announced that they were to offer Citroëns and Panhards starting in May, 1958. This is only 2 months after the factory representative, Monsieur Feraut, was in Montreal to recruit businesses on his cross-country trek.
Auto-France was located at 7670 Decarie Boulevard, in Montreal. Auto-France also listed a few other Montreal addresses, including 7144 Cote-des-Neiges, a 5 minute drive away. We will get back to this second address later.
A few sources indicate that Auto-France was operated by a man named Harry Dubrowski, but we think this is a typo and his name was actually spelled Harry Dubrofsky, a local man with several auto-related businesses in Montreal.
Montreal Star, May 09, 1958
Auto-France announcing the DS and ID in eastern Canada
La Presse, May 1962
Harry Dubrofsky, owner of Auto-France
Auto-France in Montreal, photo probably taken in 1959
JIM FERGUSSON MOTORS
A second company recruited by Alan Feraut was called, Jim Fergusson Motors, located at 3284 Yonge Street in Toronto (later 3020 Yonge St). Jim Fergusson was a well established car dealer and sport car enthusiast, but in 1958 he was suddenly billing himself as a wholesaler of Citroën DS's. Fergusson himself was described as, "...Round of face and form, with mustache, glasses, and trademark bow tie...".
Starting in 1958 and 1959, Fergusson waged an advertising campaign to look for Ontario-area dealers to sell his Citroëns. Two such advertisements are shown below.
Owen Sound (Ontario), Nov 1959
The Kingston Whig-Standard (Ontario) Nov, 1959
Jim Ferguson looking for dealers in 1959
As an interesting sidelight to the Jim Fergusson story, his wife Alice was prolific in car racing and rally events. Below is a photo of her in an ID19 (1958). Alice went on to participate in a cross-Canada rally in 1961 in a Citroën ID (The Shell 4000 rally). We have a bit more about Alice Fergusson HERE.
Notice that both of the cars in the Fergusson photos, and the car in the Auto-France photo, have Lucas front turn signals. We will discuss those more later.
Alice Fergusson racing her 1958 ID19
Vancouver Province, May 1961
The cigar smoking Alice Fergusson applauding the winner of the Shell 4000
Jim Fergusson's new building at 3020 Yonge Street in Toronto. Photo is probably from 1957, a year or two before Fergusson became interested in Citroëns
DOUBLE NINE MOTORS
On the west coast of Canada, the story was similar. Double Nine Motors was an Edmonton-based company that was appointed distributor by Alain Feraut on his 1958 cross-Canada recruiting trip. Double Nine, owned by a man named Joseph V. Boscher, was responsible for the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. But not much ever materialized for Saskatchewan or Manitoba, so Boscher's efforts were primarily limited to British Columbia and Alberta. You can read more about Double Nine and the BC dealerships HERE.
But in late 1959, Double Nine went bankrupt and its owner, Joseph V. Boscher, found himself sentenced in court for fraud associated with forged auto lease paperwork. So by October of 1959, a new company emerged called, Citroën Cars Distributors BC, Ltd. Citroën Cars Distributors BC then acted as the independent importer for BC, replacing Double Nine.
Since Citroën sales were not likely to ever be successful in Saskatchewan or Manitoba, it looks like Citroën Cars Distributors BC focused on British Columbia only, ignoring three of the provinces that Double Nine had initially been awarded.
In the province of Alberta, a company named Pioneer Automotive picked up where Double Nine left off and continued Citroën sales and service for Edmonton (it appears that Pioneer was just a dealer, not a wholesaler). Pioneer, owned by a man named Bill Chevalier, had been a British car dealer and hot rod shop for a number of years but picked up the Citroën marque immediately after Double Nine had failed, in the fall of 1959. Pioneer went on to become a well known Citroën dealer for the next several decades. The Citroënvie website has a brief history of Pioneer Automotive HERE.
CITROEN CANADA LTÉE
This arrangement of using independent importers for Canada was not successful, especially for customers who had bought Citroëns. We heard stories of a weak (or non-existent) spare parts network, warranty squabbles, insufficient service training, and no parts book descriptions for Canadian configurations. Something needed to change.
Finally in 1962, Citroën themselves came to Canada to run the show. This was in the form of a new company they formed, called Citroën Canada, Ltée, initially located at 7144 Cote-des-Neiges, in Montreal. Remember this address? This was one of the two addresses that Auto-France had been using. It appears that Citroën initially took over one of Auto-France's locations, before finding more permanent location(s).
Ottawa Citizen, April 1962
Montreal Gazette, Jan 1955
Google Street View, 2022
7144 Cotes-des-Neiges in 1955, a few years before Auto-France took over. In 1962, Citroën themselves used this address. The building is still there today. Not very glamorous anymore, is it?
Citroën also came to Toronto to displace Jim Fergusson's operation by moving in down the street (Citroën put their Toronto headquarters at 623 Yonge Street).
With Citroën importing cars themselves, the independent importers (Auto-France, Jim Fergusson, and Citroën Cars Distributors BC, Ltd.) no longer needed to exist. And sure enough, they all disappeared. Alain Feraut, the man responsible for recruiting these independent distributors with his cross-country trek in 1958, became general manager of Citroën Canada Ltée in 1962.
A few years later, in 1965, Citroën would set up a Canadian west-coast headquarters as well, located in Vancouver at 1290 Burrard Street. You can read about Citroën's BC headquarters HERE.
In any case, Canada seems to have been about two years behind the USA for the arrival of the DS. In the USA, the DS was in dealership showrooms in the spring of 1956 (with Citroën themselves doing the importation). In Canada, DS’s arrived almost exactly two years later, in the spring of 1958 (initially imported by independent companies).
There are plenty of photos of early Canadian DS19’s and ID19’s and they clearly show that they had USA-style Lucas turn signals and tail lamps. As such, the cars imported by Auto-France in Montreal, Jim Fergusson in Ontario, Citroën Cars Distributors in BC, and by Citroën themselves after 1962, were of a similar configuration to USA cars. But we will get into that next....