Monday, October 15, 2007

Our love affair with the Citroen 'Safari'

This is a picture from Wikipedia of the Citroen DS Break, also known as the Safari, Familiale or Wagon. They were made, it seems, from 1955 until 1975, and with those initials it is not surprising that people thought of it as a 'déesse' or 'goddess'.

My husband fell in love with the Safari in 1969 when, our family having increased to six with the birth of the youngest in 1967, we began looking for a seriously big estate car. The two main contenders at that time were a Peugeot (506 I think), and a Citroen Safari, both of which had extra seats at the back.

I was favouring the Peugeot, as I had seen it in action with another family of 6, but my husband came home one day and said "I've bought a second-hand Citroen Safari" - and that was it, love at first sight. Nothing I could say, over the next thirteen years, about how the hydraulic suspension aggravated my travel sickness, made a ha'porth of difference: we continued to run a Safari as our family car from 1969 until 1982. Theywere always second-hand, as I suspect they were already becoming collectors' items.

There certainly was a cachet to driving those old Safaris, and we would sometimes acknowledge each other if we met one on the road. I was disappointed of a greeting though, on the occasion when we drove into a supermarket car park in our third, green, Safari, and found an empty slot alongside another green Safari! I scribbled a short note of cheery greeting on a scrap of paper, and stuck it under their windscreen wiper. When we came out with our shopping the other Safari had gone, and - miserable spoilsports - they had not responded by leaving a greeting for us.

But that is jumping ahead. Our first Safari had a disastrously short life with us, and we have no picture of it. On New Year's Eve 1969 we were moving house from Cheshire to Hertfordshire, and as we left the Watford Gap services after a refreshment break, the car caught fire - a leak of the hydraulic break fluid had sparked it off. Imagine us, with No 3 son on the bench seat in front between us, in a makeshift harness, and No 4 son in a little metal-framed car/chair seat with a tray, in the middle of the back seat, with his two eldest brothers on either side of him. The boot area was choc-a-bloc with all our most treasured possessions which I had not wanted to trust to the removal men. In the time it took me to get out and get No 3 out, our eldest (age 11) had unharnessed and lifted the baby out of his 'non-quick-release' chair, and we were all in the road and moving fast away from the burning car. Nobody was hurt, and my husband managed to offload much of our luggage, though not all, but the car was a write-off.

The write-off was soon replaced by this elegant silver-blue one, a later model which had bucket seats in the front. Alas, within three years it received a rear-end shunt while we were stopped for road works on the way back from a holiday. It must have been frightening for the boys sitting on the sideways facing seats in the back, as they watched it coming. Again no-one was hurt, but this one too proved to be not worth repairing, so once more there was a change - to a green one this time.

[To be continued]


Avus said...

These were beautiful cars - elegant and far in advance of their times (sometimes a bit too complicated for their own good!)
Our friends had one, with a tow bar. One day, whilst she was standing behind it he turned off the engine and the car sank down, the tow bar crushing her foot beneath it - she did not appreciate the hydraulic suspension after that (and he wasn't favourite of the month, either!)

Judith said...

Goodness! what a horror story. My husband spent so much of his time underneath his cars that it's surprising that didn't happen to him.