Let there be LIGHT




RAISED ON BIBLICAL accounts of miracles and redemption, it is hardly surprising that I think owning a 1975 DS23 Citroen is a calling.

It usually is fun, I am quick to add. But pray tell why so many simple tasks are so complex? How did the good lord create an entire universe in six days while Citroen made sure that even just aligning the headlights on the DS takes longer?

Citroen famously introduced turning headlights in the 1967 update of the iconic and landmark DS. Between 1955 and 1967 the headlights were in the fenders but fixed like any others. Not much else about the DS resembled anything else in the car world, but a headlight was still a headlight. Then the world was introduced to the concept of lights that could see around corners. Verily the world said, “Wow”. Turning lights remained a major selling point until the DS was replaced by the CX in 1975.

In the ’67-’75 redesigned nose the twin headlights are enshrined in plastic moulded buckets, the lights themselves illuminating even the darkest of souls through a teardrop shaped glass cover. The main headlights remain fixed. The smaller turning inner set of high beam lights – piercingly brilliant – pivot in tandem, connected to the steering rack by rods, springs and wires. Getting the zillion small pieces to work as designed requires religious devotion, meticulously following the dog-eared pages of the prayer book – I mean manual – with zealous precision.

My car, purchased two years ago, a shrine to my Citroen devotion, has one terrible flaw. I confess that a demonic non-believer in its past has succumbed to the basest temptation, to paint its headlight surrounds silver. Worse, the polished steel trims were substituted with plastic. Sacrilege. Why? Lord only knows, but I suspect that the entirely normal age-related yellowing of the plastic may have prompted the lick of silver.

But now, years later, the silver coat is peeling and it makes for a horrible and not original look. Praying will never improve it – it will require something more practical. Dismantling is not difficult – taking things apart is always easier than putting it all back together.

The front guards are mounted to the monocoque on two solid horns protruding from the front door pillar and come off entirely with the undoing of but two bolts. The wiring loom is unplugged at the guard lip, after carefully refreshing the colour coding of the faded wires and unions. The usually crushed and distorted large heater tubes simply unplug from their housing, and the entire wing removal takes between three and four minutes. Less time than it takes to enter a crypt. You then have easy access to the headlamp units from inside the removed guard.

The buckets are retained by a few small bolts and clips, the cover glass is held in place with rubber seals – invariably perished – and the delicate (and very expensive to replace) stainless steel trim that acts as eye liner needs to be carefully put aside without being twisted or pinched. Each step requires devotion and commitment to worshipping the original vision of a design team that was years ahead of the rest of the automotive industry.

Then the mechanical pieces – cranks and threaded rods – get individual attention, most of them only needing cleaning, threads repairing and a bit of spit and polish. But it is clear that the buckets themselves will need more.

There are two options. First and hardest is to endlessly apply elbow grease and fine grit wet and dry until the shells are sanded back a few layers to something akin to their original sheen. Liberal amounts of graduated sanding until you get to 1200 grit – countless hours – might get you there. Not recommended for the faint hearted or the impatient.

Far easier is to scrub them back with Jiff or a similar gritty kitchen cleanser, then a light – secular – bit of sandpapering, followed by an angel dusting of the best colour-matched high gloss paint. I am half way through the process and promise an update soon.

The tragic devotees of the Australian Citroen community gather religiously on a website devoted to ‘French cars only’ called Aussiefrogs to seek salvation online. Many have blessed us with their efforts to make the front lights gleam just as they did when factory fresh. All DS congregants gathering in the church of the Citroeniste will no doubt join a chorus of Hallelujah in praise and thanks to those elders and prophets who preach holy hydraulic sermons.