Camping holidays are great. The pitter patter of endless, torrential rain on nylon, the soothing drip, drip of a leak that just refuses to be traced, and the repeated trips to the bathroom from that BBQ burger that looked absolutely fine.
One thing I particularly enjoy when pitching up at the campsite is, of course, looking at the cars. Of course, this particular campsite was in Henley-On-Thames, meaning that the majority of tents were probably erected by butlers, and my car would be by far the oldest on site. But no, not this time. As it happens, the first car I saw was the very last I expected to see.
Using a 40 year old Citroën for camping holidays? This guy is officially Doing It Right.
Picture the scene, if you will. Nine o’clock in the evening, the last of the sun’s rays slowly dissipating leaving a rain-dirty sky. The clouds are leaden, their undersides bathed in the eerie amber of a thousand distant streetlights. All is silent on the campsite; tiredness and hunger has brought the last of the kids in from their play, while grown-ups laugh from under their shelter, killing a last beer or five.
The near-silence is broken by a crunching of tyre on gravel and a pair of yellow, cross-eyed beams scan the campsite, highlighting webs of guy-lines that feebly anchor tents which still sway disobediently in the pulsing evening breeze. The crackling of displaced stones subsides when the wheels touch damp grass. The beams make direct contact with your eyes, then swing away leaving temporarily scorched retinas but finally enabling you to make out a long, sleek silhouette.
Immediately identifiable, it’s a Citroën DS, a late one with the faired-in headlamps. It swings round in a broad arc, highlighting rear lamps that don’t seem to shine with even brightness, and then draws to a halt some hundred yards away. I wait for a door to open, and then for a bright light, white steam and a ghostly apparition who has been driving forwards in time over the last four decades to come from within, but no. Instead, out step a happy, giggling family of two kids and a Dad.
That was how I first saw the Citroën.
Next day, after brushing my teeth, I strolled over towards the DS and found the owner sitting next to it, enjoying the fleeting signs of sunshine that graced us with their presence over the weekend. I said hello, asked if I could photograph the car, and set to work.
It’s beautiful, it really is. Of course, we all know the DS, we all know that it’s a wonderful thing to behold, but somehow in the flesh it seems even more other-worldly and alien. This is a car from four decades ago, one that three generations of successor have been and gone in replacing it. And here it is, being used as a daily driver, carrying camping paraphernalia and gubbins. Awesome. And more awesome when the owner is as approachable as this one.
Running a DS as a daily driver, it would seem, isn’t as much of a perennial nightmare as you might expect. Classic Citroën specialists charge less for routine maintenance than many main agents do, and there’s the bonus that the Classic guys are enthusiasts, too, and likely have years of experience and instinct to call upon.
And driving it? This is the DS20, not the bigger-engined and sometimes fuel-injected DS23, so not nearly as peppy. Overtaking takes some forethought but, thanks to the slippery shape, cruising at extra-legal speeds is easily done.
I’m looking forward to three and a half decades time when somebody turns up at the campsite with a Citroën C6, and if I’m there I promise to take photos of whatever recovery truck it’s sitting on the back of.