A Work of Art You Can Drive

Article excerpt

Byline: Blake Gopnik

One of the greatest rides ever, it doubles as a scupture.

This time of year, fantasies turn to the open road, and convertibles: speeding to Big Sur in a '64 Mustang; taking hairpins in Vermont in a Jaguar E-Type. I have my summer car dreams, too, but they're more esoteric: I imagine myself in a 1971 Citroen DS cabriolet. I believe it is one of the greatest objects ever made. The seamless lines of a DS pull its roof and back and doors, bumpers and turn signals and headlights, into a single visual gestalt that seems to knife through the air even when the car is standing still. It's as though there are no separate parts to a DS, just a single automotive idea, perfectly realized. I see the DS as the apotheosis of modernist ideals, sleek as any sculpture by Brancusi but also intimately linked to the daily workings of our world.

I'm hardly the first to note the excellence of the DS. It once came in third as "car of the century," and early on, the French theoretician Roland Barthes wrote a paean to it. But what's strange is that this status has barely trickled down into the culture at large.

Nic Waller, who helps select cars for the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, the great deluxe-car event that takes place in August, told me about touring an auto show in Geneva with some American "car people" and coming across a Citroen display: "It brought them up short, and they said, 'My God, this is fantastic'? …