The Citroen GS 1220 possessed that quality of ugliness which only the chic French could make admirable. The controversial shape packed in the maximum passenger and luggage space
within a minimum road space.
Such was the GS 1220's aero-dynamic excellence that the little 1,220-c.c., all-aluminum, flat-four, overhead-camshaft, air-cooled engine could propel it at well over an indicated 160 km/h (100 m.p.h.), and contrived to practically eliminate wind noise.
Yet the little car was a surprisingly thirsty beast, the twin-choke Solex or Weber carburetters proving difficult to adjust so that you could get the engine running smoothly. Many owners complained that it was difficult to improve upon the low to mid-twenties miles per gallon consumption, while others clained exceptionally bad cold starting and a persistent flat spot.
Thankfully the GS had plenty of other qualities which not only redeemed any annoyance with the carburetors, but went a long way to making the car addictive. Ride and seating comfort was superior to any other small car then being manufactured - and we are talking here about any small car made anywhere in the world.
The all-independent, self-levelling hydropneumatic suspension was designed to cope with the worst vagaries French roads could offer, which in turn made it wonderfully supple on unforgiving roads throughout the world. The three-position ride height control between the seats was normally left in its mid-way position, though for off-road work, which the front-wheel-drive GS was able to take in its stride, the higher position could be selected.
The lowest position was required only for lowering the car on to its jacks for wheel removal. A single-spoke steering wheel controlled a light, wonderfully accurate and ideally-geared steering, the front wheels seemingly entirely unaffected by the torque reaction you would normally find on a front-wheel-drive car. After all, Citroens were amongst the pioneers of traction avant.
The all-disc, power-operated brakes were powerful and reassuring, once you became accustomed to the sensitivity and fractional movement of the conventional appearance central pedal. Fortunately Citroen had forsaken the over-sensitive central brake button. There was the usual Gallic roll under hard cornering, but the roadholding on its Michelin ZX's was tremendous and in traffic the car was nimble and responsive.
Though performance was certainly not in the sports car class, the larger-engined GS (the bore was increased from 74 to 77 mm. and the stroke from 59 to 65.6 mm.) would out-perform the majority of 1,500 to 1,800-c.c. Japanese and British cars being manufactured at the time, and would cruise all day at its maximum attainable speed according to the conditions. The GS 1200 was buzzy through the gears, though not objectionably so. The long gear-lever had to be rowed fairly energetically, and drivers would often claim the gears were found by luck rather than accuracy - even when a gear was engaged the lever could be slopped three to four inches from side to side.
But the main point was that the 60-b.h.p. engine was a vast improvement on the 1,015-c.c., 55-b.h.p. unit. Gearbox aside, the excellence of the rest of the running gear continued to cry out for more power - something that was always a good indicator of just how well the chassis and suspension was sorted.
Five people could be accommodated in the utmost comfort in the GS, and sufficient lugggage for them all could be swallowed by the massive, unobstructed-shape boot. The hinge arrangement of the full-depth boot lid was unfortunate in that it required a couple of extra feet behind the car to enable it to be opened upwards. In a tight parking space this rendered the boot unusable. The final complaint about an otherwise well accomplished car.