From the front, it appears to be a perfectly normal Citroën DS, sporting the updated face of 1962 with its smooth lower valance, rubber overriders and period Marchal long-range headlights.
Walk even the slightest way around the car, however, and it quickly morphs into a much shorter, stockier machine than the DS we all know and love.
The roof slopes towards a tapered Plexiglas rear window, the line of which extends almost without interruption into the bootlid.
One of the most marked changes is the rear wing shape, which is sharp-edged in a typically Italian style, finishing in a point and carrying lights similar to those of the Pininfarina-styled Peugeot 404 Coupé or a number of coachbuilt Fiat models.
“They are Carellos,” says owner Christophe Pund, “the same as those fitted to the Fiat 1500 Cabriolet of the time.”
A more discreet stroke of genius comes with the Citroën chevrons on the rear pillars, now turned through 90°.
These crests are present on the early styling drawings of the car, and are the only form of identification beyond the ‘GT 19 bossaert’ inscription on the bootlid.
Although a little confusing at first, this is an elegant package and much more accomplished than other unceremoniously shortened DSs – or even the Chapron coupés, which share the standard wheelbase, giving them the impression of being stretched.
Here, the length between the wheels is reduced to 2650mm, 470mm less than the saloon; it’s 70mm lower, too.
Nevertheless, it took the nerve and eye of another talented Italian, Pietro Frua, to tackle Flaminio Bertoni’s masterpiece without distorting it.
The real test of its success, however, is to see whether the weight loss achieved by cutting down the Citroën icon is detectable from behind the wheel.
The door, slightly longer than on the saloon, opens to reveal a classic DS Pallas passenger compartment, with its large leather seats that welcome you with pleasant softness and better support than the Dunlopillo padding of older versions.
The dashboard displays an array of attractive Jaeger instruments and, while the unlabelled switches are all utterly anonymous, it’s dotted with pleasant touches of chrome and fronted by the distinctive, large single-spoke steering wheel typical of the model.
The back seat is far from generous, but you don’t go to the expense of building a coupé out of a saloon in the pursuit of rear legroom.
Up front things are far more spacious, but the pedals break with tradition.
In the middle is the mushroom-shaped brake ‘button’, which is more than a little disconcerting until you get used to its sensitivity; the left-hand pedal is not a clutch (this car is an auto), but the control for the parking brake.
This is unlocked by a small lever located to the left under the dashboard, to prevent accidental deployment, though it can also be used as an emergency brake in the event of a hydraulic-system failure.
The eccentricity continues with the starting procedure: there’s no button, but instead a slight movement to the left of the column-mounted gearlever brings the DS to life.
The engine wakes with a soft, unsporting purr: sadly the tuned four-cylinder originally fitted to this rare car has been replaced by a conventional DS unit, developing around 85bhp.
The hydraulic pump soon takes effect, lifting the Citroën to its driving level with a few distinctive hisses.
Fumbling with another lever in the footwell, to the left of the parking brake, determines the ride height.
The suspension is running a touch tall today because the 185-section tyres currently fitted rub on the rear wings unless the car is raised slightly, but Pund plans to return it to the correct period rubber soon.
Sitting high in a relaxed driving position, you gently push the gearlever to the right to engage first and, with a subtle mechanical clang, the machine jolts into gear.
Much like the brakes, the throttle demands just the right amount of pedal pressure to set off smoothly.
Once out on the road, the transmission fluidly works its way through the gears, but you mustn’t be in too much of a hurry because a stab of the accelerator results in jerky progress: an ID’s manual ’box is required for sportier power delivery.
You soon find yourself on the air cushion that characterises all DSs: the hydropneumatic suspension absorbs ridges, potholes and speed bumps with peerless dignity.
Such a level of comfort is truly astonishing even in 2022, let alone in 1963 when you’d have just stepped out of an Austin Cambridge or Peugeot 404, whose rigid rear axles would wiggle in all directions.
So far, so standard DS, but what does this coupé version bring? In a straight line, the saloon is a car that easily plots an accurate course; less so here, with the sharper helm demanding the driver’s attention.
But that increased liveliness to the steering makes negotiating fast sequences of bends far more enjoyable, while the saloon’s tendency to understeer has all but disappeared.
The body roll is there as much as in any DS, but the shorter coupé is surprisingly nimble – albeit with a clear nose-heavy bias, thanks to a front-to-rear weight ratio of 68:35.
We soon find ourselves exploiting this car’s improved agility, as we link together the bends of Mont Cassel as if on a late-’60s special stage of the Rallye des Routes du Nord.
That said, the personality of this coupé makes it more like a comfortable GT than a real sports car, its character dominated by that lazy gearbox.
As journalists pointed out in period, the DS always lacked an engine sufficiently powerful to really take advantage of its roadholding and the story is no different here, despite the lower kerbweight.
Back in the 1960s, this weakness didn’t escape more determined users such as amateur racer Henri Géry, who took part in various local competitions in the north of France in cars prepared by Hector Bossaert.
This Belgian engineer had earned a name for himself in both race preparation and engine tuning, particularly with the Citroën DS.
“My grandfather told Géry he would never achieve anything with such a car: it was too long and too heavy,” recalls Bossaert’s grandson Frédéric.
“He told him, ‘You have to shorten it.’”
Bossaert was not the first to have this idea: in 1959 the Ricou family, a Citroën dealer in Grenoble, offered a DS curtailed by 550mm with rather clumsy rear styling.
Géry and Bossaert weren’t satisfied with such a rough transformation, and entrusted it to design legend Frua.
It’s not known how the connection was established between the Méteren workshop and the Turin carrozzeria.
“It’s likely that it was through Géry, because my grandfather had no relationship with Frua,” says Frédéric Bossaert. “In the early ’60s the Italians were the champions in terms of bodywork.”
Frua penned an elegant design and produced the first prototype, by which time the initial plan to make a single car for Géry had evolved into a small commercial series, badged GT 19.
Perhaps the partners were seduced by the design, or they simply wanted to amortise the creation costs on several copies.
Thus, Géry and Bossaert joined forces to create Gété, a bodyshop also based in Méteren, to manufacture GT 19s separate from Bossaert’s eponymous garage.
“The entire rear of the body was made by Frua and shipped fully assembled to my grandfather,” explains Frédéric.
“He had produced special tooling to cut the DSs brought in by his customers, and he also made the bootlid.”
Mechanical specification varied according to the buyer’s taste.
On a later document, dating from 1974, Bossaert offered several tuning options, starting with revised carburetion – a modified 51mm Rolls-Royce SU, two 44mm SUs, or two 42mm twin-choke Webers – and progressing to modified camshafts, larger valves and increased compression.
“He managed to squeeze 140bhp out of a DS engine,” claims his grandson.
Even if this sounds a bit optimistic for an early DS, most agreed that with Bossaert’s preparation the big Citroën finally had the performance to live up to its looks and poise.
Proud of its new creation, the Gété team wanted to unveil the car at the Paris Salon in September 1960 but it wasn’t quite ready, so the reveal was postponed to Montlhéry a month later.
The following year Gété presented two cars on its stand in Paris, a DS and an ID.
“The combined cost of the purchase of a DS and the conversion was more than a Jaguar,” says Frédéric Bossaert.
It wasn’t an easy sell, despite a brochure that claimed a kilometre in 37 secs from a standing start, and emphasised both the road qualities of the coupé as well as its ease of use and capacious boot.
At the same time as launching Gété, Géry and Bossaert obtained authorisation from Citroën to modify the bodywork of 15 cars – but not the mechanicals.
“The people at Citroën noticed that my grandfather was ordering bare cylinder heads,” recalls Frédéric.
“They payed him a visit and, discovering that he was also modifying engines, began to discuss the warranties, so my grandfather lost his patience and sent them packing.
“In retaliation, they refused to continue supplying parts but, because he was close to Belgium, he sourced components there instead.”
In the end, Gété didn’t need huge supplies from Citroën because production would be limited to 13 examples, according to the best estimates.
“After 11 cars, my grandfather noticed that it was mainly him who was boiling the pot,” says Frédéric.
“He’d had enough and decided to quit. Mechanics interested him above all, and he continued with his workshop until retirement in 1977.”
Among the 13 cars built from 1960-’64 was a convertible with faired-in headlights and the final two, including a shorter and less elegant cabriolet, were produced in ’66 after the closure of Gété with the final parts received from Frua.
In addition to a different windscreen on early cars, there were detail differences throughout production, be it wheels, badges, side mouldings or fuel fillers.
Oddly, however, almost all of the Bossaert DSs have since disappeared, with many meeting a sticky end in accidents due to their edgy handling on the limit.
Today, just two survive: the final convertible, and the coupé shown here.
The ninth GT 19 built, it was sold on 21 October 1963 to Gérard Chevalier, a La Garenne property developer who had bought his first Bossaert DS in June the previous year.
“After that, it belonged to the well-known Citroën collector Denys Joannon for a long time,” says Pund.
“I had visited him in 1994 and the coupé caught my eye: living here in the north, the history of Bossaert interested me.
“He told me that he had noticed it in Paris in 1982 and put a note under the windscreen.
“I finally managed to acquire it in November 2021.
“It’s the most Italian of the DS coupés: the front is signed by Bertoni and the rear by Frua!”
To regain its full personality, all that remains is to install an engine that honours Bossaert’s legacy.
With 140bhp in this shortened chassis, it would be a GT few contemporaries could match.
Sadly, by the time Citroën woke up to the idea with the SM, it was already too late…
Words and images: Serge Cordey
Thanks to Christoph Pund, La Galerie des Damiers, Patrick & Frédéric Bossaert
Mademoiselle Van Der Meersch’s GT
Period Bossaert brochures insisted that the GT 19 was easy for madame to drive, and during the 1970s leading Citroën specialist Olivier de Serres had the rare opportunity to sample a coupé ordered new by the daughter of novelist Maxence Van der Meersch.
“It was based on a 1962 ID19,” recalls, de Serres, “and wasn’t particularly tuned mechanically.
“It was wine red with mauve seats, as specified by Miss Van der Meersch.”
“It was quite fun to drive because it was very comfortable in corners and flowed through bends well; on the other hand, you felt that top speed in a straight line was not its forte and, with its shorter wheelbase, the fine balance of the DS had partially disappeared,” describes de Serres.
“The car was last sold in The Netherlands, then already very damaged by corrosion, and sadly wasn’t restored as it deserved to be.”
Grand designs on the Déess
The stubby 1959 Ricou coupé was larger and clumsier than Pietro Frua’s design.
Pietro Frua’s original styling sketch for the ‘Coupé 2 posti’, which already shows the horizontal chevrons on the B-pillar.
An official press photo of the Bossaert GT 19.
The presentation of the first prototype at Montlhéry, October 1960.
It featured a small bonnet scoop, a different ’screen assembly and fixed quarterlights.
One of the first cars constructed: the wheel rims, badging and side mouldings differ from later production models.
Bossaert also produced a convertible with enclosed headlights, in c1964.
A second car was built after Gété closed.
Our featured car photographed during the 1970s, after it was repainted white and fitted with ‘ball’ headlights.
Images: Christophe Pund, Patrick & Frédéric Bossaert