23 Nov 2014

The extraordinary convergence of a name

The GS name was used in the automotive industry long before BMW’s famous line of bikes. From 1970–1986 French carmaker Citroën manufactured a small family car—the Citroën GS (and later GSA).

At first glance, this humble, plucky car would seem to have nothing in common with BMW’s contemporary range of dual sport bikes other than its name, but look more closely and a most extraordinary convergence appears.

Citroen GSA circa 1980

Bearing in mind the Citroën GS was launched in 1970, it was equipped with unheard-of technologies for its day. A hydropneumatic suspension system which, through mechanical means, self levelled and adjusted damping according to road conditions, and prevented the front of the car from diving during braking. A precursor to anti-lock brakes which linked the braking and suspension systems to distribute front/rear brake force according to load, helping to prevent lock-up under hard braking. Even the option of clutchless manual gear changes.

Many of its technological features are mirrored in the R1200GS, and a few in the F800GS—more than 40 years later. The table below compares some key features:

Citroën GS/A



Air cooled boxer engine 1,000–1,300cc depending on version

Air/liquid cooled boxer engine 1,200cc

Liquid cooled parallel twin 800cc

Self levelling air/oil double wishbone/trailing arm suspension with anti-dive braking and mechanical adaptive damping

ESA semi-active wishbone/trailing arm suspension with electronic preload adjustment, anti-dive braking and electronic adaptive damping

ESA fork/swing arm suspension with electronic adaptive damping (on rear only)

All disc brakes with load sensing, pressure propotioning system linked into suspension to reduce likelihood of locking brakes

All disc brakes with load sensing, pressure proportioning system and ABS

All disc brakes with ABS

Optional clutchless manual shifting via C-Matic system

Optional clutchless manual shifting via Gear Shift Assist Pro system


Class leading aerodynamics, among the first vehicles to utilise Kamm tail design which used airflow to keep the rear window clear of water without the use of a wiper

Wind tunnel optimised design to optimise airflow, reducing the amount of spray reaching the rider/pillion when riding in wet weather and maximising high speed stability

Wind tunnel optimised design, maximising high speed stability

Unique design which set it apart from other vehicles of the era

Individualist design unique to BMW

Individualist design unique to BMW

Class leading fuel efficiency

Class leading fuel efficiency

Class leading fuel efficiency

Popular with more than 2.5m sold

BMW's top selling motorcycle worldwide

Popular bike in its class

However, the Citroën GS had one party trick up its sleeve that not even BMW’s latest can match—the ability for that hydropneumatic suspension system to balance the car on three wheels.

Citroen GS circa 1975 turning with a wheel removed

The point? Back in the 70s, tyre failure occurred at an alarming rate compared to today, and the GS remained perfectly controllable during a blow-out even at its top speed, enabling the driver to safely come to a stop.

In fact, the suspension was so stable, the car could negotiate a slalom on three wheels.

It’s interesting that the GS name represented such advanced technologies back in the 70s, and continues to do so today, albeit in a very area of the transportation marketplace.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.