The Col­lec­tor

Octane - - IGNITION -

C er­tain facts in the au­to­mo­tive world are ir­refutable. Num­ber one, the Citroën DS, es­pe­cially the Pal­las model, is the most com­fort­able car in the world. You may not be crazy about the four­cylin­der en­gine, while the trans­mis­sion’s not the smoothest, but the seats com­bined with the padded floor truly make it the most com­fort­able car on the planet.

Peo­ple sit in my DS af­ter I’ve told them this, and they all say the same thing: why can’t all cars be like this? And why can’t they? When you get be­hind the wheel of a DS you lit­er­ally fall into a big easy chair that wraps it­self around you. Some man­u­fac­tur­ers try very hard; two of my favourite Mercedes-Benz mod­els are my 1972 600, which has hy­drauli­cally op­er­ated seats, and my ’71 280 SE Coupé, with its big, over­stuffed leather chairs. These are the last of the truly hand­made Mercedes-Benz cars. Yet even with the finest leather, they’re still not as com­fort­able as the DS.

The only car that comes close is my 1931 Bentley 8 Litre four­door Mulliner sedan. Even though its sus­pen­sion is prim­i­tive, the big, down-filled leather chairs are some­thing you’d be proud to put in your li­brary or sit­ting room.

W hen I was in Eng­land re­cently, a friend col­lected me in a beau­ti­ful Rolls-Royce Phan­tom. It is an amaz­ing car – quiet and smooth, with an un­par­al­lelled sound sys­tem – but still I felt like I was sit­ting on the seat rather than in it. Shouldn’t a Rolls be at least as com­fort­able as a DS? And why does the leather in to­day’s high-end motors have the tex­ture of vinyl? My 1968 Mercedes 6.3 has 327,000 miles on it, but the con­stant ap­pli­ca­tion of hide food has given the leather a patina and sup­ple­ness that just can’t be found in mod­ern cars.

And can we stop with the Re­caro racing seats? One of my favourite cars to drive would be the Aston Martin Van­tage with a man­ual gear­box. It’s fast and sexy, but it has the most un­com­fort­able racing seat I’ve ever sat in. I love ev­ery­thing about the car ex­cept the seats. They’re slaves to fash­ion try­ing to look cool. As­tons are for driv­ing long dis­tances across con­ti­nents, which should be done in the most com­fort­able way pos­si­ble.

With these Re­caro buck­ets, af­ter an hour I had to pull over to get out of the car and stretch. It felt like it was cut­ting off the cir­cu­la­tion. Even in my McLaren P1 I re­placed the stan­dard seat for a slightly wider one. It’s a lit­tle bit bet­ter – but not much. I have a Shelby Mus­tang GT350R . The first thing I did when I or­dered the car was to ask for the stock Mus­tang seats to be put in, in­stead of the stan­dard racing buck­ets. If the goal was to crack wal­nuts with my but­tocks, I’d have kept the Re­caros. It’s hard to drive if you’re not com­fort­able. Where’s the fun?

When I was restor­ing my DS, I took great pains to de­con­struct the seats and ex­am­ine what made them so com­fort­able. The se­cret? Foam, and lots of it. Of course, Citroën never took the DS to the Nür­bur­gring. That has a lot to do with it. The Nür­bur­gring has prob­a­bly done more than any­thing else to make lux­ury cars un­com­fort­able. Any sus­pen­sion per­fected there is de­signed to han­dle loads and speeds the av­er­age driver would never see in a lux­ury car. Along with low-pro­file tyres, which are so pop­u­lar and have ab­so­lutely no give, the com­bi­na­tion means cars sim­ply aren’t as com­fort­able as they should be. My Tesla had 21in tyres. In 1000 miles I hit two pot­holes and blew out two tyres. There’s not enough side­wall to take the com­pres­sion, so you split the side­wall. There’s noth­ing else you can do.

Why do peo­ple buy 21in wheels? They don’t re­ally know the dif­fer­ence be­tween side­wall com­pres­sion rates, they just think it looks cooler. They are will­ing to give up com­fort for that. How many peo­ple would pre­fer to look good or feel good?

Style reigns, un­for­tu­nately. BMW has just come out with the R Nine T, which is a twin-cylin­der Boxer mo­tor­cy­cle avail­able in three styles. The coolest is the Café bike. I drove the stan­dard ver­sion with stan­dard han­dle­bars, and it was so com­fort­able, but I or­dered the Café be­cause it looked the coolest with the lit­tle half fair­ing and the low­ered bar. Af­ter 20 min­utes of rid­ing, I re­alised I should have or­dered the other one.

The idea of selling com­fort now seems to have gone out the win­dow. It seems to be about look­ing cool or sporty, or Nür­bur­gring times. Stuff like that. In the old days they used to sell com­fort. Amer­i­can cars used to sell what they called the Boule­vard Ride: the car floats down the road. Ford made a for­tune selling LTDs, say­ing it was qui­eter than a Rolls. Whether it was or not, no­body re­ally knew. It’s like you’re the cap­tain of a ship, driv­ing a big boat.

So much of that seems to have fallen by the way­side. If some­one of­fers you a seat in their DS, take it. It’s the most com­fort­able mo­tor­ing ex­pe­ri­ence you can have.


JAY LENO Co­me­dian and talk show le­gend Jay Leno is one of the most fa­mous en­ter­tain­ers in the USA. He is also a true petrol­head, with a mas­sive col­lec­tion of cars and bikes (www.jaylenos­garage.com).

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