Ken worked for Citroën from 1942 to 1988 and was a familiar figure to journalists in the UK automotive press. Amongst Ken’s many achievements and accolades was his work on the British-built version of the original Citroën DS, ahead of the model’s legendary premiere at the Paris Motor Show in 1955. As next year is the 60th anniversary of the car’s launch, Ken’s memory will be firmly in our collective thoughts as we prepare to celebrate the birth of this iconic model.
Ken’s contribution to the production of DS, 2CV, SM in the UK, and his time working with Maserati during one of the most important periods in Citroën’s history, cannot be overstated. He was a true gentleman who will be sadly missed by those who knew him.
From everyone at Citroën UK, our deepest sympathies and sincere condolences go out to all of Ken’s family and friends.
KEN SMITH: A BIOGRAPHY BY JULIAN MARSH www.citroenet.org.uk
Ken was born in 1923 and was brought up in London. During the second world war, his school was evacuated to Slough, where he was a member of the School Unit of the Air Defence Training Corps (later renamed the Air Training Corps).
Ken left school in 1941 and in 1942 accepted a Ministry of Labour-appointed position at Citroën Cars Ltd.’s factory on the Trading Estate in Slough. Since the production of cars had ended, the company made components for the war effort and also assembled 23,480 military trucks for the Canadian army.
Once car production resumed after the war, Ken created the first Citroën Cars Ltd. Technical Training Centre from scratch and was Chief Instructor providing training to dealers. He was also responsible for ensuring that the British-built cars conformed to the various Acts and Orders relating to the manufacture of cars at Slough. In December 1946, he married Agnes Louise (known as Nancy) who predeceased him in March 2010.
From May 1946 Ken worked at the Slough Production Methods Department, frequently dealing with Citroën Paris to adapt production methods from the large numbers built in Paris, to the lower volumes at Slough.
Ken was involved at an early stage in the Citroën DS development, assessing and acquiring compliance with all the British Road Traffic Acts, Construction and Use Regulations, Vehicle Lighting Regulations and all other relevant Acts and Orders; to assess the changes necessary in order to assemble, trim and paint the vehicles at Slough.
As the DS was a totally different vehicle from the Light Fifteen, Big Fifteen and Six Cylinder, at short notice Ken had to become familiar with all the components, units, assemblies and items in the car and to learn how they functioned, in particular the hydro-pneumatic suspension, the hydraulically operated clutch and gear change, brakes and steering. He also had to prepare a summary of components and materials for local purchase before production in the UK could commence.
From 1954, he spent almost half his time at the Bureau d’Etudes in Paris until shortly before the launch of the DS at the 1955 salon.
Ken was given the job of producing the right hand drive Citroën SM, which was undertaken by Middleton Motors under his guidance. When Citroën bought Maserati, Ken was sent to Italy to liaise with Maserati’s people. He even went to evening classes to learn Italian.
Richard Bonfond worked for Citroën for several years in the early seventies, including some time at Citroën Cars Limited in Slough where he dealt with Ken on a regular basis. He said, “Not only did I learn to respect him for his knowledge of the make but he was an absolute jewel of a man, whose office door was always open. Never did I see him lose his temper or raise his voice no matter the situation. He was a true gentleman who will be missed.”
He is survived by a daughter, Kathleen and a son, Leslie.