Thailand
Page creation 04/02/2010, revision 05/07/2015
All rights reserved DSinAsia 2006-2016, except otherwise indicated
Top: Jacques Paris (second from left) during a promotion
event for the new Ami 6 in a Bangkok hotel. On his right is
"Monsieur Pelanne, one of the managers of Citroen Paris
Factory, who has come here to discuss and study the
expansion of Citroen market in Thailand and throughout
the Far East" (Bangkok Post, 23 February 1962).

Left: one of the earliest Thai ads for the DS&ID 19 relies
heavily on the "elegant" image of France; but it did not
prevent the Thai public to quickly give the "Naa gop" (frog
face) nickname to the car (Bangkok Post, 14 May 1959).
Jacques Paris (first left, with the
cigarette) tried to promote the
Citroen range by organizing
endurance rallies around the
country, for instance with this
Ami 6, covering the 800 km to
Chiang Mai "more than 6 hours
faster than an express train",
precisely in just 11 hours 20
minutes, at an average speed
of... 72 k.p.h. (Bangkok Post, 7
June 1962).

Below:  Another test-drive
organized by Jacques Paris
took an Ami 6 up North to a visit
to the Mousser (Muser = Lahu)
hilltribe, as shown in this
publication destined to Citroen's
French dealer network
(Double-Chevron, Summer
1966)
Above: the Citroen sign is still seen hanging outside the former
Siam Motor Supplies building on Suriwong Street, on this photo
taken most probably around the early '70s, after Jacques Paris
closed shop (doc. Krid Asvanon).

Left: the new DS21 announced in a local, Thai-language
newspaper (Daily News, 7 October 1965).
In 1955, young (25) Jacques Paris was a salesman
employed by Citroen at its Export Sales Department, Quai
de Javel in Paris, when he heard that Georges Desrues, the
brand's agent in Cambodia and Thailand, was looking for
candidates willing to go and help with the sales. Yearning for an
adventurous life, he applied, and arrived that same year in
Phnom-Penh, where he looked after the 2CV business. Two
years later, he was sent to Bangkok with the mission to
launch the DS on the Thai market.

The Bangkok agency was then called "Siam Motor Supplies",
and it was located at the corner of the Suriwong and Soi Sap
streets, on land rented to the well-known Bunnag family.
"Tractions" had been imported, but only a handful of local
shops were able to handle service or sell spare parts, like
"Oriental Motors", situated a few blocks away.
Above left: Siam Motor Supplies
launched the wagon version in
1960. Orders were actively
sought for "home delivery",
meaning delivery overseas, for
expats returning home
(Bangkok Post, 25 May 1960).

Left: A DS19 on the road to
Ayutthaya, during a road test
organized by Siam Motor
Supplies for the Bangkok Post.
This is is a right-hand model,
made in Citroen's UK plant in
Slough, as indicated by the logo
on the lower part of the hood.
The comments are positive, but
not especially enthusiastic
(Bangkok Post, 22 November
1960).
One of young Jacques' first customers was
no less than Marshall Phibun Songkhram,
the long-time leader of pre- and post-war
Thailand, and still its Prime Minister in 1957.
"I was asked to go and show the newly
arrived DS19 at the Government Palace",
explained Mr Paris, 79 years old when I
could meet him in October, 2009. "Phibun
was there; he spoke French, and as I was
demonstrating how wide the trunk was,
enough for an adult to fit in, he jokingly
asked me to try and go inside... I obeyed,
of course, but then he closed the trunk !"
Who were the other customers ? "People who
could afford it, of course; Thais who were
returning from stays in Europe and already
knew about the car; doctors, engineers; some
foreigners. They appreciated the comfort, the
suspension, which was a plus since the roads
were not in a good condition at all."

The sales effort quickly focused on the ID
version, with a mechanical gearbox, easier to
service. The station wagon was introduced, but
did not appeal to many customers. No specific
other version of the DS was sold, according to
Mr Paris, although some customers did ask for
a specific colour, like that transport company
President who wanted the same blue as on her
company's trucks !
Mr Paris explained why it proved difficult to sell the DS in Thailand: "There were many
problems from the beginning, leaks in the hydraulic system in particular, and we struggled
to keep the cars on the road. Heat was also a major cause of concern. We complained to
Citroen, but they replied that they hadn't heard of any problems in Africa... We answered
back that in Africa, people do not drive in the middle of the day, they sleep ! For the
hydraulic system we eventually turned to locally-made castor oil, more adapted to the heat.
On top of an air-conditioning system, we also had to install an extra cooling device for the
hydraulic system." Mr. Renart, a mechanic who had been sent by Citroen to Phnom-Penh
with his family, regularly visited Bangkok and trained the local staff.
In the "Post" archives, we can find a few attempts by Mr Paris to
launch "public-relation" events to promote his cars, starting with
the Ami 6. "Yes, we organized a couple of trips upcountry, and
tried to demonstrate the qualities of that car, which we thought
was more suited to the market. And I regularly sent one of my
staff in town driving a DS on three wheels; I was almost certain
he would come back to the show-room with a potential
customer !"

Fifty years later, Mr Paris couldn't remember how many DS were
sold, but it must have been a very small figure, perhaps a few
dozens per annum. The importation procedure was part of the
daunting task: "The cars arrived by boat directly to Bangkok, and
we made sure to be on permanent stand-by during the
unloading, in order to avoid major problems. The transportation
conditions on the French liners were very bad. Once we even
found a bottle of "red" (wine) and "L'Huma" (a French Communist
Party daily) on a seat, and shoe marks on the roof's inner lining !
The cars were squeezed just about anywhere in the boat,
sometimes in very hot and humid environment, directly on top of
bags of fertilizers... The unloading operation itself was no better,
and we used to spend hours there just trying to avoid disasters...
For example, one guy once decided he had to break a front door
window because he could not find the right key to open the door !"
Prime Minister Phibun, one of the very first
DS amateurs in Thailand ! That's what I call
a scoop. "I remember something funny", Mr
Paris continued. "My own DS had exactly
the same colour, and one day, we
happened to cross each other's way on
the street; his bodyguards, driving ahead
of him, were simply stunned to see me
coming, as they could not imagine it could
be somebody else than their boss !"

But the best was yet to come... "Phibun had
several cars of course, but he chose the DS
when he had to flee to Cambodia after the
September 1957 coup. Border police fired
at him... I suppose he had to continue by
foot, because we recovered the car a little
while later, there were bullet impacts on the
rear." Now how about that ? And you
thought General De Gaulle was being
innovative with his "Petit-Clamart" incident,
five years later !

Khun Jacques also remembered how he
was asked to show a DS to Cambodia's
King Sihanouk, who eventually used one too.
Above: What Bangkok streets looked like around 1957. Left: Suriwong. It was one of Bangkok's most cosmopolitan
areas, with many major hotels, banks, airlines offices and souvenir shops (from "Thaïlande, essai photographique
commenté", by Raymonde Cauvin, Editions et Ateliers d'Art Graphique Elsevier, Bruxelles, 1958).  Right: Yaowarat,
another busy business district, home to the capital's Chinese community.       
Jacques Paris takes the pose in
front of a rather unusually decorated
DS, at a seaside area near
Bangkok, maybe Samut Prakan, or
Ban Saeng, probably in the mid-60s.
This is a very unique example of a
heavily "tuned" DS in Asia, with air
intake on the hood, two-tone paint
on the front wing, "sabot d'aile", and
what looks like a British
numberplate (doc. Thittisak
Hannoi).




Below: the Kegresse half-track used
for the Lampang-Chiang Rai trip. It
is said to have vanished during a
later trip from Lampang to Hanoi...
(Citropolis Nov-Dec 2010)     
Above and right (click to
enlarge): This superb
folding-type map of
Bangkok was offered to its
customers by Siam Motor
Supplies, whose exact
location is indicated in the
red circle. This
English-language
document, which can be
dated to around 1947,
shows on its back the
different products then
imported by this company:
the Traction Avant,
Michelin tyres ("the most
supple in the world"),
and the Velosolex ("The
bicycle which runs by
itself"), another unique
French invention.  

A most beautiful
document, courtesy  Th.
Hannoi.     
These 2 photographs are the only ones showing "Plaek"
Phibun Songkhram with his DS19. They have been taken
by his daughter Chirawat Panyarachun, in Cambodia
where he spent three months after the September 1957
coup, before resigning himself into exile to Japan where
he was to spend the rest of his life. On his side, his wife,
Thanpuying La-iad Bandhukravi. On the photo above, one
can also see Anan, their elder son, and the butler Khun
Nop.

Khun Chirawat, who authored her mother's biography in
which these documents were found, confirmed to me that
her father drove himself the Citroen during that fateful
night of September 17th, 1957, but not further than the
southern port city of Trat, where he boarded a boat to
Cambodia, thus in contradiction with Jacques Paris'
account. Khun Chirawat's version is that the beige DS,
along with Phibun's diplomatic passport and some
personal effects, was later driven by Anan to Phnom Penh.
Its whereabouts after Phibun's departure for Japan are
unknown; I like to think it is still somewhere, hiding in a
secret place...
After a few years, as we can guess from the relative sparsity of Citroen advertising in the
Bangkok Post, sales of the DS must not have been very successful. The Citroen
representation rights were eventually transferred early 1966 to a local trading company,
Bara-Windsor, while Mr Paris opened his own garage, naturally called "Paris-Bangkok", with
the aim of servicing Citroen cars.
To see the 2nd part of the saga, simply click
here
Jacques Paris was sent by Citroen to Bangkok in 1957 with a mission: introduce and sell
the DS in Thailand. Siam Motor Supplies, already Citroen's local importer and distributor,
did its best. But is has not been easy, to say the least.
Records show that as soon as 1921, while
American and English brands had already
established a strong presence in Siam
(Thailand's former name), 40 Citroens were
sold in the country. The new automotive
brand was represented by one of the oldest
French trading houses in Bangkok, the
"Maison Monod", who even secured orders
for a few Kegresse half-tracks from the
Siamese National Railways Company; a
demonstration trip was organized between
Lampang and Xieng Rai (Chiang Rai)
around the end of 1923, with a local
newspaper reporting enthusiastically that
the 250 km had been covered in less than
14 hours !
A few shots showing old Citroens in Bangkok. The one
below right, with the 2CV, was taken at the entrance of
the Lumphini Park, where a Trade Fair was being held,
in 1956. Below, with the Traction, is the Temple of the
Emerald Buddha.
Below: Oriental Motors, also on
Suriwong Street, was one of the
very few outlets selling Citroen
service parts (Bangkok Post, 27
March 1966)