Oh ho! Now this is a car! Something space age from the early 70’s that truly took the idea of futuristic car design from 60’s TV shows and made them real. This was all encapsulated in the beauty and raw innovation that is the Citroen SM!
The Citroen SM’s story begins back in 1961, where the company began work on a project called ‘Project S’, a sports variant of the revolutionary Citroen DS. Throughout the decade the car went through a myriad of running prototypes, ironing out faults and pushing the innovative nature of the car to the highest possible level. In 1968 the company purchased
Maserati, and took on their knowledge of high-performance cars and engine technology to produce a true Gran Turismo car, combining the sophisticated Citroën suspension with a Maserati V6.
This marriage of raw power and sublime innovation and style was unleashed upon the public in March 1970 at the Geneva Motor Show, going on sale in September of the same year. Dubbed the ‘SM’, a portmanteaux of Project ‘S’ and the ‘M’ in Maserati, the car quickly became the company’s flagship, looking like nothing on earth and being able to take on the Jaguar’s, Lotus’, Ferrari’s, Aston Martin’s, Alfa Romeo’s and Porsche’s of the day, the first time France had developed a sports production vehicle of this calibre since the end of World War II.
Power was derived from a 170hp 2.7L V6 engine, with a 0-60 of 8.9 seconds, which made it somewhat mediocre when compared to the likes of the Jensen Interceptor and its 288hp powerplant, and a 0-60 of 6.4 seconds.
Nevertheless, the car’s biggest party piece was its mixture of raunchy power and
incredible style and comfort, the likes of which had never been experienced before. The car is dripping with French panache and style, with the design being the brainchild of Citroen Chief Designer Robert Opron, who intended to keep the stlye similar to that of the DS but gave it some 70’s flair for the new, more angular age. It was also fitted with the same hydro-pneumatic suspension found on the earlier DS, as well as the self-leveling lights that swiveled with the steering.
Sadly though, unlike its sporty competitors the SM, like many promising, outside-the-box, French products such as the Renault Avantime, didn’t sell in the way the company wanted it to, largely being due to its image and design, looking less like a sports coupé and more a luxury saloon car, sort of along the lines of the Aston Martin Lagonda. At the same time and with much better performance, Maserati was selling the Merak, which looked much more like a sports car and felt just the same. In a similar way to the later
Avantime, the SM fell into a gap between two markets, one market being sports coupé’s, and the other being large luxury cars, of which it appealed more to one but not the other.
The SM did though make it big in the world of sports, winning its first competitive outing, the gruelling 1971 Rallye du Maroc, and a Twin Turbo V6 SM snatched the world record as the fastest production car on the Bonneville Salt Flats, achieving a top speed of 202mph.
Sadly though, the Citroen company fell into financial decline during the early 1970’s, and officially declared bankruptcy in 1974, being rescued by Peugeot. Attempting to cut the costs wherever possible, the company axed the Citroen SM in May 1975 and sold off the Maserati division of the company to DeTomaso, with only 115 SM’s produced in 1975 before production ended.
This setback and sad demise however doesn’t mean the SM was an unpopular egg. During its 5 years of production, 12,200 SM’s were built, and also managed to garner a selection of awards, including the 1972 Motor Trend Car of the Year award, as well as coming 3rd in the 1971 European Car of the Year, a competition won by another Citroen product, the GS.
Today these cars are very hard to find and incredibly exotic. In France you’ll probably find a fair few and the United States and Canada also imported a good number. In the UK however they’re something of a rarity, but so rewarding when you actually capture one!