1 January 2021

More than an old car #161: Citroen SM

Happy new year to everyone and may you have a blessed 2021 ahead! With my first post of this year, I hope to start things on a bright note with this exquisite 1971 Citroen SM!

The SM was first conceived back in 1961 as the 'Project S', a sports-oriented model of the DS. Over the years, it became an entirely new model. Citroen purchased Maserati in 1968 with the intention to harness its engines to make a high-performance car, and the result appeared in 1970 at the Geneva Motor Show. The origin of its name is not entirely clear: it could either stand for Systeme Maserati/Série Maserati or even Sa Majesté (Her Majesty in French).

The car featured many innovative features, such as the hydro-pneumatic self-levelling suspension, self-swivelling lights that turned along with the steering wheel and a new type of variable assist power steering known as DIRAVI (Direction à rappel asservi), which has become commonplace in cars today. This enabled the steering to feel constant at any speed and enabled a maximum area of tyre contact with the road at all times. Furthermore, the SM was also very aerodynamic with a low drag coefficient of 0.26, and no expense was spared in the interior design too.

While it was produced exclusively in a two-door fastback coupe style, there were conversions such as a 4-door convertible (SM présidentielle) and a 4-door sedan (SM Opéra). The main export market for the SM was the US, and due to regulations, US-spec cars had 4 round exposed headlights compared to the 6 square enclosed headlights in Euro-spec ones. Over its lifetime, 2 types of engines were produced (2.7 litre and 3 litre): the small engine size was due to French puissance fiscale taxation, which made large-engined cars hard to sell. The SM was powered by a uniquely-shaped 2670 cc 90° V6 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 220 km/h with an acceleration of 8.9 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4893 mm long and weighed 1450 kg, with a fuel consumption of 15.7 litres / 100 km.

Production of the SM ended in 1975 with only 12,190 units made, of which 7,133 were the early manual versions. While it was revolutionary for its time, maintaining it was very tedious as it required both a Citroen specialist for the car body and a Maserati specialist for the engine. Coupled with the 1973 oil crisis, sales levels were lower than expected. Furthermore, Peugeot (which owned a stake in Citroen) proceeded to sell Maserati, spelling the end of the SM. The SM made many appearances in popular culture and had famous owners such as Leonid Brezhnev and the Cheech & Chong duo.

None were made in RHD and hence no units were sold here, although there were RHD conversions done in Australia. This unit, in AC088 Meije White, still sports original UK plates and was on display since it cannot be registered here. The SM is one that continues to take the breath away, with its beautiful proportions and sleek design. While it is a shame that you can't see them on the road, I hope that this has been informative for you. Maybe you will get to see it one day!

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