The Citroën SM makes about as much sense as the Concorde, but since when have great cars had anything to do with common sense? It is certainly a flight of fancy, an extravagant, technical tour de force that, as a 16-ft (4.9-m) long streamliner, offered little more than 2+2 seating. The SM bristled with innovations—many of them established Citroën hallmarks—like swiveling headlights and self-leveling hydro-pneumatic suspension.
It was a complex car—too complex in fact, with self-centering power steering and brakes that were both powered by (and virtually inoperable without) a high-compression engine-driven pump. And of course there was that capricious Maserati V6 motor. Yet once again Citröen had created an enduringly futuristic car where other “tomorrow cars of today” were soon exposed as voguish fads.
SLEEK AND SPEEDY
The SM’s striking low-drag body was designed by ex-General Motors stylist Henri de Segur Lauve. The sleek nose and deep undertray, together with the noticeably tapered rear end, endow it with a slippery profile that gives a high level of aerodynamic efficiency. It is impressively stable at high speed.
The tinted rear window, with compound curves and heating elements, must have cost a fortune to produce.
Only the SM’s over-elaborate chromed rear “fins” betray the General Motors styling influence.
Capacity was initially kept below 2.8 liters to escape France’s punitive vehicle taxation system.
Lightweight wheels reinforced with carbon fiber were optionally available.
The oval speedo and tachometer are visible through the single-spoke steering wheel, and the perennially confusing cluster of warning lights are to the right.
It took practice to decide in a hurry what each of the tiny warning lights actually meant.
Despite its size and weight, the SM can actually be thrown around like a sports car. It rolls like a trawler in a heavy sea, and, like all front-wheel drivers, it understeers strongly but resolutely refuses to let go.
The tapering body is apparent in this overhead view.
The bulge in the tailgate above the rear license plate was for purely functional, aerodynamic reasons. It also suited the deeper license plates used on models in the US.
Like that of most front-wheel drive cars, the SM’s rear suspension does little more than hold the body off the ground.
Slim windshield pillars should have meant excellent visibility but, in practice, the left-hand drive SM was sometimes difficult to place on the road.
The SM had an array of six headlights, with the inner light on each side swiveling as the steering was turned.
Inboard front disc brakes incorporated the handbrake mechanism.
Citroën’s publicity material tried to hide the fact, but rear-seat legroom and headroom were barely sufficient for two large children.
SM stands for Serié Maserati, and the exquisite Maserati all-aluminum V6 engine weighed just 309 lb (140 kg), was only 12 in (31 cm) long, but produced at least 170 bhp.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL Citroën SM, SM EFI, and SM Auto (1970–75)
PRODUCTION 12,920 (all types, all LHD)
BODY STYLE Two-door, 2+2 coupe.
CONSTRUCTION All-steel unitary, with steel body and aluminum hood.
ENGINES All-aluminum 90-degree V6 of 2670cc (2974cc for SM Auto).
POWER OUTPUT SM: 170 bhp at 5500 rpm; 2974cc: 180 bhp at 5750 rpm.
TRANSMISSION Citroën five-speed manual or Borg-Warner three-speed automatic; front-wheel drive.
SUSPENSION Hydro-pneumatic springing; independent transverse arms front, independent trailing arms rear.
BRAKES Discs all around.
MAXIMUM SPEED 137 mph (220 km/h) (sm efi)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 8.3 sec (sm efi)
0–100 MPH (0–161 KM/H) 26–30 sec
A.F.C. 15–17 mpg (5.3–6.1 km/l)