I have always wanted to come upon a classic Citroën in the wild–any one will do. 2CV, DS, CX, Traction Avant. But finding one in Northwestern Illinois is about as likely as, I don’t know, hitting a unicorn with your car. So I sigh, shrug and go Brougham or Volvo 240 hunting instead. But today, I can live vicariously through another CC writer’s find–a lovely gunmetal-gray Citroën SM. Wow!
In 1968, Citroën acquired Maserati. Part of the reason this happened was that Citroën had been hankering for a production grand tourer for some time. While the then-current DS series was an engineering tour de force, it was not exactly a Ferrari. But ah! Maserati made fast cars, didn’t they?
Upon taking over the boutique Italian sports car concern, Citroën immediately had them design an appropriate high-performance engine–a 2.8L V6, to be precise. This would power what would become the SM, and also the Maserati Merak, a relative of the more expensive Bora. It initially produced 170-hp in the SM, while a more breathed-on version with 190-hp went into the Merak.
Of course, American sales had to be dancing in the heads of Citroën executives. The SM debuted at Geneva in early 1970 and went on sale the following September. It arrived on North American shores as a 1972 model and was promptly named Motor Trend’s 1972 Car of the Year. Due to US regulations, the US-market SM did not receive the most excellent glassed-in nose with six headlamps, two of which turned with the steering.
It was still a beautiful car, though. The V6 combined with Citroën’s famous hydrpneumatic suspension must have been a great combination of speed and comfort. But there was a fly in the ointment–namely, Citroën’s shaky US operations. Frankly, Citroën never really made great inroads into the US market, with the possible exception of California. So purchasing such an expensive and complex automobile with few trained experts outside of Citroën dealerships was not a most inviting scenario.
If you lived in LA or NYC, you probably would have been okay. Heaven forbid it broke down anywhere outside of a major metropolitan area; taking your new SM to Larry, Darryl and Darryl in New Glarus, Wisconsin was not going to end well. But if you had ready access to a well-run Citroën dealer or independent shop, these cars were a pleasure. A SM could do 130 mph with no trouble, and the sharp steering was a mere 2.0 turns lock-to-lock. Sounds like fun to me!
Sadly, the SM was on the market only a couple years when the 1973 gas crisis hit. That pretty much bumped off the SM, where in Europe, with displacement-based taxation, the car became essentially unsalable. That, and the upcoming 1974 US bumper regulations caused Citroën to withdraw from the North American market–and also its eventual purchase by Peugeot, which was announced June 24, 1974. SMs continued to be built for Europe and other non-North American markets–at a trickle–through 1975.
Only 12,920 SMs were built, so finding one anywhere outside of a European car show is no mean feat. Add in the few imported to the US and your odds go down even further. But CC Contributor Chris Green found this one in the LA area, just sitting curbside. I am impressed!
I may never see an actual Citroën in the metal, but I am at least heartened by Chris’s find, which he spotted in Burbank while checking out a car auction nearby. What a great addition to the CC digital library! What a car! What a beauty! Don’t you agree?