From the late 1970s to the mid 1990s, this white Citroen SM sat parked on P Street in Georgetown in Washington, DC. It descended to earth with its hydro-pneumatic suspension depressurized, and did not move from this spot for at least 15 years, where it gathered a thickening coat of dirt over time. The car became a familiar landmark to thousands of people who lived in Washington, DC during the 1980s, an unusual and, to most, unidentifiable car parked in a highly visible location. When it arrived, Jimmy Carter was in the White House, and Archie Bunker was still on television. It suddenly disappeared a decade and a half later, when Bill Clinton was a young first-term President and when The X-Files was on its way to becoming a cultural phenomenon. “Spaceship” is a word often used to describe the Citroen SM, and in this case, it’s an especially appropriate metaphor.
How this SM became a permanent resident of this particular curbside was a mystery to me and many others for years, but thanks to the internet–a young medium when The X-Files debuted–the truth has finally emerged, partly.
A comment thread on Bring a Trailer in 2012 about the sale of a Citroen SM brought about an exchange between two former DC residents who remembered the car, one of whom had had a personal encounter with it. As a Georgetown University student in the late 1970s, he frequently saw the car on P Street and one afternoon started a conversation with the two men who owned it. They turned out to be students from the Middle East at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, and having two significant things in common, they trusted him enough to offer him a ride downtown. After seeing the car regularly, he eventually noticed that it had not moved for a while, and that continued to sit in the same place for what eventually became fifteen years, never once getting a parking ticket or ever being towed.
Further evidence of the SM’s long term residence in the same space comes in a post on a French automotive discussion board. A collection of photos from a trip around the United States in August 1994 included one of this street scene, from when the traveler found a Citroen SM on the street “avec stupéfaction.” It appears to be the only photographic evidence on the internet of the presence of this SM, and shows the car (still) with no parking tickets.
Washington, DC has been locally infamous at least since the 1980s for its exceptionally efficient parking enforcement service, known for ticketing cars within a few minutes of exceeding time limits, making the SM’s lack of any evident parking enforcement difficult to believe. The car did not have a diplomatic license plate that would have made its owner immune. As indicated on this sign that the SM faced throughout its long-term parking, there is a two hour daytime parking limit without a residential permit, and although it is possible that the owner constantly updated the car’s parking zone stickers while letting it sit for over a decade, it seems unlikely.
How this car escaped parking tickets for so long is curious in itself, and but an even bigger mystery is what happened to it. It may have been simply towed away and scrapped, since over fifteen years of disuse and exposure to the elements almost certainly left it with rust and extensive repairs to major systems necessary, and neither Citroen hydropneumatic suspension systems nor Maserati engines are inexpensive to repair. Being a rare and exotic vehicle, of course, someone may have been willing to take on the task of restoring it. There are many white Citroen SMs on the web that might be this car; this one appeared in a Barrett-Jackson auction in 2004.
Washington, DC being a city with a large population of diplomats, journalists, and other internationally mobile professionals, there is a high likelihood that the car was shipped overseas for restoration by a new owner who discovered it while temporarily living in the US. This SM in Australia was a left-hand-drive car, converted to right-hand-drive during a restoration in 1996, the timing of which aligns with the disappearance of the car from Washington.
Australia seems to have become a popular destination for white Citroen SMs from the United States. This one came to Australia in 2000 and received a full restoration and conversion to right hand drive in 2000-2002. Its previous U.S. owner was a “high profile French chef in San Francisco,” so assuming that this story is true, it cannot be the car from Washington, DC.
I hope that this car is the one. This SM with Moon discs and a very small cowl induction scoop competed in the land speed record competition at the Maxton Mile in North Carolina in 2010, one of the last held there before the event moved to the Airpark in Wilmington, Ohio. In place of the original Maserati V6, it had a Citroen two-liter four-cylinder, run with nitrous oxide–old-school power, with a basic design dating back to the 1930s, in one of the most technologically ambitious cars ever made. Just the ticket for a Citroen enthusiast on a budget who found an SM body (with its still-impressive Cd of 0.27) with its engine seized after fifteen years of being parked.
Moon discs look completely right on an SM to me, making an already slick shape even more so.
Or maybe this spaceship-like car really was a spaceship. As I mentioned at the beginning, Scully and Mulder were beginning their long-running search for aliens at the time that this car suddenly disappeared. They investigated strange coincidences, slowly but surely revealing a web of sinister conspiracies. Speaking of which, why did the DC government never give this car a parking ticket? Could it be mere coincidence that Scully and Mulder’s last initials happen to spell SM? With those two on its trail, perhaps this SM rose up on its long-dormant hydropneumatic landing gear and took off, never to be seen again. The truth is out there!