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Forty years of Citroen GS and SM

Citroen SM (foreground) and 
Citroen GS (background) (copyright image)

Citroen SM (foreground) and Citroen GS (background)

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26th April, 2010

More than 1,000 Citroens converged on the Belgian Zolder race track at the week-end (24th and 25th April) to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of two of the French car makerís models, the Citroen SM and the Citroen GS, at the ĎCitroŽn Storyí Festival 2010.

The super car Citroen SM and the family car Citroen GS have influenced and shaped the history of CitroŽn.

The sleek SM combined high performance handling with luxury, quality and comfort. This technologically advanced model distinguished itself from contemporaries by its ability to travel at high speeds over long distances - without the driver or passengers showing signs of fatigue.

The GS, named ĎEuropean Car of the Yearí in 1971, was one of the most advanced cars in its class at the time and a leader for comfort and safety. The carís hydraulic suspension was particularly praised for delivering a smooth ride experience.†A success, the model sold over 1.8 million examples worldwide.

Called the ĎEvent of the Yearí by the Amicale CitroŽn Internationale Club, a parade around the Zolder circuit also featured famous sporting CitroŽn models including a 1972 rally version of the DS, the 1973 Bandama Rally SM, a 1993 ZX Rallye Raid and the 2003 Xsara WRC.

CitroŽnís modern day ĎCrťative Technologieí was also showcased, with the recently launched DS3 available for test drives.

The Citroen GS

With a total production period from 1970 to 1986 as first the GS (70-79) and the GSA (80-86) the Citroen GS is a central product in the companyís history, plugging a significant gap in Citroenís range between the 2CV and Ami small cars and the luxurious Citroen DS and providing it with a significant sales success. A total of production run of 1,896,742 was achieved for the Citroen GS and the GSA added 576,757 to the Citroen account, laying the foundations for a model lineage that runs through to todayís Citroen C4.

Launched in 1970, the Citroen GS boasted a Robert Opron styled fastback style and Kamm tail that gave it the best drag coefficient of any car at the time and enabled it to make the most of its available power from its flat four air cooled engines of 1.0, 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 litres. The saloon version was joined by a wagon, or ĎBreakí variant, in 1972. Originally offered with a separate boot and fixed rear window, the GS was developed into a hatchback and a van version was available in selected markets, which was a three door version of the Ďbreakí wagon. Other technical advances included its central hydraulic system that powered the Ďmagic carpetí hydropneumatic suspension, the all-wheel disc brakes and power steering.

The GS also provided the basis for the GS Birotor, the car makerís brief foray in Wankel engine development. Launched into the teeth of the first oil crisis, the less than economical Birotor was pulled from the market with sales of less than 1,000 in France.

The Citroen SM

The SM was unveiled in 1970 at the Geneva Motor Show, a year in which CitroŽn enjoyed immense success, selling some 700,000 vehicles and launching its rotary engine project. It also unveiled the top-end SM, presented as the crowning touch to the CitroŽn range.

The SM project started in 1966 by Jacques Nť, who wanted to develop a faster version of the DS, thus making CitroŽnís first GT model.

But the SM was not designed like a standard GT, where comfort is generally of secondary importance. On the contrary, the DS-inherited hydraulic suspension system and the height adjustment function for optimum ground clearance made the new vehicle exceptionally comfortable.

One of the SMís numerous special features was its lighting system. With six iodine headlamps connected to an automatic levelling system, the SM combined the performance of swivelling headlamps with a brand new aesthetic.

Styling work on the SM focused primarily on aerodynamics. The vehicle was put through a high number and wide range of wind-tunnel tests during the development phase Ė and the result was remarkable. The Cd (coefficient of aerodynamic drag) of the SM was 0.46, a full 25% lower than that of the DS, already a benchmark in its own right.

The SM has angle-free styling. Although the body is tautly designed, no angular features interrupt the vehicleís streamlined flow. Encompassing the headlamp units and the number plate, the front-end glass casing lends the SM a resolutely innovative look. This pioneering beauty is furthered by the oversized bumpers, giving the vehicle its utterly distinctive 'character'.

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But for purists, the essence of the SM is in its profile, which clearly reveals all the work that went into the vehicleís aerodynamics. The flowing lines seem impossibly elegant. Dynamic features such as the rake of the windscreen, the sharply-drawn quarter-lights and the rear subframe bring the Citroen SM its unique, streamlined appearance.

The SMís engine was designed by Maserati, a CitroŽn partner at the time, the V6 unit was warmly greeted by the public. GT fans loved its ďhighly strungĒ Italian feel. Maserati used the engine in the Maserati Merak, a version of its super car Bora model. The SM gearbox was entirely CitroŽn-made. The five speed unit, with the top two gears in overdrive, gave SM drivers a full-throttle sports experience.

Sales were promising in the launch year. With 5,000 units in 1971, SM registrations matched its critical reception. Sadly, the ensuing years were somewhat less rosy. Sales dropped so much that CitroŽn halted production in 1975.

The SMís career was cut short by the oil crisis and the introduction of new speed limits on motorways.

The first oil crisis utterly changed the publicís view of the automobile, as did the road safety laws limiting motorway speeds introduced at the same time. Buying and owning a GT vehicle at this time was reserved for passionate enthusiasts only.

CitroŽn announced it was stopping production of the SM in the northern summer 1975, with these words: ďThe SM was born from speed and died with speedĒ.

Like any self-respecting GT, the Citroen SM proved its sporting nature in racing competition. The SM scored a resounding success on its first outing, at the Morocco rally, where a production model finished first in Group 4.

But beyond its impressive rally career, the SM is most often associated with a competition that it almost took part in. The SM was scheduled to race in the 1972 Le Mans 24 Hours event, but unfortunately, its participation was cancelled at the very last minute.

Technical data

2-door, 4-seater coupť


Maserati V6 at 90į. Bore: 87 mm; stroke: 75 mm. Capacity: 2,670 cm3. Fiscal rating: 15 HP. Effective horsepower: 170 bhp DIN at 5,500 rpm. 4-bearing crankshaft. 4 chain-driven OH camshafts. Water-circulation cooling. 2 electronically controlled fans. Twin contact-breaker, twin coil ignition. Fuel feed by 3 Weber 42 DCNF 2 twin-body carburettors, followed by electronic injection from 1972. 90-litre petrol tank in non-rigid plastic


Hydraulically operated single-plate dry clutch. 5 speeds plus reverse. Gear lever on central floor-level bracket. Front-wheel drive


Servo-assisted and indexed to vehicle speed. Wheels return automatically to straight line position when the driver releases the steering wheel. Cornering headlamps


4 power-assisted disc brakes controlled by DS-type pedal. Independent front and rear circuits


Constant-height hydropneumatic


Integral, all-steel welded body on rigid platform with side members


Michelin 195/70 VR 15 tubeless


Unladen: 1,450 kg; maximum gross vehicle weight: 1,830 kg


Top speed: 220 km/h. Fuel consumption DIN: 12.5 l/100 km


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