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Looking back:   Citroen SM

1970 Citroen SM (copyright image)

1972 Citroen SM (copyright image)

1970 Citroen SM (copyright image)

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12th March, 2010

CitroŽnís upmarket coupť, the SM, is celebrating its 40th 'birthday'.

The famous French marque enjoyed success in 1970, selling some 700,000 vehicles and launching its rotary piston engine project. It also unveiled the SM, presented as the crowning touch to the CitroŽn range, at Switzerland's 1970 Geneva Motor Show.

The SM project started was kicked off in 1966 by Jacques Nť, who wanted to develop a faster version of the DS, thus giving CitroŽn its first GT model.

But the Citroen 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 Citroen 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 focussed 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 reference in the matter.

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 Citroen SM a resolutely innovative look. This pioneering beauty is furthered by the oversized bumpers, giving the vehicle its utterly distinctive 'character'.

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-windows and the rear subframe bring the SM its unique, streamlined appearance.

The Citroen SMís engine was for a long time its Achillesí heel. Designed by Maserati, a CitroŽn partner at the time, the V6 unit was initially warmly greeted by the public. GT fans loved its ďhighly strungĒ Italian feel. But things soon started to go sour. A series of technical imperfections undermined the carís reliability, traditionally a key CitroŽn strong point. The SM required fine-tuned maintenance like all GTs, and drivers paid heavily for any imprecision.

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.

The top-of-the-range SM was launched in suitably top-of-the-range style in 1971, via promotional events.

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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 Citroen SMís career was cut short by the oil crisis. The first oil crisis utterly changed the 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 fans 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.

The CitroŽn SM was streamlined, swift and dynamic like a sports car, yet comfortable and pleasant to drive, with outstanding roadholding, steering, suspension and braking. Unveiled at the 1970 Geneva Motor Show, it is one of the most prestigious models in motoring history.

Developed by CitroŽn and Maserati Ė the latter for the engine Ė the front-wheel drive SM pioneered a new concept of ďgrand touringĒ and made speed with safety accessible to owners of mass-produced cars.

The Citroen SMís 'career' was cut short by the speed ban introduced during the oil crisis. CitroŽn sold 2,658 units in 1973, and a mere 352 in 1974.


Technical data 2-door, 4-seater coupť
Engine 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
Transmission Hydraulically operated single-plate dry clutch. 5 speeds plus reverse. Gear lever on central floor-level bracket. Front-wheel drive
Steering Servo-assisted and indexed to vehicle speed. Wheels return automatically to straight line position when the driver releases the steering wheel. Cornering headlamps
Braking 4 power-assisted disc brakes controlled by DS-type pedal. Independent front and rear circuits
Suspension Constant-height hydropneumatic
Body Integral, all-steel welded body on rigid platform with side members
Tyres Michelin 195/70 VR 15 tubeless
Weight Unladen: 1,450 kg; maximum gross vehicle weight: 1,830 kg
Performance Top speed: 220 km/h. Fuel consumption DIN: 12.5 l/100 km


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