• Mar 11, 2010
Citroën SM - click above for high-res image gallery

Well now, this is exciting. The iconic Citroën SM turns forty years old today. First introduced at the Geneva Motor Show on March 11, 1970, the SM was incredibly advanced for its time. In fact, there are those who would argue that it's still way ahead of the curve.

A couple of basics, if you will. SM stands for Sports Maserati (though some argue it stands for Sa Majesté in reference to the DS – i.e. Goddess, i.e. La déesse'). While probably not the wisest financial decision of all time, Citroën purchased Maserati in 1968. As such, they were able to use the new 90-degree V6 Maserati had developed. Essentially a V8 with two-cylinders lopped off, the SM's V6 (also shared with the Maserati Merak) is one of the most fantastically complex engines ever conceived. How does three timing chains strike you?

But the SM was much more than a powerful (for the time) engine in a sleek and sexy, Robert Opron designed aircraft grade aluminum body. The SM featured the world's first variable-assist power steering system (known as DIRAVI) which is so insanely complicated that we can't even begin to describe it to you (it involves heart shaped cams). Also, the SM featured one-turn to lock. Needless to say, the DIRAVI was tied into the SM's oleopneumatic system. What's oleopneumatic? A fancy French way of saying an oil-based hydropneumatic system.

Besides the steering the suspension, headlights, brakes and transmission were all run off the SM's hydraulic system. Headlights? Yup. The SM featured six headlights behind a beautiful glass cover, two of which turned with the steering wheel, and six could pivot up and down depending on rear ride height. In other words, if the rear of the car was loaded down, the lights would automatically adjust to point straight ahead so as not to blind oncoming motorists.

Back in 1970, not only was the SM the fastest front-wheel drive car in the world (the factory claimed 137 mph, but many took the cars up to 145 mph), it had the shortest stopping distance of any car, period. Credit the dual-channel hydro-brakes and the fact that the front rotors are inboard. In fact, rumor has it that until the Porsche 959 showed its face in 1986, the SM was the production deceleration king. One last little tidbit. As far as we know, the Citroën SM is the only car ever designed specifically to seat two men up front and two women in the back. Amazing, no? Happy birthday SM! Maybe in another forty years the world will be ready to embrace you. Read the press release after the jump.



[Source: Citroën]
Show full PR text
Citroën's high performance coupé, the SM, is celebrating its 40th birthday.

The luxury sports tourer, an alliance between Citroën and Maserati, was first unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show on 11th March 1970 - 40 years ago today.

Technically innovative, with a dynamic, yet supremely comfortable ride experience, the Citroën SM was highly regarded for its futuristic styling, prestigious quality, 'magic-carpet' suspension and outstanding performance - a unique combination of characteristics not available in any other car at the time.

Officially recognised as a truly exceptional vehicle in the early 1970's, the SM placed third in the European Car of the Year Awards in 1971 - the winner was Citroën's GS. The SM also received the Motor Trend Car of the Year Award in the US in 1972.

Powered by a Maserati V6 engine, the SM was one of the fastest front-wheel drive cars of its day, with a top speed in excess of 220km/h (137mph). A competitive performer in motorsport, the SM won its first race at the Morocco Rally in 1971.

Pioneering innovative technology, the SM introduced a new type of variable assist power-steering, which made it easier to manoeuvre at lower speeds and provided greater resistance at higher speeds for improved control and handling.

The car also featured hydro-pneumatic suspension with automatic height correction and six headlamps with automatic levelling. Four power-assisted disc brakes, with independent front and rear circuits, automatically adjusted brake power according to vehicle load and weight distribution.

Renowned SM owners have included U.S. comedian Jay Leno, Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, author Graham Greene and actor Lee Majors. French Presidents from Georges Pompidou to Jacques Chirac used two specially modified 4-door convertible 'présidentielle' models, created by coach builder Henri Chapron.


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  • 25 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      My favourite car. That and the SVX - which reminded me of the SM.

      My neighbor had a Merak - which was pretty much the same thing - but with the drive-train swapped end for end. Still had that big STOP light in the instrument cluster. We failed to heed it one night - and she burnt to the ground about 1/2 mile from the only mechanic within 50 miles who would have at her. That's when I learned that XWX's had steel sidewalls.

      When I win the lottery, I'll buy an SM, an SVX and a C-Type (I like that one too) and Lieberman can come and write about all three. Or Goolsby can.

      Whatever!
      • 4 Years Ago
      This ol wrench admired them since new & when I stumbled across a flood total, It only took a minute to grab on. Totally amazed at the clever, if not capricious engineering. Mean to work on tho. Sold it on line, shipped it back to where it came from.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Reading this reminds me how much I miss the DS I owned briefly when I was in the military in Germany, and how badly I wanted (and still want) an SM.

      Greatest car ever.

      If anyone builds a modern version, including the DIRAVI steering and amazing suspension, I'll be first in line. Button brakes optional. Make mine a convertible, if available.

      Don't mess with the styling too much either. Both the DS and SM were penned near-perfect the first time.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Just a great looking car, to bad French cars are hard to get fixed here. Parent's had a LeCar in the early 80's, only one shop could work on it.
      Ever notice the early Saturn's all tried to have Citroen noses.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Not sure why the headlights needed to move up and down, since the car was self-leveling.

      The oleopneumatic suspension was and still is a marvel. It really wasn't that complicated, a motivated DIYer could service it with a special tool or two. Still, it had a reputation of being too complicated to work on thanks to mouth breathing mechanics that had a hard enough time figure out how a regular shock absorber worked...

      Get this - you could very simply change the ride height of the car up to 9 inches by means of a lever on the dashboard.

      more neatness: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydropneumatic_suspension
      • 4 Years Ago
      Explaining oleopneumatic as "oil-based hydropneumatic" is rather ridiculous, because hydropneumatic is a fancy Latinized English way of saying "like pneumatics, but with water instead of air". Kinda ironic that you'd fall into the trap of overcomplication when talking about an overcomplicated machine.

      What's wrong with "oleomatic", anyway?
        • 4 Years Ago
        Except for the fact that it uses oil (not water) as the hydraulic substance.

        Oh, and the fact that it's called oleopneumatic by Citroen.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Jonny, after you read my post again and comprehend it this time around, look up hydropneumatic in a dictionary. (Hint: try English.)

        "Oleomatic" was a dig at Citroen.
      • 4 Years Ago
      The SM and the DS are one of the greatest car designs ever. Not the greatest cars mind you, but they were thinking outside the box when they penned and engineered these automobiles. Heck it's only been the last 5-10 years we have been allowed headlamps that move with the steering wheel.
        • 4 Years Ago
        well, except for that Tucker guy, some 60 years ago...
      • 4 Years Ago
      As a french lover of Citroën (I myself had a CX, a GS, a BX, a Xsara and now a C4) and born into the DS of my parents (really), I must say I have been touched by this article.

      I wish I had the money to buy one old Citroën to restore it (especially a Convertible DS, for me one of the most amazing car and design of all time).
      • 4 Years Ago
      Oh, hey, don't mind me. I'm just walking through this field here.
      • 4 Years Ago
      An employer owned a US-version SM, regrettably with automatic transmission, years ago. He sent me to pick it up from the dealer/mechanic after some extensive repair work, I had to take a Greyhound bus 90 miles and then hitch a ride another 15 miles to the mechanic's. After all that repair time it still needed a jump start, and on the way home it stalled and needed jumped a few more times. Had to rush it to neutral in the auto trans whenever the engine revs got below 2,000rpm or it stalled. Took forever to get it home to him.

      While it was running, it was a fascinating car. Ultra-quick steering with power self-centering, a little button on the floor to actuate the brakes, single-spoke steering wheel, and of course the suspension control. So much fun to watch other drivers' reactions at the stoplights when the car could be raised and lowered (while keeping those engine revs high, of course).

      It was an extremely complex car, and there was no room underhood. I believe the engine had to be lifted from the car to change routine components.

      But it was sexy and absolutely fascinating to sit in and to drive when it was running.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I love "ahead of their time" production cars like this SM. The best of them stir the soul as well as your thinking about what should be the norm. The Cord 812, Austin Mini, Olds Toronado, NSU Ro80, Saab 99 Turbo, Ford Taurus, and Audi 5000 Turbo quattro were all noteworthy in their time. They all pushed engineering (if not reliability) and sometimes style a little further than the rest of their contemporaries. Most of what we're NOW driving is a reliable, usable result of the out-of-the-box thinking of the past. Thank God for that.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I'll take the one in the first picture, *and* the woman in the yellow dress.

      /the 1970 version anyway
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