Vintage vehicles, Automotive history and stories from motoring's past. 

Citroen SM - the future of fast

Who else but the French eats snails and awards Jerry Lewis medals? Well known for having unique tastes, the French approach to design is just as original. Citroen has birthed some of the world’s most eccentric cars. Their legendary oddballs, the DS and 2CV are well known, but the company’s most interesting car might be their 1970-75 SM. Citroen bought Maserati in 1968 with the goal of creating an exciting new gran turismo coupe. Combining the company’s unique design approach with robust Italian power created a futuristic highway star like none other, the fastback SM.

With the world's first speed-sensitive power steering joining a self-leveling hydro-pneumatic suspension, six headlights (including two that turned with its wheels), rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a slippery aerodynamic body, the SM was the most advanced car around when it debuted in 1970. It was recognized by Motor Trend magazine as Foreign Car of The Year for 1972. Later, the SM placed eleventh on Automobile Magazine's 2005 list of "The World's 100 Coolest Cars."

The SM’s unique suspension provides a creamy smooth ride that, coupled with its 20 gallon gas tank and slippery aero styling, make it a perfect long distance runner, able to zip down the road at 120 m.p.h. all day long.

Celebrities and politicians favored Citroen SMs. Jay Leno has one. Both Cheech and Chong drove SMs, as did Lee Majors, the Shah of Iran, Graham Greene, and Leonid Breshnev. Idi Amin owned five.

Just 12,920 Citroen SMs were produced over its five-year span. U.S. regulations stipulated bumper height, but the Citroen's exotic suspension lowered the car when turned off, bringing its bumpers below required height, making the car illegal for sale in America. A final boatload of SMs bound for the U.S. delivery was diverted to Japan, instead.

Maintenance can present an issue with the Citroen’s complex engineering. Owners joke that they need a French mechanic for the car in general, an Italian for its engine, and a Brit for its Lotus transmission. But owners also claim that driving an SM is rewarding enough that it’s worth such hassles. Even forty years later, it remains modern car with crazy cool looks and engineering. Today, sexy SMs zoom past all the look-alike jellybeans clogging our decaying highways, leaving only curious stares in its wake.

Written by Jim Cherry