Franco-Italian Wonders: Two Citroen SMs

1971 Citroen SM

My introduction to the Citroen SM was reading an Automobile Quarterly article on the SM in 1970. I thought it was a concept car, nothing that sleek could actually be a production car, right? Not only did Citroen produce them, but they filled the engine compartment with a Maserati engine—wow! If you have been similarly struck by the sight of one, you may be interested in this pair that are available here on craigslist in Daytona, Florida.

Automobile Quarterly - Citroen SM

The SM looked like it came from outer space in 1970. Compare this with, let’s say, a 1970 Ford, Jaguar or GM two-door! Hydraulics everywhere, even seat adjustment. Steering that self-centered even at rest—no caster required! And a brake pedal that resembled a hockey puck glued to the floor. The SM really set the world on its ear at introduction and still looks “out of time” today.

1971 Citroen SM Project

Unfortunately, the other side of the maroon car in the lead picture doesn’t quite look as complete. It’s actually pretty darn scary; you have to wonder if someone was trying to create a cutaway display. The maroon car is characterized in the ad as having been stored off the road since 1976 and comes with front fenders, a hood, a front clip and bumper, radiator fans and a replacement head.  It also comes with Weber carburetors.

1972 Citroen SM

The white car is obviously not complete either, although the ad states it’s a rust-free body shell that’s been stored since 1980.  While being rust-free is an important plus for any vehicle, but as stated earlier, this isn’t a contemporary Ford or Chevy. The hydraulic system runs over 2600 psi! Deciding to embark on the restoration, or even just the reassembly, of a car this complex is not something to be taken lightly.

Citroen SM Cutaway
You can see from this cutaway how far back the Maserati V6 was placed for weight distribution purposes. And yes, that’s a front wheel drive setup in front of the engine. Contemporary road testers went on and on about the road-holding, ride and general competence of the SM. But I’m not sure this is the way to go about getting one, especially since the seller is cagey about a price and is inviting offers.  Deciding to embark on the restoration, or even just the reassembly, of a car this complex is not something to be taken lightly. I did find a terrific SM buyers’ guide posted on the internet and I would highly suggest an inspection before making an offer. I think I’ll wait for a more complete car, but maybe you feel differently?


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  1. Grr

    Love the SM, it’s my favorite car of all time. I hope someone – Citroen World, maybe? – restores both of these. If I had deep pockets I’d give them replicas of the V8 prototype in this one:

    It had originally been intended for the stillborn Quattroporte II that was based on the SM…

  2. Dave Wright

    These cars vie for the worst ever built. I worked on them when they were new, nothing was right or good. Typical French poor build quality and silly intricate engenering. This Mark bankrupted many dealers here in the US with warranty claims that the manufacturer refused to honor. They nearly destroyed the good name of Maserati. I remember taliking to a dealer that told me most of them had major issues as they came off the boat. Hydro suspensions would not work, un painted or treated undercarriages showed rust from the ocean voyage. Repair manuals only in French. Typical French Union built nightmare.

  3. jim s

    seller needs to take the first offer that does not require them to pay to have cars removed. i would like to know why the cars ended up like this. interesting find.

  4. That Guy

    I own a 1972 SM 5-speed and I love it. But it is a complex and specialized car, and I worry about keeping it maintained as the few remaining Citroen mechanics on this side of the pond age out of the workforce.

    Prices for good ones seem to have been climbing, so maybe these two cars aren’t completely worthless. But I’d still agree with Jamie about waiting for a complete car. These are really just parts cars at this point, not realistic starting points for restoration.

  5. Ross W. Lovell

    Greetings All,

    There is some absolutely amazing engineering involved in these cars but unfortunately the execution of this same engineering was sorely lacking.
    Not exactly sure how Citroen planned to make sure their dealer support was up to the task of working on these as Citroen hadn’t mastered competent dealer support in the U.S. for it’s less complex models.
    Maybe these cars were better served in Europe BUT, everything I’ve read and heard from original owners seems to say the specialists that now service them are more competent having learned from the factory’s experiences. Having driven several over their production years, I’d buy one if space permitted.

  6. charlie Member

    As the Dutch Hertz employee said to me, recently, in Holland where I had rented a WV “or equivalent”, the “equivalent” being a new Renault, with about 4000 kilometers on it, “the French build beautiful cars, but they are not good mechanics”, this was when I returned it and complained that the driver’s door was about to fall off – one hinge was very loose, the other sort of loose, and it could not be shut completely, but it could be locked, albeit ajar.

  7. Moe D

    Fantastic Car / Recipe for Disaster!!

    French and Italian engineering sent to America where lack of dealer training & support made the success of these cars doomed from the start.

    Buying a less than perfect car is not for the faint of heart!

    I learned to drive on one of these as my dad had one, and can never forget the drive or get this car out of my head. I’ve posted a well known pic of what a Good one looks like.

    What was said above is true: These are Super cars and the small group of flaws that sentenced them to doom & death have been very well documented and are easily addressed by the guys/shops that specialize in these, although- literally-, few and far between. They can run hard & forever nowadays with the right updates.

    Too bad though, because without a familiar shop looking at them, no one else will have a clue as to the French hydraulics or the Italian motor’s idiosyncracies. Too much of the cars are either not or mis understood, including the hydraulic steering, clutch, brakes and suspension and even the lighting on the European front end (much more Beautiful) that turns with the steering.

    These cars were and may still be way ahead of their time, and they’re not quite too pricey yet, but are on their way to being so. Working on them can be Very pricey though, so buy one that’s been well cared for, or stay away.

    Still though, one of the most enamoring experiences you can have behind the wheel of a car this side of the moon… ;)

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