French Connection: 1972 Citroen SM Coupe

Citroen is a French manufacturer whose offerings have always been bold, daring, and controversial. The SM Coupe was no exception to this rule, and in spite of strong sales in the USA, the car disappeared from the American market quite unexpectedly at the end of 1973. Only 2,057 cars eventually made it to the US between 1971 and 1973, with imports ending when it became clear that the SM would be unable to meet the new 5mph bumper requirements. If you would like to own an unusual and distinctive luxury car, this SM is located in Scottsdale, Arizona, and is listed for sale here on eBay.

The styling of the SM was an acquired taste at the time, and probably still is. The body was designed to be as aerodynamically efficient as possible, while still providing comfortable passenger space in a relatively small overall package. Citroen achieved this, with the SM providing a surprising amount of interior space for a car of this size. This particular SM presents really well, with no obvious issues to report. One of the distinctive features of the American SM is the difference in the headlight appearance and function compared to most other countries. The SM was designed with six self-leveling headlights designed to turn in whichever direction the front wheels were pointing. These were deemed as illegal in the US, so the buying public had to make do with four fixed headlights that also lacked the aerodynamic covers of the continental cars.

As befits a luxury car, the SM was equipped with leather upholstery, and the upholstery in this car looks to be in really nice condition. There is some wrinkling in the leather, but this is something that you would expect from a car of this age. The rest of the interior does present well, while power windows and air conditioning make life even more comfortable when you are nestled into those leather seats.

When you’re a continental car company who wants to build a luxury car with a smooth engine, then having a partner like Maserati is probably no bad thing. The Maserati developed engine in this SM is a 2.7L V6 engine, hooked to a 3-speed automatic transmission. The majority of SMs were fitted with the 5-speed manual transmission, so the automatic makes this car slightly more unusual. The outward appearance of the Citroen promised something quite revolutionary underneath, and the car doesn’t disappoint. Auto-leveling suspension, speed sensitive power steering, and 4-wheel disc brakes that automatically adjust the front-to-rear braking force depending on vehicle load are all part of the package. The owner claims that the car was sourced from an estate and that it has covered a mere 34,000 miles. He also says that the car runs and drives really well.

This Citroen SM has a lot going for it. It has low mileage, it is in really good condition, it has a nice engine, and it is fitted with the relatively rare automatic transmission. What counts against it may be its physical appearance. These are a car that people either love or hate. The owner has set a BIN price of $59,500 for the Citroen, which is about right for this particular car. It will be interesting to see if there is someone out there who loves the SM enough to buy it. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there is.


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  1. ICEMAN from Winnipeg

    Popular Science (remember the great Jan Norbye and Jim Dunne comparison tests) named the SM the most advanced production car in the world in 1974. They tested it against a V12 Jaguar E Type and Mercedes Benz SL.

    Like 4
  2. 86 Vette Convertible

    Have to say that’s so ugly it’s cute. Not what I’d be looking for, especially at that price but I’d like to try it out on the road just to see how it handles. Not sure, but I thought at one time Citroen’s had a built in tire changing system so you could change out a flat tire without jacking up the car, wonder if this one has it or not.

    Those exhaust tips just look plain wrong to me.

    Like 1
    • Derek

      You have to have a prop, but you don’t need a jack; raise car, insert prop, lower car again, and it lifts the wheel off the ground itself. I’ve driven an SM but never owned one, but I’ve had 3 BXs and a couple of Xantias.

      Like 4
  3. SubGothius

    Citroen’s prospects here weren’t ended so much by the 5-mph bumper requirement — they could have bolted-on some ugly diving-board bumpers as well as anyone else — but rather by the static bumper-height requirement that went along with it, thanks to their advanced hydropneumatic suspension giving a variable ride height and low static parking height.

    Like 4
  4. John T

    The SM in its five-speed configuration is amazing, but the Borg Warner-35 automatic transmission, especially the 2.7L version as in this particular example, ruined the driveability.

    Like 5
  5. Dick A Member

    I have always liked this Citroen SM very much and have never forgotten about this car. I have always wondered if one would ever show up on Barn Finds. I consider this listing a nice Christmas present. Joy to the World !

    Like 10
  6. Vance

    It would.make a nice washer and dryer. If this car realized how ugly it is , it would drive itself off a cliff.

    Like 2
    • Dick A Member

      I have always considered it rather sad when obviously unpleased people have to make such unpleasant comments about interesting cars posted here on BF. Why do they bother?

      Like 35
      • James Sterrey

        They get ‘Barnfinds’ confused with such stimulating websites as ‘ConventionalCamry’ and ‘SensibleSilverSedan’. Pity them and the narrowness of the their minds.

        Like 17
      • Mountainwoodie

        Well it was funny. I find the car to be so ‘sui generis’ as to be worthwhile for that alone. I prefer the fifties version and as a kid in NYC remember seeing the earlier Citroens and the Renaut Dauphine parked on the street by my apartment. Looking back I wonder what sort of folks owned those cars in the midst of the post WWII Fifties period of American auto supremacy

        Like 4
    • TC

      Vance, ugly is only in the eyes of the beholder !!

      Like 1
  7. Rex Kahrs Member

    Photos don’t do the car justice; when you see the SM in person it’s a really cool design. That said, the color white isn’t the best color for the SM.

    Like 10
  8. Oilyhands

    Tragically there is a tow yard in Salt Lake City that has 2 of these that have been sitting for at least 10 years. I passed by a few times as they sink deeper into the ground letting the tin worms eat what is left of them. If it wasn’t a French Italian car mash up I’d be even sadder!

    Like 4
  9. Rex Kahrs Member

    Now that’s funny.

  10. Doug B

    I’ve always heard that you could remove a wheel on one of these and drive around on 3 wheels. lol. Can you imagine the repair costs on one of these? Assuming you could even find parts. They’ll definitely have to find a buyer with more money than brains.

  11. Bob_in_TN Bob_in_TN Member

    I’ve always been fascinated by the engineering on these cars. Over the years I’ve even warmed to the styling, a little. I had no idea they commanded high prices today.

    Given their complexity, the number of these in drive-able condition must be very low. Compare this car to contemporary compact cars which have been on this site over the past few weeks (e.g. Vega, Fiesta, Pinto)– what a contrast.

    I don’t remember the last time I have seen one, has to be decades ago.

    Nice write-up Adam.

    Like 6
    • ICEMAN from Winnipeg

      There are a few in Vancouver. All appear to be well worn, probably not worth the mortgage that one would need to take out to restore.

  12. luke arnott Member

    The battery is located at the bottom of the r/h front wing(fender).To replace it,you apparently need to take the wing(fender) off first.This was recounted to me by an SM owner 40 years ago – honest!

    Like 2
    • Tony C.

      When I was a teenager in the 60’s I worked for a company that fitted car radios for all the new car dealerships, (in those days the radio was an extra accessory), to fit the aerial to a DS the front fender had to be completely removed, you should have seen the owners face when he came back early to pick it up and the complete fender, lights and all, was laying on the workshop floor beside his car. Similar to the owner of a brand new Mercedes Benz who went bananas when I ‘attacked’ his front fender with a 1 inch hole saw in preparation to fitting the aerial, you should have seen the smoke coming off just before the saw went through, hilarious, they built them from ‘STEEL’ in those days, not tinfoil!

    • Concinnity

      The battery is accessed by a hatch in the RHS wheel arch, just undo the hatch bolts after removing the wheel. You can access it by removing the wing but why would you?

      Like 1
  13. ICEMAN from Winnipeg

    Did not the mid 1970s Chevy Monza with a V8 have a similar problem ie the engine had to be removed to access and change some of the spark plugs? And some GM cars, Oldsmobile, one of them, to change the tail light in the rear bumper the bumper had to be removed? I myself had a 1978 VW Wabbit that needed a priest to exorcise the Demon(s) in the engine in order to get it running !!

    Like 4
    • TC

      Iceman, try changing the timing belt on a Chrysler PT Cruiser without removing the engine, or at least lifting and turning it to get to the front, you’d have to be a magician or contortionist with a 5 year olds small hands!

  14. Jack connor

    As I recall , the SM was Motor Trend’s car of the year which I thought was odd, given their general unavailability and price. There was only one dealer in St Louis to sell and service these cars

    Like 1
  15. Peter Atherton

    Years ago the dealership fr which I was the Sales Manager had the franchise for Citroen SM’s.My late first wife often did dealer swaps, and once had a great time dicing with a Pantera on the Sawmill Parkway.Turned out that the Pantera driver was a New York State Cop!Luckily,my wife was a very attractive blond…….

    Like 6
  16. Bruce

    To ride in one it is to fall in love. Imagine riding in a quiet room with the world passing by. The room stays level around corners, bumps and you feel isolated from the movement as if the windows are movie screens and you are standing still. I have had this exact feeling while going down a winding road on a test drive with the dealer in Kansas City. At the time we were doing 100 MPH and when we went over some rail road tracks I heard the noise but did not feel anything. For those with interest look up Blue River Road at the South End of Kansas City, Missouri.

    This is a road for Lotus, Porsche drivers to enjoy corners without having to worry too much about cross traffic within a city. These cars are amazing. I think Citroen is missing a huge bet buy not licensing the suspension technology to just about everybody because it is that good.

    These cars are a very strange mix between luxury coupe and go like hell sports car. They can be both. The Maserati Engine was not the best and as per other comments the auto trans was a near disaster in the way it sucked up what power was available. But this was a 140+ MPH luxury car that had amazing aerodynamics. Not quick off the like (few French cars are due to tax reasons within the country ) but get it rolling and you do not need to slow down as with most other cars. My Lotus Europa has a French Renault engine and is the same way.

    As for looks, fine on in black, dark blue or the wine red metallic and I think you would change your mind very quickly. There is an aircraft feel about the shape and for a very good reason. This is one of the slipperiest cars every designed.

    I know many will think I am crazy but I would suggest that these cars the few that are left should be put in the same category as 300SL’s from the 1950’s, If they exist they are worth restoring. Drive one sometime and find out why.

    Bye the way the Euro lamps covers and the lights that turn with the front wheels are a big help in the looks and usefulness department. With a new Turbo engine an some laws that would reflect the very different design of this car it could easily be put back into production. I would very much like to see that.

    Like 10
    • Robert L Roberge

      I am only familiar with a DS of about the same vintage that my brother owned and that was a hell of a ride, too. Crossing the Bay Bridge one night on the way to SF, the left rear tire went flat just before the cross town exit. Slowed to about 40, flashers on, limped to the next exit (that’s your only choice on that roadway), never felt a thing in the passenger compartment. Unbelievable quiet comfort.

      Like 5
  17. Jack Quantrill

    Louis Jordan, and Claude Dauphin, liked this on the show, “Paris Precinct “.

  18. Healeymonster

    To say there is a lot going on in that engine compartment would be a understatement! I have worked on several tight quarters exotics over the decades but just looking at the fragility of the plastics under the hood worries me. The plumbing / wiring diagrams must look like a Thomas Guide of Los Angeles!

    Like 1
    • Concinnity

      But easier to work on than, say, an Audi A6 or A8.

      Like 1
  19. James P Bandy

    et al,
    I have had Citroens for over 50 years, Traction Avant, DS Pallas, 2CV, SM (OF which I have had five)…Nothing is so exotic..the suspension started in 1955 with the DS19 etc…as to licensing to other makes…Rolls Royce Silver Shadow…has a plaque on the firewall…”Suspension license by Andre Citroen”..also the attack of the Bog Warner…will lots and lots of cars had Bog Warner’s..My XJ 6 has
    Borg Warner…It was a “Grand Touring” car, not a “Sports Car” Go figure……In any case I just sold a couple for a very, very reasonable price….$15,000 is enough ….really, Oh, oh, yes, yes $15,000 or less….otherwise why?? The engine yes, once a V8, cut down…the suspension system, as mentioned l955, neat must say….as to the “Buggy Springs” of most American cars date from the ’30’s…right. It is neat….don’t buy one on the chance that it will go up in price…I guess they could there are alway a rube out there….As one once said…”One is born” everyday…..

    Like 2
    • Derek

      Some Tractions had self-levelling rear suspension, didn’t they?

      Like 1
      • John T

        Yes. The 6-cylinder 15CV-H had hydraulic suspension, rear wheels only. Model year 1954 only. It was basically the test mule for what became the DS suspension in 1955.

  20. Wrong Way

    I have always been intrigued by these cars! I love the car, but I am not so sure about the price! Seems a lot high too me! Great car in awesome shape tho!

    Like 3
  21. misterlou Member

    Burt drove one before the T/A

    Like 1
  22. James

    Back in the early 80’s my boss owned one of these and I was lucky enough to drive it. I liked it, very cool. From what I remember it didn’t run to well until you started getting the revs up.

  23. Allgonquin

    There is an off the wall Canadian guy who is currently restoring an SM. He is way into 40’s and 50’s cars and apparently also Citroens. He has a youtube channel and a web site. He’s also swapping a body onto a Dodge / Plymouth something, pretty interesting. No connection, I just think he’s wacky enough to be interesting.

  24. H Cone

    The SM is a gorgeous car in looks.Even in the most boring color for the car White and the Ugly USA spec headlights like this one.But particularly with the Euro Lights and a nice color.Wow what a car and with the 5 speed Tranny they are amazing.The Automatic however is a real bummer.I Love Citroens and own 5 including a 5 speed SM.

    • Concinnity

      What are your other Citroëns? I have a BX and a CX, both 5 speeds.

  25. Urquiola

    The engine in Citroën SM had a bad reputation of oil loser, hard to tune, same as Diesel engine in Cadillac Seville…
    If you find a good body, I’d say this SM wide car could be the perfect fit for a Flat-Six air-cooled Chevy Corvair engine, not all cars have room for its 84 to 92 cm width, 74 cm long, 42 cm tall.
    The Hydropneumatic suspension is not a problem, unless you mix fluids when adding, some mixes can destroy all hydraulic circuits.

    • John T

      Engine swaps in an SM are difficult because of the mid-engine FWD layout, which necessitates the accessories be driven from the end of the intermediate shaft that drives the cams. If you swap in most ordinary engines, you end up with the accessories smashed up against the firewall, or you have to come up with some sort of takeoff shaft at the firewall running the length of the engine.

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