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No Reserve Barn Find: 1973 Citroen SM Project

In 1964, Facel S.A. expired. Facel was renowned in France and beyond for its luxury cars. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Debbie Reynolds, Ringo Starr, the Shah of Iran, Stirling Moss – Facel owners read like a Who’s Who of entertainment and politics. Coincidentally, Citroen’s glorious DS was aging. The company needed a second act for the modern era, and given the vacuum created by the demise of Facel, Citroen decided it should be a luxury car. Astute readers can criticize me here because you will know that Projet S – which would turn into the SM was on the drawing boards in 1961, well before Facel faded. Back then. Citroen’s notion was to create an icon in the style of Bugatti or Talbot Lago – a heavy lift for a company that made cars for everyman. But occupying the “mass” luxury niche was an attainable goal. After years of development, including a search for the right engine that was solved when Citroen purchased Maserati, the SM was finally introduced in 1970. Here on eBay is a barn-found 1973 Citroen SM in a no-reserve auction, bid to $6700. This car does not run, so haul your trailer to White Marsh, Maryland to pick it up.

The SM’s motor was a disappointment to would-be customers. Crafted by essentially lopping two cylinders from a Maserati Indy V8 (and leaving the 90-degree angle – not ideal for a V6), it was shaved and shortened and otherwise boxed up so it displaced just 2670 cc – a measurement that released it from the worst of taxation in France. Output was rated at 200 hp on a good day with the right carbs, camshafts, and gas. US cars made do with about 176 ponies. A 3.0 liter was available but gave little improvement despite the larger displacement. Considering that the Jag XKE had 246 hp spinning its wheels, and the Jensen Interceptor was pounding the asphalt with 335 hp, the SM was quite short in the performance department. On the other hand, it had a version of that nifty hydropneumatic suspension, Citroen’s new DIRAVI power-assisted steering, and four-wheel disc brakes.

This car’s interior has that European sensibility about color that I find confusing: about four different colors of tan, and then a black dash and steering wheel. Parts are not ubiquitous; it would not surprise me if this example’s highest and best use is as a donor. For the restorer, you’ll be sourcing or fixing this dash, recarpeting, and perhaps rebuilding a number of gauges and switches. On the other hand, the seats have survived well. This car has Citroen’s five-speed manual.

Robert Opron’s futuristic styling was not everyone’s cup of tea but it certainly created a buzz when it arrived at the Geneva Auto Salon in 1970. European models had glass-covered headlights, with one set that would follow the turn of the steering wheel – a party trick that was outlawed in the US. Still, this US-delivered example exudes enough sex appeal to help us understand why prices have increased substantially in the last few years. Rarity helps, too, as fewer than 13,000 were made. For a sense of the fervor these cars can ignite, devote a minute and a half to this video. Makes me want to buy one.


  1. Bob

    Always liked the design of these but not running is going to get real expensive would probably better to source a modern Turbo 4 cylinder and swap out the drivetrain or start the hunt for a Jensen Interceptor with that trusty Chrysler drivetrain

    Like 5
    • SubGothius

      Just getting this one running again would be far simpler than any drivetrain swap, considering these are a front mid-engine longitudinal FWD configuration with the transmission in front of the engine and carrying the inboard disc brakes, and most of the accessories aren’t mounted to the block but, rather, separately mounted to the chassis in front of the engine and driven off a jackshaft attached to the engine aux shaft that drives the water pump and distributor:


      That said, I gather this same basic engine block and heads evolved into the one used in the Maserati Biturbo, which suggests the hair-raising prospect of a twin-turbo SM…

      Like 5
    • Leslie Martin Member

      Mopar ou pas de voiture!

      Like 0
  2. Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

    You have some eclectic picks, Michelle-keeps it interesting.
    The SM is one of the better later model Citroen designs and the one to have IMHO is the non-US version. The trick headlights (thank you for the idea Preston Tucker) and the headlight covers make it look better.
    The first one some of us saw was with Burt Reynolds car theft-

    This is a chunk of change for a car with nicely designed but mediocre engine, especially when that engine’s not running, and Citroen dealers are nowhere to be found in the USA.
    A BarnFind Jensen can be made to run at least!

    Like 1
    • Solosolo UK Solosolo UK Member

      What a helluva thing to do to a gorgeous Citroen SM. The producers should be shot for what they did to that car as there were millions of krap American cars they could have destroyed rather than this Citroen.

      Like 1
  3. Harry

    French coffee and pastries, yes.

    Citroen, no.

    Like 6
  4. Motorcityman

    Should leave the ugly thing in the barn!!

    Like 3
  5. Kurt Member

    Fascinating but restoration looks daunting, and expensive. Always liked the SMs.

    Like 6
  6. B. Elitch

    There are a few inaccuracies here that should be corrected.
    First, as everyone knows, the members of the Rat Pack drove the Dual-Ghia or Ghia L 6.4, not a FACEL. Second, the DS was not getting “tired” in the sixties; it lived until1975, to be replaced by the CX, a highly successful model that ran from 1974 until 1991 and was awarded the European Car of the Year award in 1975. Third, the motor for the SM was not a “lopped-off” V8; it was an entirely new motor totally separate from the existing Maserati motors. Fourth, obviously with so many 90-degree V-6s on the road today, this is not a flawed design. Fifth, the SM was not designed as a hot rod; it was designed as a GT (Grand Touring) car where off-the-line performance was not important. The SM was a legitimate 120 mph car and there were not many of those in that period. As you may know, it was awarded the Motor Trend Car of the Year by some pretty distinguished judges, including Phil Hill. Sixth, what killed off the High-Performance car business was the Arab Oil Embargo in October 1973. In case you are not familiar with this, the Arab oil-exporting countries decided to punish those countries that supported Israel in the Yom Kippur war. This caused the price of oil to skyrocket by 300% and suddenly people were more interested in economical cars with good gas mileage and the market for high-speed luxury cars tanked. This is the second time in recent memory that you have published a review of a Citroen that is written by someone who has no knowledge of this company. I enjoy and look forward to reading your daily posts, but I hope you find another writer for this subject next time.

    Like 21
    • macvaugh

      Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin were members of the “Rat Pack”: Famous owners of Facel Vegas (mainly of Facel IIs) included Pablo Picasso, Ava Gardner, Christian Dior, Herb Alpert, Joan Collins, Ringo Starr, Max Factor Jr, Joan Fontaine, Stirling Moss, Tony Curtis, several Saudi princes, Dean Martin, Fred Astaire, Danny Kaye, Louis Malle, The President of Mexico, François Truffaut, Robert Wagner, Anthony Quinn, Hassan II, King of Morocco, Debbie Reynolds, the Shah of Persia, Frank Sinatra, Maurice Trintignant, Brian Rix and French Embassies around the world.

      Like 2
    • Michelle Rand Staff

      Thanks for your comments. As to the Facel fans, someone else has already pointed out that the celebrities I mentioned did in fact own Facel cars. Regarding the DS, production fell off from 1960 to 1961, which likely encouraged development of another car. Thereafter, production fluctuated but did not grow. From 1955 through 1960, the DS experienced strong growth; the same cannot be said for the next decade and a half. Plenty of cars were sold, but the model did not experience increasing popularity as in its first several years.

      The V6 in the SM was developed from the Indy V8 tooling. Here is a great account of its evolution, and I will note here that you are incorrect: 90-degree V6’s are problematic, the typical angle is around 60 degrees.


      You are also incorrect about top speed during the 1970s. At least a dozen muscle cars ran circles around the SM in regard to top speed – pick almost anything. Here’s a list to start you off. And I didn’t include the Jensen Interceptor at over 140 mph, or nearly any 911. The SM was slow.


      Motor Trend’s Car of the Year is greased by advertising and conflicts of interest galore. While I have occasionally cited a COY award when I have written about this car or that, I might stop, as it’s a completely meaningless occurrence. Personally I think it’s nice if a car actually sells to people who actually want to buy it because it… what? is reliable, looks good, and is reasonably priced.

      I am well aware of the gas crisis which hit in 1973. However, SM production was, by year: ’70, 868; ’71, 4988; ’72, 4036; ’73, 2619, etc. off a cliff. If the gas crisis was the big problem for the SM, what explains the fall-off in production from ’71 to ’72? The SM started its slide before the embargo, and frankly it was issues with maintenance and the engine which buyers were not prepared for. By any measure, a car that was under development for so long, and contained a Maserati motor, yet sold fewer than 13,000 examples was a failure in the day.

      I plan to continue to write about Citroen, and you can continue to publish critiques, and we will agree to disagree.

      Like 9
      • Solosolo UK Solosolo UK Member

        Good for you Michelle, most of us really enjoy your very informative write-ups.

        Like 2
  7. Roy Marson

    Actually a very reasonable asking price. I have owned my SM since 1980. It has been a great car. The suspension system is trouble free and only sometimes the spheres need recharging, a simple process of unscrewing them and replacement. They are charged with nitrogen gas which acts as the cushion (spring).

    The V 6 engine is very reliable but needs the valves adjusted periodically and the timing chain replaced periodically. Most were a “doctors car” and were equipped with AT. The best had the 5 speed.
    Need a Citroen mechanic such as Dave Burham in Kentucky. SM World (in Ca.) owner now is gone.

    Like 7
    • Derek

      Mind an’ depressurise the system before you unscew yer spheres…!

      Like 1
  8. FrankD Member

    The first time I saw one of these cars was in 73 at the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Pits in New York. Back then, it was eye-catching, along with the female driver.

    Like 2
  9. Re

    Paul Wreaking Crewe

    Like 1
  10. Frank Sumatra

    Bill Wyman.

    Like 1
  11. Darryl fling

    These are very tech wise, very interesting cars. Fasinating to work on and spend some time with. Have a customer/friend that has had one for decades, with 400k miles on it.
    At the time Citroen engineers were given open checkbook to design a world class car. Almost bankrupted the co. So many first though. I cannot even describe some of the inovations. Like a automatic adjusting brake bias little slide contraption on the brake button ( pedal ) that would alter front/rear bias depending on load and car atitude. Fasinating, oh and you left out considered by most as the most comfortable riding car of all time. You can drive over RR tracks full speed, it is unbelievable.

    Like 5
    • JGD

      I can’t comment on the SM as I haven’t driven one but, the suspension is based on the older DS which I have driven. Driving the DS is akin to having a steering wheel and pedals in front of your favorite lounge chair with little, if any. sensation of passing over bumps, tar strips or other road irregularities while enjoying the “as if on rails” like cornering ability on twisty roads. Not up to period Alfa standards but, outstanding for a sedan. I would expect the SM to have equal or better road manners. Apparently, the SM engine and tune did not compliment the advanced suspension.

      Like 1
  12. chrlsful

    video reminds me of “Petrol icious”, best prt of write up.
    Great cars, tough to beat a DS.

    Like 0

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