Maserati-Powered Project: 1972 Citroen SM

The siren song of the Citroen SM is known well by the enthusiasts who work tirelessly to keep them on the road. These are exotic, over-engineered specimens you can usually buy cheap in project form, but they are not for the faint of heart when it comes to purchasing a restoration project. This example that’s listed for sale with an asking price of $7,000 is the kind of car we usually see, likely in the care of an owner with the best of intentions but lack of time, space, or funds (or all three) to bring these complicated machines back to good health. Find it here on craigslist in San Diego, and thanks to Barn Finds reader Rex M. for the find.

The faded California blue plates offer some indication as to how long this Citroen has been off the road, but it’s also a good sign as it relates to being free of major rot. The seller notes the undersides are in good shape, and despite what I can only assume to be a fairly cheap respray, the body panels don’t appear to be hiding much rust, either. The chrome rear finisher around the back taillights still gleams nicely, and even the stable ride height seems to suggest the pneumatic suspension hasn’t completely deflated. The original color is noted as being green, which is a period-correct shade for a car like this.

The seller removed the front bodywork to show just how clean it is underneath – and it does look dry and tidy, despite being a total project. It’s amazing how many technical details were wedged into every corner of the SM, such as four-wheel disc brakes, oriented inboard in the front; lightweight wheels (on models so equipped, this one has the standard-issue steel wheels); the DIRAVI steering system; headlights that swiveled in the direction of the car (European models only); and, perhaps the most novel feature of all, a front-wheel-drive Maserati V6 powertrain that delivered surprisingly smooth steering and nearly zero torque steer, integrated at a time when FWD was unheard of.

The SM broke many boundaries when it came to driving pleasure and passenger comfort. For all of its complexities and the tricky aspects of restoration they tend to cause, the SM is a car that at least rewards its owner by being equally good at many things – highway cruising, backroad hustling, and long-distance comfort. Unlike a pure sports car that is a bit of a one-trick pony, the SM can be put to work in a variety of ways once its restoration is complete. This example offers a good starting point for being presumably rust-free and not completely disassembled by its now-disenfranchised owner (though, the interior will also need a refresh). Does it look like a project you’d like to take on?

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Comments

  1. Rex Kahrs Member

    Restored example of these SMs are really something to behold. Definitely not for the spray can and pop rivet crowd.

    Like 10
  2. chipsbee

    Oooo-WEEE ! I just finished restoring my 71 Citroën D-super 5 and am moving on into the next big project, or would jump into this one. Being free of rust is huge for restoring and rebuilding. I respect the SM, the cleverness, design and complexities are outstanding and close to insurmountable.

    Like 9
  3. daniel wright

    These came with automatics?

    Like 1
    • chipsbee

      A choice of 5-speed manual or 3-speed automatic was offered.

      Like 4
  4. UK Paul 🇬🇧

    This is a special car.

    Like 5
  5. Greggo

    I drove one which was restored by Jerry Hathaway at SM World in California. My brother in law wouldn’t tell me what he spent, but I know it was a fortune and this was twenty or so years ago. Took a trip from the Hudson River Valley NY to the Hershey Car show. I drove there, he drove back. It takes about an hour to get used to the car. Self centering steering, brake switch, self-leveling suspension, etc. But what a car! Got out after 3-4 hours and felt like I drove 20 minutes. Not a sports car, but what a grand tourer. Supposedly was designed to be an alternative to train travel as a means of getting across Europe. Having a Citroen guru nearby is probably a necessity and there are only a handfull in the country. Deep pockets help also. The SM like all Citroens suffer from sitting, more so than most cars and most Citroens have suffered from delayed or ignored maintenance. Once put right they are reliable. Last note is they look more modern than anything that is being built today even though they are going on 50 years old.

    Like 14
    • James A. Mogey

      Amén to Greggo!

  6. Maestro1 Member

    Greggo well done and thank you Jeff for the post. These cars are very good at many things, they are also esoteric mechanically so you need to be near someone who knows these cars, as Greggo suggests. Before I moved to where I am now I was living close to probably the last Citroen dealer in Northern California, who had one car in his showroom and a monster service
    department. So my SM was a pleasure because I had close access.
    I loved the car, so will you, save this one.You won’t regret it.

  7. Malcolm Boyes

    Everything said about an SM is true. I have driven 2 and nearly bought one each time but feared the complexity..wish I had just jumped in a bought either one. As said they are like driving no other car in the world and, especially without the ugly US open headlights, one of the most beautiful, futuristic designs ever. I hope someone saves this as there are not many out there..and they are really starting to get their true values..

    Like 1
  8. John

    I was once caught ogling this model car by a German owner who proceeded to introduce us as if I was meeting his daughter. He explained all the advanced technology and what a wonderful car it was and I fell in love with it as much as he did. I should have asked if he had a daughter and I bet her name would have been Citroen! All these years later I have never even driven a Citroen but I did marry an Olga, whom often reminds me of the time I Ogled a Citroen!

    Like 3
  9. Richard Nepon

    I had the pleasure of being a mechanic at Ed St Germain Citroën in Waltham Ma in the 70s. We sold quite a few SM models to rich and famous people. It was always amusing to tell the new owners that they needed to take a new owners class before we could release their purchase to them. Learning how to use the brakes was a must. How not to flood the carbs was important. We even got to remove the steering headlights from imported cars to federalize them. The sounds of the Maserati engine were unique to these cars from the Datsuns and international Cubs we also sold. We had Aziz,an import from Beirut, who was the master of our Citroën department. He trained us to accommodate the SM as well as the rest of the French line up. It was a great experience for a 20 something novice mechanic.

    Like 7
  10. Chuck

    Recently watched Jay Leno You Tube segment in this car. It was ahead of it’s time in many ways.

  11. Eric_13cars Eric_13cars Member

    Since some of you appear to be quite knowledgeable and experienced with SMs, I’m curious about something. Back in the early 80s when I was wrenching my way through grad school for the second time, one of my automotive friends had an import parts store. Two of his closest friends, brothers, had been in Vietnam and learned to work on Citroens there. Between them they had 6 or 7, including a convertible (very nice!), a station wagon, and an SM. They were expert at working on them, wrenching for a living too. The SM was imperfect shall we say. The Maserati engine had 35K on it and needed a complete overhaul. I was told that such was the case with these exotic OHC engines (4 cams, I believe, chain driven??). I know that people dread the hydraulics usually (although I’m led to believe that once you understand it, they’re not hard), but are these engines also a nightmare?

    • Andy

      The C114 Maserati engine (used in the SM and Maserati Merak) can be bulletproof engines. Following the manual and not cutting any corners will result in a troublefree power plant.

      I rebuilt the engine in my SM about nine years ago at 125,000 miles. 35,000 miles later all I’ve done is change the oil, tension cam chains every other oil change, and check the valve lash at 25,000 miles after rebuild. Some parts are eye watering expensive, but the engine is very well designed, and quite powerful for its size (and era).

      Regarding the car in this classified, a 1972 automatic SM is the least desirable of the versions. The final gear isn’t tall enough in 72 so you’re driving a sewing machine at highway speeds, not to mention the 5-speed is just about the most satisfying manual gear box of all time.

      This car looks to only need everything. New leather interior is easily $7,000. A rusty 5-speed parts car with a good interior would be needed to make this a viable project.

      Like 1

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