1972 Citroen SM
2.7 Liter, V-6, 170 bhp

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Although somewhat unknown in the US, in the past Citroën has enjoyed a reputation for clever engineering and forward thinking. During WW1 Citroën was among the largest arms producers for the French government, and intending to take up automobile production at end of the war, began development of an economical small car to mobilize post-war Europe. Citroën had met Henry Ford during a trip to the United States in 1912 and was impressed with his application of mass production, and visions of simple, affordable automobiles. Citroën’s first car, inspired in part by Ford, was the 1919 Citroën Type A.


The Type A and its successors sold well thanks to their quality and André Citroën’s marketing exploits, which included using the Eiffel Tower as a giant sign by illuminating CITROËN on its side, and company sponsored expeditions in Asia, North America, Africa, and Australia using Citroën vehicles. Despite early success in building economy cars, the company repeatedly strived to produce increasingly advanced automobiles. Their rationale for this was that if they could make a car so modern it could remain in production for years or decades while being continuously updated, upfront development costs would be offset later by the lack of engineering and tooling costs for new models. This strategy was twice successful for Citroën, though development costs for the front-wheel drive unibody and rakish looking 1934 Traction Avant did bankrupt Andre Citroën, after which company control was passed to Michelin. The 1955 Citroën DS was even more futuristic than the Traction had been, featuring self-adjusting hydropneumatic suspension, a highly aerodynamic design, and front-wheel disc brakes. When launched at the 1955 Paris Auto Salon the DS was a sensation. 749 orders were accepted within 45 minutes of its unveiling, 80,000 in its first ten days. While it succeeded in cementing itself on the roads and in the minds of the French, the DS was not without its faults. Its semi-automatic transmission was puzzling in operation, and the DS’ greatest failing, its I4 engine, had been in use since its first appearance in the 1934 Traction Avant 11CV and lacked power and refinement.


Originally plans were put in place to develop a more powerful version of the DS to be called the DS Sport. With time, the goals of the project turned from creating a sporting DS to a whole new flagship sports car. Introduced in March of 1970 at the Geneva Motor Show, the Citroën SM featured sleek and bold styling with a drag coefficient of just .336, a Maserati designed 164 cid (2.7 liter) 170 bhp V6, and a 5-speed manual or 3-speed automatic transmission. At the time Maserati was owned by Citroën, so the V6 was a joint project between French and Italian engineers. It had advanced features like dual overhead cams, hemi-heads, all-aluminum construction, and either Weber carburetors or Bosch fuel injection. The engine also saw use in the Maserati Quattroporte II, Maserati Merak, and later in the Maserati Biturbo. Even the car’s steering was unconventional. It was unusually quick at 2 turns from lock-to-lock, and had the Citroën developed DIRAVI power steering system. The DIRAVI system changed steering assist based on speed (more assist at lower speeds), and caused the steering wheel to automatically and gradually return itself to its center position. Thanks to its aerodynamic shape the 3,300 pound car was capable of 140 MPH on just 170 bhp. Its acceleration wasn’t blistering and its handling was outclassed by some of its competitors, but the SM established itself as a world-class GT cruiser with a modern interior, comfortable seating for 4, 24 gallon fuel tank, and a penchant for high speed cruising.


US-spec SMs are distinct from European cars by their lack of moving and self-levelling headlights, sealed-beam headlights, and transparent headlight cover. In the US SM prices started around $11,800, putting the car in the same price range as a Mercedes SL, BMW 3.0 CS, Porsche 911, and Ferrari Dino 246. Though Citroën considered producing sedan variants, these were ultimately only available from Paris based coachbuilder Henri Chapron.  Production ended in 1975, Citroën having produced 12,920 SMs.


  • Intended as a flagship vehicle, to compete with Mercedes-Benz SL, Jaguar XJS, and similar GT cars
  • 140 mph top speed
  • Unique features – Hydropneumatic suspension, DOHC hemi-head aluminum V6 co-developed with Maserati
  • Pioneered “variable-assist” power steering that is now common place in most cars
  •  Featured “hydro-pneumatic” self-leveling suspension, and a wiper system that was “sensitive to rain”; Just 4,036 units produced in 1972; Price new: $11,695