The SM was unveiled in 1970 at the Geneva Motor Show.
The Marque enjoyed immense success in 1970, selling some 700,000 vehicles and launching its rotary piston engine project. It also unveiled the top-end SM, presented as the crowning touch to the Citroën range.
The SM project started was kicked off in 1966 by Jacques Né, who wanted to develop a faster version of the DS, thus giving birth to Citroën’s first GT model.
But the SM was not designed like a standard GT, where comfort is generally of secondary importance. On the contrary, the DS-inherited hydraulic suspension system and the height adjustment function for optimum ground clearance made the new vehicle exceptionally comfortable.
One of the SM’s numerous special features was its lighting system. With six iodine headlamps connected to an automatic leveling system, the SM combined the performance of swiveling headlamps with a brand new aesthetic.
Styling work on the SM focused primarily on aerodynamics. The vehicle was put through a high number and wide range of wind-tunnel tests during the development phase – and the result was remarkable. The Cd (coefficient of aerodynamic drag) of the SM was 0.46, a full 25% lower than that of the DS, already a reference in the matter.
The SM has angle-free styling. Although the body is tautly designed, no angular features interrupt the vehicle’s streamlined flow. Encompassing the headlamp units and the number plate, the front-end glass casing lends the SM a resolutely innovative look. This pioneering beauty is furthered by the oversized bumpers, giving the vehicle its utterly distinctive character.
But for purists, the essence of the SM is in its profile, which clearly reveals all the work that went into the vehicle’s aerodynamics. The flowing lines seem impossibly elegant. Dynamic features such as the rake of the windscreen, the sharply-drawn quarter-lights and the rear subframe bring the SM its unique, streamlined appearance.
The SM’s engine was for a long time its Achilles’ heel. Designed by Maserati, a Citroën partner at the time, the V6 unit was initially warmly greeted by the public. GT fans loved its “highly strung” Italian feel.
But things soon started to go sour. A series of technical imperfections undermined the car’s reliability, traditionally a key Citroën strong point. The SM required fine-tuned maintenance like all GTs, and drivers paid heavily for any imprecision.
The SM gearbox was entirely Citroën-made. The five speed unit, with the top two gears in overdrive, gave SM drivers a full-throttle sports experience.
The top-of-the-range SM was launched in suitably top-of-the-range style in 1971, via promotional events and a press kit for professionals.
Sales were promising in the launch year. With 5,000 units in 1971, SM registrations matched its critical reception. Sadly, the ensuing years were somewhat less rosy. Sales dropped so much that Citroën halted production in 1975.
The SM’s career was cut short by the oil crisis and the introduction of new speed limits on motorways. The first oil crisis utterly changed our view of the automobile, as did the road safety laws limiting motorway speeds introduced at the same time. Buying and owning a GT vehicle at this time was reserved for passionate fans only.
Citroën announced it was stopping production of the SM in summer 1975, with these words: “The SM was born from speed and died with speed”.
Like any self-respecting GT, the SM proved its sporting nature in racing competition. The SM scored a resounding success on its first outing, at the Morocco rally, where a production model finished first in group 4. Spectators were suitably impressed by the new-born’s performance!
But beyond its impressive rally career, the SM is most often associated with a competition that it almost took part in. The SM was scheduled to race in the 1972 Le Mans 24 Hours event, but unfortunately, its participation was cancelled at the very last minute.
The Citroën SM was streamlined, swift and dynamic like a sports car, yet comfortable and pleasant to drive, with outstanding roadholding, steering, suspension and braking. Unveiled at the 1970 Geneva Motor Show, it is one of the most prestigious models in motoring history.
Developed by Citroën and Maserati – the latter for the engine – the front-wheel drive SM pioneered a new concept of “grand touring” and made speed with safety accessible to owners of mass-produced cars.
The SM’s career was cut short by the speed ban introduced during the oil crisis. Citroën sold 2,658 units in 1973, and a mere 352 in 1974.
Source: Citroen press