There’s nothing quite like this thing. While some of today’s cars look rather bland and similar to each other, the Citroen SM was anything but that. From the license plate above the taillights to its dual corner-dump exhausts and full glass front fascia, this car turns heads from any angle. Buckle down folks, this one’s gonna be a fun one.
Before I get on with the car, let me just introduce its owner. If you’re big into bikes, you might be familiar with Norman Hossack, the man known for the Hossack suspension system. It’s a type of motorcycle suspension system made up of two wish-bones, an
upright, and steering linkage. I could try to explain its benefits over standard telescoping forks but I think Norman can do a better job.
Now back to your regularly scheduled program. A few years ago, Norman was looking for a new project to work on when a tip came from a friend that a local Citroen SM was for sale. The story goes that it had been sitting in a storage container for the past 10 years in relatively unknown condition. This wasn’t Norman’s first encounter with a Citroen as his family used to have a 1954 Citroen Traction Avant back in England that they would drive to the south of France. Those circumstances proved enticing enough for Norman to buy the car and begin the long restoration process.
The SM was built from 1970 to 1975 as Citroen’s high-performance and technologically advanced coupe. It had Citroen’s hydropneumatic self-leveling suspension from the previous DS model that made sure the rear didn’t sag under heavy load. This also meant the suspension could be adjusted to either its lowest point
The steering was powered by a similar system that Citroen called DIRAVI, an acronym for “Direction à rappel asservi” which translates to “steering with controlled return.” This meant that it “adjusted the hydraulic pressure on the steering centering cam according to your speed so that the amount of steering feel remained almost constant at any speed.” In practice, the driver received greater assistance while parking but less while driving at highway speeds to keep the steering from being dangerously light at high speed. The steering wheel would also automatically center itself when released.
In European models, the SM had six headlights with swiveling high beams which would turn with the front wheels to aid the driver in seeing around corners at night. When they imported the car into the US, Citroen was forced to replace the six headlights with four non-swiveling ones as that system was against US regulations. The headlight lens that gave the front end its iconic all-glass look also had to be removed due to regulations. We never get cool stuff here.
Norman’s particular SM was less than happy upon arrival. Closer inspection revealed exactly why this one had been put into storage: the 3-speed automatic gearbox was “knackered”, the engine looked like it hadn’t been maintained, and the electrics were screwed up big time. And by big time, I mean King Kong-sized.
See, this SM’s previous owner was an electronics specialist and it showed. As one of his projects, he tapped into the main wiring harness to fit a number of modern gizmos to the car with the only obvious reason being “because he could.” The poor SM was Frankensteined with central door locking, an on-board alarm, and some kind of new start system. Needless to say, there was no saving that wiring harness so a new one had to be installed to get everything in running order.
The 3-liter Maserati V6 engine had its carburetors rebuilt, its water pump fixed, a thorough torque converter clean-up, and the distributor was upgraded with a new transistorized points system. The outside was repainted in the original color and this Citroen SM was once again road worthy.
Even though we don’t know where this car spent its life prior to being own by the electronics guy, it did have badges for European competitions/tours affxed to it. If those are anything to go by, then this SM has been driven the way it was always meant to.
Today, it continues its life as Norman’s daily driver. In his own words, “I wouldn’t have a car like that if it stood still”. Sure, some might keep something like this in a garage and only bring it out for events but that’s not what a car is for. It currently has 35,000 original miles and will likely rack up many more in Norman’s possession.
You wanna know what I think of it? Of course you do. I love it. I’m a sucker for unique designs and this is at the top of that list. People might think it’s ugly but hey, everyone’s wrong once in a while. There are two things that happen when you see a Citroen SM: you either know what it is and you marvel that you’re seeing one with your own eyes or you have no idea what you’re looking at and are immediately intrigued. There is no in-between.
I’d like to thank Norman for letting me come out and flood him with questions! I’ve always wanted to write about a Citroen and I couldn’t ask for a better one than this SM.