This 1974 ‘Citroen Maserati’ was way ahead of its time


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A French-built car with an Italian-built V6 under the hood, the Citroen SM SC was lauded by critics and was the Motor Trend Car of the Year in 1972. 

We went to the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, California, to take a spin in the car that’s nicknamed both “the Citroen Maserati” and “a French supersled.”

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Driving a cloud

Riding in the car is a like floating in a dream. Its advanced hydraulic system irons out nearly every bump in the road. Paired with a luxurious interior and plenty of trunk room, it’s clear Citroen meant the SM to be a tourer capable of high-speed travel. 

You’ve likely never seen one on this side of the Atlantic, as only a few thousand were imported and values remained low for a long time. Thus, collectors weren’t snapping them up. However, they’ve started to turn more heads recently — one sold last year for more than $80,000.

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Smooth driving

Citroen began working on a sport variant of its already-advanced DS in the early 1960’s. The DS had a radically aerodynamic design and a hydropneumatic suspension that let the driver set the ride height, resulting in an exceptionally smooth ride. Both features were included in the SM.

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The grand debut

Designed by Robert Opron, the SM splashed onto the scene in 1970 at the Geneva Motor Show and went on sale in Europe later that year. It was the first real effort by a French manufacturer to enter the grand routier (ground touring) class after Bugatti and other automakers faded following World War II. 

Prior to the SM, the most power Citroen had a 140-horsepower, four-cylinder engine. The French marque found its new 180-horsepower powerplant at Maserati, which was developing a new V6 at the time. The engine played a part in Citroen’s eventual (but short-lived) purchase of Maserati. 

The car’s low and long styling was very individualistic. Nothing looked like the SM before and hasn’t since. Additionally, it looks more like a concept car than a production car.

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Smooth operator

It wasn’t just Citroen’s styling that people loved. In typical Citroen fashion, the front-wheel-drive SM SC was made to drive, but took some getting used to. Its self-centering steering is called DIRAVI in Europe and SpeedFeel in the U.S. Basically, this setup comprises power steering with controlled return and hydraulic action. The hydraulic action varies with the vehicle’s speed. 

The car’s steering wheel needs just two rotations to go from lock to lock and, if the single-spoke wheel is turned while the car is parked, it will automatically re-center itself.

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Single-spoke specialty

Let’s talk about that single-spoke wheel for a minute. Most wheels have multiple spokes, but not this one. Citroen originally designed single-spoke wheels so that drivers could better see the gauges, but it became a signature design. It was used in multiple models before eventually being phased out.

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Need for speed

Instead of a conventional brake pedal, the SM and other Citroens of that era use a large, round button that responds to foot pressure. It’s been fondly nicknamed “the mushroom.” 

The Citroen SM wasn’t the quickest car ever made, but thanks to its highly aerodynamic body, it is capable of hitting nearly 140 mph. This makes it one of the fastest production vehicles of the era. 

Ownership was a pricey endeavor. New SMs were priced at $11,800 in the U.S., about $2,000 more than a Cadillac Eldorado. That put it among some BMWs, Mercedes, Porsches and even Ferraris.

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Car trouble

Unfortunately, the Maserati-designed engine developed a reputation for reliability issues. A hasty design job led to an un-ideal angle between the cylinder banks, causing uneven firing. That, in turn, created vertical shaking and lumpy idle, among other issues. 

Other parts – the timing chains, oil pump, ignition system and air-injection smog pumps on the American versions – also became problematic. 

This car was made after 1973, when Citroen pulled out of the U.S. because American sales were too low to justify costs. It’s possible that fewer than 300 of this model year exist as sales tumbled amid the OPEC oil crisis.

As sales fell, the SM’s stock did as well. The plug was pulled on the car in 1975, the same year Citroen sold its stake in Maserati.

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