In its day, the Citroën SM was a deserving member of the supercar ranks. Capable of 0 to 60 in 8.6 seconds, and with a top speed of 140 mph, the Citroën SM offered a unique blend of Gallic insouciance and Italian con brio. When introduced to the US in 1971, the SM was selected by Motor Trend as its car of the year.
The name SM comes from the "systeme Maserati" under the hood. The all-alloy 2.7-liter four-cam V6 is shared with the Maserati Merak and puts out 180 horsepower.
A first drive in an SM is unlike any other automotive experience. First, there's the single-spoke steering wheel. Then the no-travel, mushroom brake button instead of a brake pedal. Add in self-centering steering at two turns lock-to-lock; four-wheel, independent, active, self-leveling hydro-pneumatic suspension; front-wheel drive; and, on European-spec cars, driving lights that swivel with the steering wheel. And that's just the French stuff-all the Italian goodies are under the hood.
With a sticker price of $12,000, the SM was not a car for the masses. In 1974, you could buy a new Corvette for less than $4,500 and a new Mercedes-Benz 450SL for under $10,300.
The SM is a poor choice as a getaway car for convenience store heists. When first started, it takes about 30 seconds for the nose of the car to rise, camel-like, to normal ride height. The tail follows soon after. The hydro-pneumatic suspension, pressurized at 2,000 psi, responds to changes in vehicle weight, speed and road characteristics. It also powers the brakes, steering, lights and wipers.
The steering has low-speed power assist with automatic self-centering. At highway speeds, the power assist disappears and the go-cart quick steering can provide first-time drivers with some surprises; turn the wheel slightly on the freeway and you might end up shooting diagonally across four lanes of traffic.
After 50 miles, driving the SM becomes a process of minor adjustments, as you gradually discard everything you've ever learned about how to steer and stop a motor car.
The complexity of the SM has concerned many would-be owners, and with good reason. While the SM is a well-engineered car that rewards good care, a neglected SM is an expensive proposition to put right. With current market values so low, buying anything but the absolute best is fiscal idiocy. Annual servicing and regular oil changes will lead to long life. Most parts are available and a good support network exists in the US and Europe.
Buying an SM in excellent condition, with paperwork supporting regular maintenance, can be a bargain that offers style and performance with a sassy French twist. All this costs $12,000 to $15,000 for a top-flight car.