|Vehicle:||1974 Citroën SM Coupe|
|Tune Up Cost:||$750|
|Chassis Number Location:||Engine compartment, right-hand side along front frame member; steering-wheel cowl (later U.S. cars, base of the windshield on driver’s side)|
|Engine Number Location:||Left side of engine where transaxle connects|
|Alternatives:||1972-74 BMW 3.0 CSi coupe, 1969-73 Porsche 911, 1970-75 Alpine A110|
This car, Lot 18, sold for $101,113 (€87,400), including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ The Zoute Sale in Knokke-Heist, Belgium, on October 10, 2021.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to drive a car you personally designed? To go out to your garage and say to yourself, “I did that.” That’s exactly how Robert Opron must have felt as designer of the Citroën SM coupe and the new-for-1968 glass-covered, swiveling headlights of the “third nose” DS. Add the groundbreaking GS and the DS-succeeding CX, and you have a significant lifetime of achievements. And this only represented Opron’s work with Citroën.
America meets the SM
From a North American perspective, SMs arrived on our shores in late 1971 as ’72 models. The market positioning was “A Harmony of Opposites” and “A Miracle of Citroën Engineering and Maserati Performance.” Motor Trend named it “Car of the Year” in 1972, surprising many as it was the first foreign car to earn the title.
Citroën sold 2,037 SMs in the USA and 396 in Canada. This is a rather large number going to the North American market, given Citroën’s traditionally low level of sales here. Total SM production from 1970 to 1975 was only 12,920.
Citroën didn’t give the SM to its existing Citroën dealerships, upsetting many who had stuck with the brand and, I suppose, were barely eking out a living. Finally, a relatively expensive car with a nice profit margin arrives amidst lots of publicity, and struggling dealers can’t have it! Instead, Citroën sold the SM through the likes of Cadillac and Buick dealerships, leading to obvious issues when those same dealers’ service facilities had to deal with hydropneumatic suspension and Maserati engines with triple Weber carburetors.
Consequently, SMs had a troubled upbringing in the U.S. Can you imagine spending $12,000 on a new SM — at the time, this was in the same ballpark as a new Porsche 911S — and having Citroën pull out of the market shortly thereafter?
In the 1974 movie “The Longest Yard,” Burt Reynolds steals his girlfriend’s SM (her calling it a Maserati in the movie probably upset the Citroën PR people) and goes on a chase, dodging the police through Palm Beach, FL, and eventually dumping the car in a river. The publicity might have helped spread the word about this innovative new car, but it was too late; Citroën had announced it was leaving the market that year. Talk about a missed opportunity.
Unfamiliar, but serviceable
It’s not that Citroën totally left its U.S. dealers and customers hanging, but with no new Citroëns being sold here post-1973, the SM’s second-hand values plummeted. Then, only a few years out, the “specially-made” Maserati V6 engines needed new timing chains at around 40,000 miles. This helped create a perfect storm, and the SM became a red-headed stepchild. With just a few remaining Citroën dealers holding on for the new DS successor, the CX — which never came — things got progressively worse for SM owners.
Luckily, like most cars after a few decades, enthusiasts figured out how to remedy the SM’s original shortcomings. For the SM, it was stronger timing chains and changing the sodium-filled exhaust valves to stainless-steel ones. The rest of the car is heavily based on the DS architecture, and the scary-to-many Citroën hydraulic system is actually reliable. Millions upon millions of hydropneumatic Citroëns have been produced since the test-mule 1954 Citroën Traction Avant 15-6 H, which had the revolutionary new suspension on its rear wheels only.
Parts for Citroëns in the U.S. and Canada are significantly cheaper and more readily available now as opposed to even 20 years ago. Basically, a well-maintained SM is no longer a crazy proposition. While Citroën servicing is certainly not available on every street corner, there are still a handful of major SM-focused businesses in New York, California, Washington and Kentucky. Sadly, one of the contributors in keeping SMs floating around Southern California was Jerry Hathaway of SM World, who passed away earlier this year. A new Citroën repair and restoration business did recently open in Santa Clarita, CA. Indeed, Citroëns of all flavors seem to be having a boost in popularity.
A truly unique SM
Typically, SM buyers especially covet a recent restoration, fuel injection (never available in North America), the European front end with glass-covered swiveling headlights, a pretty leather interior, and, of course, a 5-speed manual gearbox. Opron’s steed had all these assets. Still, I’d say this car sold for about 40% more than what a similar car might achieve.
Years before he passed away in March 2021 (at 89 years old), Opron spoke at 2006 edition of the annual Citroën Rendezvous in Saratoga Springs, NY. Some months following, my good friend and Citroën guru Robert Monteleone of New York City received an invite to dine in Opron’s home in the northern suburbs of Paris. Imagine being retrieved from the train station by Opron in this flawless SM and driven back to his house, discussing his excitement over the evolution of design. I’m told he marveled over a cell-phone tower masquerading as a giant pine tree along the highway.
So does an approximately 40% premium seem fair to own the designer’s actual car? I can’t answer that definitively; I’d say it’s personal preference, but it would certainly make your Citroën SM unique. And wouldn’t we all be willing to pay a premium for something that’s truly unique? That’s what the buyer did here.♦
(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)