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Citroën SM

French Revolution Published: 12th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Citroën SM

Fast Facts

  • Best model: 3.0
  • Worst model: Poor examples
  • Budget buy: n/a
  • OK for unleaded?: Should be okay
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L 4890 W 1840
  • Spares situation: Fairly good
  • Club support: Strong and loyal
  • Appreciating asset?: If they go the same way as a DS…
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Former, do it sooner not later!
Luxury and speed was what the SM was all about. All are left-hand drive - and it’s a big wide car with poor visibility! Luxury and speed was what the SM was all about. All are left-hand drive - and it’s a big wide car with poor visibility!
Maserati engine has real pace - timing gear is biggest foible Maserati engine has real pace - timing gear is biggest foible
If the car had been more popular a four-door and a cabrio may have materialised If the car had been more popular a four-door and a cabrio may have materialised
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Completely opposite to the simplistic 2CV, the SM was Citroen’s advanced supercar for the ‘70s. Today they make fantastic classics with a (vive le) difference!

Pros & Cons

Style, design, Maserati link, ride and handling, appreciating asset
LHD only, expensive to keep and restore, too quirky for many
£8000 - £20,000

The SM took the DS design a stage further and if you thought that was impossible then look at what was on the cards; four-door limo, Wankel rotary engine, 4.0-litre V8, convertibles and even a special ‘bread van’ racer! In reality this supercar Citroen never truly reached anything like its full potential and politics along with the famous 1970s energy crisis put paid to one of the most individual and adventurous cars ever made. Small wonder then that the classic world is waking up to the fact that this Maserati-powered coupe has a lot more to offer than just its Italian V6 engine and individualistic looks. Interest along with values are rising and if the SM goes the same way as many DS derivatives have then buy one now before prices go beyond your reach. And they will!


The original plan was the sm to have nsu ro80 power

Conceived as a sporting, upmarket cousin for Citroen’s legendary DS saloons, the SM was also intended as a means of pushing the quirky French marque (who purchased the ailing Maserati brand in 1968) upmarket and showcasing the technology and ideas that the company was constantly pioneering. And it had a lot to shout about! The 1960s were golden years for Citroen. Mid-decade it took over and absorbed arch-rival Panhard, and had big expansion plans. Development work on the SM, known internally as the DS Sport, began in 1964. It was intended as a modern representation of the fabulous pre-Second World War grand tourers made by fi rms like Delahaye and Delage. The brief was to make a powerful four-seater capable of lengthy 120mph cruises. Early prototypes had convertible bodies and upgrades of the already venerable four pot, 2.0-litre engine fi tted to the ID19 saloons. There was also a short wheelbase, fi xedhead coupe with the fi ve bearing, 2175cc motor destined for the DS21. Long term, Citroen planned to use variations of a family of V4, V6 and V8 motors it had under development along with visions of the Wankel rotary engine it had already tried out in a special Ami coupe, but plans changed after the French fi rm took over Maserati in ‘68.

The Italians had V-engine technology, which Citroen appropriated for its coupe, and it became known as the SM for Sport Maserati. The SM’s V6 engine was a cousin of the Maserati V8 minus two bores, pioneering things like 90-degree cylinders and interchangeable heads. It was mated to a Citroen-designed fi vespeed gearbox (a three-speed Borg Warner auto was also offered). The result was compact, light, in-line that drove the SM’s front wheels (it was also used in the mid-engined Maserati Merak). Launched in 1970 the SM was stuffed with powered hydraulics for items like the four disc brakes, variable power steering, and fully independent suspension. The striking coupe body even had steered headlamps (something carmakers now crow about-ed) concealed behind a full width glazed front panel. Some versions even had carbon fibre wheels – a massive advancement in its day. With a 140mph top speed and a 9.3 second 60mph sprint, the car had the performance to match its looks – and price. At £5478, the SM made even an E-type look cheap. “The SM was exactly what we all hoped for. It must be the ultimate in Grand Touring cars,” exclaimed Motor but it was also doomed from the outset. By 1973 massive oil price hikes lead to the fi rst energy crisis, and the exotic SM became diffi cult to justify, let alone sell. Citroen was also in trouble over ill-starred attempts to develop rotary-engined models, recouping development costs for the brilliant GS saloons and engineering the lofty CX range, destined to replace for the legendary DS. All were pulling the company under fi nancially. High pr ices in the UK hardly helped. When launched in the UK in 1971, its showroom price was just over £4500 and with fi ttings you’d expect for this class of car (leather, air con etc) the price soared to over £5000. For this sort of outlay your average connoisseur could have a base Jaguar XJ6 and a Lotus Europa for the weekend!

SM sales fell to a trickle – just 294 in 1974 – the year that fuel injection was fitted and Peugeot took over Citroen. Despite pleas from its conquest’s management, logical, conservative Peugeot discontinued this extravagant car the following year, even though several hundred bodies remained in stock. These were crushed. Almost 13,000 SMs were made, but less than 350 were offi cially imported to the UK. How many survive to this day? It’s diffi cult to say but many are reckoned to be resting and rusting in lock ups and barns. Changes to the SM were few. In 1971 a new distributor was fi tted plus there were alterations to the steering hydraulics and suspension antiroll bars. In August ‘72 fuel injection was fi tted before the engine was uprated to 3.0-litres and 190bhp as against 180bhp in 1973.


Spaceship on wheels might be a good description of the SM experience. The instant retardation of the ‘rubber tit’ fl oor mounted brake control and strong brakes will be familiar to generations of big Citroen drivers, along with the way the variable power steering is ultra light at town speeds, and becomes less intrusive as the car picks up speed. The automatic self-centre is another quirk and of course being a Citroen it rode beautifully on its superb hydropneumatic suspension.

The SM was the choice of many Formula One drivers at the time. The Citroen excelled in its high speed cruising ability rather than necksnapping (0-60mph in just over 9 seconds) pace but you can blame that on the size of the car (16ft long, 6ft wide) and its considerable weight of almost 3300lbs. Despite the usual Citroen quirks such as oval instrument dials and unique take on ergonomics the press raved about the SM. American Road and Track put it in its top ten cars of 1971, Car called it “An unsurpassed two-door saloon that is a direct and individual refl ection on the people who designed it,” reckoning all things considered “Can there be any other choice than the Citroen SM?”


After years in the doldrums, SM values are starting to head North in a big way. Forget year and spec, it’s condition that counts the most. Expect to pay around £8000-£10,000 for a decent example that needs a fair bit of TLC, while top cars can command £20,000 plus. Put this into perspective – you can’t buy a decent DS for under £7000 these days while a rare Chapron cabriolet recently sold for a staggering £303K. And you try fi nding a rag top DS for under £30,000 today! Viewed in this light, the SM offers excellent value for money and, given their rarity, cars can only soar in value over the next decade.

What To Look For

  • Structurally, SMs are strong, but they can suffer stress cracks around the suspension mounts, especially if they’ve been driven on the bump stops thanks to a suspension problem. These areas are hard to check, so it’s worth getting a car on a ramp to have a good poke about.
  • Watch out for things like wing and door bottom rot on the body. The area round the rear arches is complex, and can be fi ddly to fi x if it rots out. After a prang, the SM’s all glass frontage can be vastly expensive to fix. There are plastic lamp cover panels for about £150, but the hydraulics for the lamp swivelling and self levelling mechanisms are vir tually unobtainable, and will cost hundreds – if you can fi nd them, that is.
  • The D-series derived fi ve-speed gearbox is strong and reliable, so listen for the usual sounds of mechanical tiredness (grumbling bearings,etc).
  • A fl oppy rod and cable gear linkage could mean worn rubber bushes (easy and cheap to fi x) or tired cabling, which can be cured with shims if the cable doesn’t need replacing. The Threespeed autos aren’t as robust.
  • The air conditioning unit is driven from the main timing chain, and if this fails a huge load can be put on the chain, with disastrous consequences. A modern sensor needs to be fi tted, which will lock out the air con if the gas pressure isn’t spot on. Fitted to most modern a/c equipped cars, it’s easy to retro-fi t on Sms. Check if this item is already in place, and have one fi tted if it isn’t.
  • The original timing chain tensioner on the majestic Maser V6 was a wear prone, leading shoe item, and for £120/£150 a more sturdy item can be substituted, with the engine in the car. Again, it’s worth asking if this has been done. Get the secondary drive chain tensions checked. These chains are manually adjusted, often incorrectly. The car has doubled up ignition timing components, and often only one has been timed up properly.
  • The SM was sold in both carbureted and fuel injection guises. Both systems work well enough, but watch for the usual problems that three decades of use will have created. On injected cars in particular it’s important to replace the original, sodium fi lled valves with solid items. Higher running temperatures of modern fuels will cause the old valves to fail.
  • The famous Citroen hydraulic suspension is reliable if correctly maintained and the right fl uids are used. Spheres are still obtainable too, but cars that sink rapidly to the ground when switched off, or are harsh riding, have problems. When starting up, see how long the car takes to rise up.
  • Inside, good trim parts will be hard to source, and later cars have problems with collapsing door trim inners, revealed by fabric trim detaching itself from them, thanks to Citroen’s attempts to use less oil in their manufacturing process to cut corners and costs.
  • Parts supply is surprisingly good, and not always madly expensive. A replacement radiator should cost around £150. When the SM was launched, Michelin was Citroen’s parent company, so its products were naturally engineered for those tyres. The SM normally ran on Michelin XWX covers, but will accept appropriate high performance radials.

Three Of A Kind

Jensen Interceptor
Jensen Interceptor
A sleek, big-engined GT 2+2 coupe with advanced mechanicals (in ABS, all-wheel drive FF guise), the Jensen Interceptor was only slightly dearer than a SM to buy new. Today they cost roughly the same, too, and we predict that Birmingham’s Ferrari will soar in value in the next couple of years.
Jaguar XJS
Jaguar XJS
In its day the SM was regarded on par with the XJ6 in terms of handling and ride so it stands to reason that the XJS has to be a logical rival to the Citroen. It is much better value, too, although there are far too many tatty XJSs around for our liking. Prices are on the rise at long last but only for top examples.
Ferrari Mondial
Ferrari Mondial
In many ways the 2+2 Mondial took over from where the SM left off although not half as sophisticated. But if you want a low cost supercar that gets you noticed then this Ferrari has few rivals. Later QV and 3.2s have the performance to match the badge and there’s a cabriolet, too.


The SM is a bit of a Marmite classic but fans of them are staunch supporters, although if you buy a bad one, expect a few headaches. Our advice is to shop around and don’t buy the fi rst you see. Enlist the help of an SM expert if possible as it will save you a lot of trouble and expense in the long run. Finally, don’t dismiss the SM as simply a sporty DS, rather like the Ford Capri is to the Cortina. As one magazine put it so succinctly almost 40 years ago: “In our opinion the SM is years ahead of anything else existing on the road today. It’s the car of the future”. We’re inclined to agree.

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