The Best of France and Italy
An orchestra is the work of consummate skill. With so many intricate inputs played from individual bodies, conquering a masterpiece is a tedious process of complete harmonious unity. As if normal automobiles weren’t complex enough, setting out to deliberately build a vehicle stuffed with unorthodox technological complexities requires a talented mechanical maestro. Luckily for us, the French madmen of Citroen were able to compose the ultimate flagship GT, known simply as: the SM.
By the time Citroen debuted the SM at the Geneva Auto Show in 1970, the French marque had been mastering unconventional vehicle technology for decades. With the Traction Avant, 2CV, DS, and other models pocketed in their portfolio, Citroen had already proven to be innovated motoring pioneers. By packing the SM with more ingenuity than any Citroen before it, or any vehicle produced for that matter, it’s no wonder the model is still revered today.
The SM was essentially meant to be a Grand Touring version of the four door DS while doubling as a platform for Citroen’s newest advancements. Penned by Citroen’s own head of design, Robert Opron, the overall profile closely mirrors the DS’s teardrop canopy with quarter panels covering the rear wheels, but features a Kamm tail assisting in a drag coefficient of just .26 – compare that to, say, the Ferrari 458 Italia’s .33 rating. Love it or hate it, the design is as fresh and striking as it was when new.
Like the DS, the SM suspension offered cloud-like comfort thanks to its hydropneumatic (oleo pneumatic) independent fully adjustable self-leveling suspension. The euro-spec SM headlights self-plane in relation to the desired ride height and also swivel in accordance to steering input.
The SM was an early mass-produced vehicle to offer four-wheel disc brakes. To reduce unsprung mass, the front disc brakes were mounted inboard and cooled by integrated underbody air channels. One of the more intriguing mechanical characteristics is the automated hydraulic pressure bias brake system that self-adjusts to cabin weight distribution to ensure the car doesn’t bow under braking, keeping the car level while stopping – all orchestrated through a highly sensitive brake bulb in place of a traditional pedal. The SM also introduced variable assist power steering with only two turns lock-to-lock – like the brakes, steering input is a delicate operation.
A timeless automobile of mid-to-late century design, the Citroen SM continues to be a prime example of function blended with form. Hosting a number of mechanical and technological breakthroughs, the SM is the past’s fantasized prediction of the future’s automobile – though, in many ways, it seems modern vehicles still can’t match the SM.