If you’re going to get a French car, go hog wild and get one that’s REALLY French. There isn’t anything on the planet more French than a Citroën SM, and this one-owner car in West Hollywood, California is stunning. They’re not giving it away at a Buy It Now price of $24,500, but its condition and super-low mileage make it worth it.
By the late 1960s, Citroën was crushing it in France. It owned about 30 percent of the French automobile market, selling nothing much more than primitive two-cylinder, air-cooled cars and the DS, which had become as ubiquitous in France as the baguette.
What it didn’t have was a true prestige model that would announce to the world that Citroën was a leader in automotive technology, design and performance, allowing it to go head-to-head against Mercedes, Jaguar and all the other European brands.
The SM is a gorgeous car — even more so in Europe, which didn’t have the requirement of the US-version’s ugly sealed-beam headlamps — but it’s easy to miss the purpose-built, high-performance engine under the hood. Citroën was renowned for its design and suspension technology, but it didn’t have much to offer in the engine room. To power the avant-garde SM, Citroën looked to Maserati.
In January 1968, Citroën signed an agreement with Maserati, allowing Citroën taking a majority interest in the Italian manufacturer two months later. As a result, Maserati was able to provide a 90-degree, four-cam, 2.7-liter V6 for the SM, which would ride much lower in the engine bay than the old four-banger in the DS. That allowed Citroën design master Robert Opron to pen a much lower, sleeker design.
Later SMs destined for the United States — as this one was in the last year SMs were sent here — were powered by a larger 2,995cc engine. In our Auction Car of the Week’s case, that V6 is mated to a super-rare five-speed manual transmission. In all, Citroën only sent about 775 SMs here to begin with, and only a small fraction are manuals, making this a truly rare find.
U.S.-destined SMs unfortunately have fixed, sealed-beam headlamps instead of the rounded, rectangular headlamps used on European SMs. In Europe, those lamps were hooked to the steering system and pivoted when you turned into corners, much the way a lot of HID lamps are operated today. U.S.-export models also had amber side marker lamps on the front fenders and red marker lamps on the rear fenders. The most significant difference in U.S.-bound SMs is the fact that instead of the rest of the world’s Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection system, we got carburetors.
These were exclusive automobiles in their day. A new SM sold in the United States in 1973 would set you back $12,000, putting it in BMW 3.0 CS, Alfa Romeo Montreal and Porsche 911 territory. These days, you’ll pay a fraction of the cost of any of those cars for a comparable SM.
In 1973 and today, a Citroën SM is a rare sight. Interestingly, Burt Reynolds drove an SM in the opening car chase sequence in the 1974 movie The Longest Yard. Take that, Trans Am.
- Citroën SM