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1972 Citroen SM

Posted by WindingRoad about 5 years, 7 months ago

Location: Emeryville, CA

The Citroen SM is a truly fascinating car that epitomizes Citroen’s long tradition of innovation and disregard for convention. Their previous track record included the Traction Avant, one of the world’s first front wheel drive cars, the 2CV, whose main competition was the donkey cart, and the DS, a stunning family car that was aerodynamic, beautiful, futuristic, and offered the first mass-produced application of disc brakes, a monocoque chassis, and a magic carpet smooth ride thanks to its adjustable height oleopneumatic suspension.

The SM was introduced as Citroen’s flagship in 1970. The company had purchased Maserati in 1968, an important piece of Citroen’s plan to build a high performance GT that was related to the DS. Citroen asked Maserati to develop a six cylinder engine, which would be used both in this car and a new small Maserati to compete with Ferrari’s Dino, the Merak. The 90 degree V6 featured quad cams, made typically Italian noises, and was coupled either to a 5-speed manual or an automatic transmission. The SM was extraordinarily aerodynamic, with a Kamm tail, sloping roofline, and attentive streamlining, which gave the car a coefficient of drag of just .26, well below the typical modern car and absolutely unparalleled 45 years ago. The front track was wider than the rear track, giving the car a tapered plan form, and the car featured disc brakes all round, which were inboard at the front to reduce unsprung weight. The height adjustable oleopneumatic suspension was similar to that of the DS and offered an exceptional ride. The list of innovations goes on and on, with the first introduction of variable assist power steering, automatically adjusted hydraulic brake bias based on the weight distribution of the car, and many others.

The car was and remains a true revelation. Indeed, Road & Track declared it one of the 10 Best Cars in the World in 1971, and it was awarded the Motor Trend Car of the Year award in 1972, a shocking achievement because even today, the award is typically bestowed on an American car. Indeed, the 1985 Volkswagen GTI was the only other non-American car to win the award until 2003. The SM was good for a genuine 140mph, making it the fastest front wheel drive car in the world at the time, and Popular Science also noted that it had the shortest stopping distance of any car they had ever tested.

These cars have many unique technical attributes but are pleasurable and engaging driver’s cars when sorted. There also exists a group of supremely knowledgeable specialists, one of the best known of which is Jerry Hathaway, owner of SM World in Los Angeles. He recently completed a $15,000 service on this car and also maintained this car during the 1990s and early 2000s, having sourced the car for its then owner, who kept it for more than ten years. The car has seen extensive other service and restoration work, and is also equipped with the desirable much more attractive functioning European six headlight setup, including Cibié glass covers and functioning turning headlamps which turn with the steering wheel. All the lights are made by Cibié and have been recently resilvered. The maintenance, upgrade, and restoration work completed includes the following:

Stainless steel exhaust headers imported from Europe (Brodie Engineering) for a 10hp boost

SM World installed dual mirrors with remote controls 

Genuine Michelin XWX tires

2010 stainless steel valves 

2008 new timing Chains (Reynolds)

Rear deck lid seal and struts, new door seals

Retractable three-point seat and shoulder belts

New carpeted floor mats

Rotary AC compressor (Sanden), R134a refrigerant, auxiliary fans (AC works better than new)

Professional Repaint, complete strip down to metal in Citroën Vert Argenté (Green Silver)

New Kenwood Bluetooth/Pandora AM/ FM radio and speakers; power antenna works

All five spheres checked (replaced December 2013), hydraulic system works properly

John Titus hi-torque starter 2012

Newer GM alternator with internal voltage regulator

New leather and headliner 

New Clutch and brass window gears & new relays 2011

Checked engine compression (2016): all cylinders at 115 lbs to 120 lbs

Leak-down test on all 6 cylinders (2016): between 10-15 %

Rebuilt and installed original dual points and coils ignition system and SM distributor

Recover padded dash

Rebuilt all three Weber carbs

Correct “Cold Air Intake” and filter refitted

Install AC compressor switch

Radiator fan relays replaced

The car’s current owner is a serial SM and Citroen owner and has maintained and kept the car exactly as it should be. The car is cosmetically a very nice driver, among the nicer SMs one could expect to encounter. The body is straight and solid with great fit panel fit. The undercarriage is structurally excellent and unrestored. The paint was done to very nice standards and has a few touched up chips and a few areas that would benefit from a light color sand, but the paint is glossy and very attractive overall. The bright trim is very nice, with some swirls present on the bumpers and very light pitting on the door handles, but excellent presentation overall. The wheel trims are excellent and the glass is all of the correct type with correct etchings. The Cibié headlights are excellent having been recently restored, while the remaining lights are in very good condition, though there are two hairline cracks on the right front and left rear turn signal lenses. 

The interior is wonderfully weird throughout and makes an extremely strong impression with beautifully and correctly redone leather seats, front and rear. The headliner and dashboard pad were also redone and are excellent. The steering wheel has been retrimmed in leather. The carpets are in very good shape. The balance of the interior appears to be excellent original, including the dashboard trim, instruments, and switches. The dashboard is punctuated by a variety of strange features, from the oval gauges to the stylized column stalks to the ribbon type auxiliary instruments perched atop the center console. The single spoke oval steering wheel is another striking feature, and the shift gate is equally peculiar, being objectively beautiful while also appearing to have been pilfered from Barbarella's accessory drawer. There is futuristic stainless trim on the length of the center console and on the instrument surround as well.

The engine is an extremely impressive sight, with the immediate impression that the engine is very far away. The hood is long and the engine placed well behind the front axle line, right against the firewall. The bell housing and gearbox sit in front of the engine, and a curious shaft runs the hydraulic pump and air conditioner compressor, both of which are well away from the motor. The hydraulic pump feeds a diabolical looking network of tanks, hydraulic accumulators, and plumbing, all of which have been serviced and are in proper working condition. The original air intake and air filter housing are both present still. The engine and engine compartment are extremely clean and nicely detailed. They are not quite in show condition, are extremely clean and show off the many interesting technical features well. Among these is a built-in holder for a container of Citroen’s LHM green hydraulic fluid. Naturally, a metal 2 liter tin is present. The trunk is in excellent condition with original side panel carpets and more recent floor carpet and spare cover, which look newer than the remaining trim. A tool roll and factory jack stand are present in the spare, where they should be.

The car operates exactly as designed, which is novel, engaging, and downright fascinating. The engine starts instantly and is well-tuned with particularly good responsiveness and smooth operation. The exhaust note and other engine noise are excellent, to be expected from a 90-degree Italian-designed V6 with stainless steel headers. The owner reports that the car consumes virtually no oil. The transmission shifts extremely well, with excellent syncromesh and a smooth, precise action. The suspension adjusts swiftly to all heights ranging from "on the deck" to "Paris-Dakar". The brakes are extremely effective, and the speedometer has labels around the perimeter that indicate that number of feet required to stop from a given speed. The steering is extremely responsive with exactly two turns lock to lock and the suspension offers a magically smooth ride that handles all variety of road imperfections in a way that is impressive today and must have been mind-blowing forty years ago. The brakes seem initially touchy to the uninitiated driver like all cars equipped with Citroen hydraulic systems from this period, but are extremely effective. The overall experience is quite and engaging, and is sure to entertain and intrigue its new owner.

It's extraordinarily difficult to convey exactly how unique this car is. The car is technically unique on paper, and is equally remarkable, if not more remarkable, to behold in person. There is an endless supply of interesting and unusual details, making it the ideal prescription for the jaded car enthusiast seeking a genuinely different experience. The sensitivity of the brakes and steering are unnerving at first, but the car is ultimately a pleasure to drive, with an intriguing blend of coherent, sporting, and comfortable. It is no surprise then that in recent years, these cars have gone from esoteric and affordable cars that were maintained and restored thanks to their passionate owners, to increasingly visible and collectable cars that are attracting the attention of more mainstream collectors. Indeed, values have grown considerably, with examples Jerry Hathaway-maintained/restored examples selling for $99,000 and $150,000 in the last 12 months.

This particular car is exceptionally well-resolved thanks to its careful maintenance by some of the best in the business. It is a wonderfully solid and thoughtfully-upgraded example that is sure to entertain and befuddle its new keeper and indeed anyone who sees it, for years to come. It is complete with spare, jack stand, owner's manual, and a file of invoices outlining the level of care the car has received.

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