Citroën SM

Citroen SM Daughter of DS, achingly beautiful and outlandishly futuristic.  I give you dear reader the exquisite SM. 

Building upon the innovative DS template this full four seater coupe grabbed me at that very first sighting.  Back to the future or what, and in March 1970 it left people speechless.  No other car at that year’s Geneva Salon was as bizarrely radical. 

Considering the machine’s 17ft 7ins length SM is remarkably svelte, following Citroen’s love of flowing form.  Body stylist Jacques Charreton (working under the directorship of Robert Operon) created a timeless, distinctive masterpiece.

Besides the space age looks I love the engineering eccentricity.  Sneeze and crash - two turns lock to lock steering allied to DS swiveling, height adjustable headlights and feather touch brakes meant relearning to drive was imperative. 


Citroen SM Aircraft quality aluminium featured, when manufacturers like BMW and Aston Martin made do with “soft” panels that dented oh so easily.  Optional carbon fibre wheels (4.2kg versus 9.4kg for the steel wheel) were a mass production first as well.  The “Dan Dare” interior does not disappoint either with a strange rolling cylinder gear gate and button mushroom brake pedal. 

The Americanised padded steering wheel is Citroenesque single spoked, bringing the column stalks with it on reach adjustment.  Seating arrangements were such that two men and two shorter women could be catered for comfortably :- not shoe-horned in the rear!

A Dream Drive

Citroen SM Firing up the sonorous Maserati V6 only adds to the magic and you become spellbound.  Excited you will be when you tentatively drive along that favourite “A” road.  Confidence growing, explore the power and bathe in the aural symphony of that race-bred 2.7 litre Maserati engine, as you use more revs on each up change.  I defy you not to become hooked! 

Keep focused and SM shrinks around you.  You soon settle into a joyous, simpatico rhythm as this continental express shrugs off the now all too familiar potholed byway. 

Make a long journey through the night and you will be locked into the serenity of progress.  Perhaps this is what class A drugs are like.  Accustomed to this unique time machine and those totally familiar roads become child’s play.

There really has been nothing like it then or now, catering to the uncompromising demands of continent shrinking drivers.  Maybe Caterham’s sublime 7 comes close on the lightening steering responses and similar Italian V6 engined exotica replicates musical properties (cacophony), but little will leave you as refreshed after that 500 mile dash.

A Celebrity

Citroen SM Hell, the late great Mike Hailwood drove his SM to every European GP when he raced for John Surtees. He thought it the finest Gran Turismo available at that time.  Leonid Brezhnev, Johan Cruyff, author Graham Greene were converts, along with Idi Amin who possessed two! 

One might have provided spares such was the famous mechanical fragility which I understand is unproblematic if you keep on top of maintenance.  So, does SM in fact stand for sado masochism?

As an ownership proposition maybe and boy you will need deep pockets to keep this beauty in fine fettle.

High maintenance mistress it most certainly is but what a rewarding affair you will have.  You won’t wish this one to end!

What Goes Wrong?

The Citroen SM is one complex car.  There is simply no getting away from this fact.  Buy a cheap car and you will spend a fortune fixing things.

Here follows a list of the common faults and what they cost to rectify at today’s prices.

  1. Sodium filled valve tips rust and break with DIRE consequences IF the car has not been driven in last six months.  New stainless steel parts = £300 +VAT, labour between £1,000 and £1,500 +VAT.
  2. Timing chain problem cured with Renolds version with proper tensioners.  New parts = £300 +VAT, labour between £900 and £1,200 +VAT.  (Retensioning  still needed every 6,000 miles; 3,000 miles if driven hard.)
  3. Oil pump quill shaft often breaks – too thin!  Thicker, deeper version now available.  New parts = £45 +VAT, labour between £1,000 and £1,500 +VAT.  Much cheaper if engine being stripped down.
  4. Fuel pipes get brittle with age and neglect.  Also injectors suffer.  Kit of pipes and improved Bosch 043 type injectors = £100 +VAT per injector x6 = £600, labour between £200 and £300. 
  5. Main oil cooler pipes (which run right to back of oil pump).  New parts = £110 +VAT x2 = £220, labour between £70 and £100 +VAT.  LEAVE THIS JOB AND A £7,000 NEW ENGINE BILL RESULTS!
  6. Clutch; (should last 40 – 60,000 miles).  Total for job between £600 +VAT and £900 +VAT.                             
  7. Rusting windscreen surround (screen glued in).  New screen = £200 +VAT, sorting rust between £800 and £1,200 +VAT.

So these are the average problems that can easily manifest themselves on an SM.  The engines are complex and Italian.  You will always encounter further problems along the way with these power units.  So be prepared and don’t pay silly money for a car that has not been used.  Even £4,000 is too much as that engine will instantly need £3,000 throwing at it.  Slightly frightening purchase prospect!! 

The two main experts in this country are:  Brodie Engineering, London: 0208 459 3725 or David Ashworth, Blackpool:  01253  696294.


Copyright © Richard Fiennes 2004

Comments (26) Join the discussion on the forum

  • dinkel 09 Mar 2004

    A Taste of beauty:

    Former boss had one . . . loved the thingy but bought a Californian MK3 V12 Etype for reliability sake . . . Loved the interiour, awesome engine sound. Next review in this line: Alfa Montreal?

    >>> Edited by dinkel on Tuesday 9th March 11:56

  • cptsideways 09 Mar 2004

    I so nearly bought one about 10 years ago, but my father said it'd go wrong lots & cost a fortune. Who cares I still want one.

  • v8thunder 09 Mar 2004

    I was 'indoctrinated' in the ways of BQCs (Big Quirky Citroens) by my Dad a long time ago, and cannot begin to understand the people who find the DS and SM ugly, especially in historical context. You could release a mildly-updated SM today and no-one could call it old-fashioned. In fact, next time you see an XM look closely at its features - you'll see a four-door SM. A real beauty!

  • motco 09 Mar 2004

    One small inaccuracy: the wheels were certainly NOT carbon fibre, they were glass fibre filled. The amount of glass was very high indeed but glass it certainly was, in epoxy resin if my memory serves. I know about this because I bought a wheel and cut it up! T'was my job at the time to study these things.

  • williamp 09 Mar 2004

    I have to admit I admire the big Citroens. But the SM has never really done it for me...

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