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With the demise of Facel, France wept bitterly at the absence of a luxury sports car bearing the national colors. The concern was short lived: Citroën took up the rather ambitious challenge. During the 1960s, the marque from Quai de Javel ruled the left hand lane of the auto routes with the DS, the most prestigious French saloon. With its hydro pneumatic suspension, the car had exceptional driving qualities, and the media had just one criticism : the engine was not powerful enough for the car to compete against top foreign marques. So, when Citroën acquired a 60% share in Maserati in December 1967, it declared an interest in using an engine from the Trident marque to power its future sports car. The engineer Giulio Alfieri designed a V6 engine derived from the V8 of the Maserati Indy. With four overhead cam-shafts, the engine size was kept at 2,760cc to avoid being penalized by the 'super-tax' on vehicles over 2.8-litre. With three Weber carburetors, this engine produced 170 bhp and provided the versatility expected of a luxury car. Citroën had its engine. For the rest, the manufacturer had everything under control and set to work in earnest on the DS. Using the same hydraulic pressure system, it took the development further, with the introduction of variable power-assisted steering and gear reduction. The completely new shape of the SM was governed by the laws of aerodynamics and its spectacular front end announced its intent with a bank of six headlights under profiled glass.
Citroën SM, first shown at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1970. It went on sale in France in September of that year. Factory produced cars were all left-hand-drive, although RHD conversions were done in the UK and Australia.
The origin of the model name 'SM' is not completely clear. The 'S' may derive from the Project 'S' designation, the aim of which was to produce what is essentially a sports variant of the Citroën DS, and the 'M' perhaps refers to Maserati, hence SM is often assumed to stand for "Systeme Maserati" or "Sports Maserati". Another common alternative is Série Maserati, but others have suggested it is short for 'Sa Majesté' (Her Majesty in French), which aligns with the common DS model's nickname 'La déesse' (The Goddess).
At its presentation at the 1970 Geneva Motor Show, the attributes of the new Citroën were applauded by the motoring press and French drivers finally had a car capable of matching the German and British saloons. The first sales figures were encouraging, with 5,000 examples produced in 1971, and the SM also distinguished itself in competition, winning the Rallye du Maroc in 1971. However, the world continued to turn and circumstances changed. The fuel crisis at the start of the 1970s introduced a harsh reality to the period of euphoria that followed the Second World War. What's more, the Citroën network was ill-equipped to sell a high-end car like the SM. Finally, the Citroën takeover by Peugeot in 1975 was the final blow for this promising automobile. Aggrieved, the chevron marque announced its epitaph : " Born of speed, the SM must die with speed "
A French top-of-the-range car, the SM has been given some special bodies, including several by Henri Chapron. This coachbuilder, who opened his first workshop in Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1919, worked in parallel with the development of the automobile until the Second World War. Chapron built bodies for a variety of marques, employing 350 people by the end of the 1920s. The 1929 Crash slowed activity and from the 1930s onwards, Chapron provided coachwork principally for Delahaye and Delage, in a classic style that was elegant and balanced. After the war, Chapron suffered from the decline of the great French marques and needed to adapt. Having experimented with one-off transformations, he took a new direction and began collaborating with Citroën. He worked on the DS cabriolet and offered his own versions, elegantly styled and luxuriously equipped.
With this opportunity at Citroën, it was logical that he should take an interest in the new SM. At the Paris Motor Show in 1971 he presented his first transformation, the "Mylord" cabriolet. Using the original design for the car, he strengthened the body, added a standard boot and covered the interior with a hood. This elegant cabriolet could carry four people in absolute comfort. It is interesting to note that at the same Motor Show Heuliez presented his "Espace" version of the SM, with a roof that opened in two sections, emphasizing the attraction this luxury French model had for coachbuilders. However, the principal downside of the Mylord cabriolet was its price : at 130,000 francs in 1973, it cost more than twice the standard SM, and almost as much as a Ferrari Daytona. There was no rush to buy it and the project was not taken up. The number of examples built is not known with certainty, but today, experts generally agree on five cars, including one that is thought to have been destroyed by fire.
Following the Mylord, Chapron went on to build other SM derivatives : the Opéra saloon, presented in 1972 and the same year, a four-door convertible presidential version. Built on the SM base, these cars were the last real creations to come out of the Chapron workshop. The coachbuilder subsequently stuck to special one-off projects (notably on the CX and 604), before finally shutting up shop in 1985, seven years after the death of Henri Chapron.
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