1973 Citroen SM
The Citroen SM is one of those iconic cars from my childhood. The car’s party piece is a three position hydraulic suspension that allows it to raise and lower with the flick of a switch. My uncle, Jim, owned one in the 70s. Jim and my father used to repair exotic cars in the 70s and I loved watching the SM do its thing in my Grandma’s driveway. Since Citroen owned Maserati at the time, the car came equipped with a Maserati-designed V6, which was also used in the Maserati Merak, along with the Citroen hydraulic system. Along with the Mercedes 300SEL 6.9 (which Jim also owned), the SM carries the reputation as a very complicated, exotic car to own. But if you know my uncle, the complications and quirks do not scare him at all.
This is Jim’s original SM parked in front of my Grandmother’s house. It was black with a black interior, 2.7 liter automatic model. The automatic transmissions that were available for these cars were a problem area, and sapped performance. The luggage rack on this example was a unique feature.
Jim’s new SM is a 1973 model with a 3 liter motor and a 5 speed manual transmission – arguably the most desirable spec for a SM. The car came from the factory in this amazing shade of metallic blue that has amazing teal highlights in the sun. Jim won the auction off Bring A Trailer. Relatives of the deceased owner were selling the car as part of his estate. He was the second owner, and he had the car since 1975. It came with lots of paperwork. Although the car started and the suspension raised and lowered, we elected to have the car towed home from Highland Park since it had sat for a period of time. Better safe than sorry.
The SM comes with this natural brown leather interior. Here, you can see the clean, uncracked dashboard, as well as the cool gold metal dash trim, single spoke steering wheel, oval gauges and unique manual shifter bezel. Surprisingly, this black dashboard panel was also shared with the Maserati Merak.
The underside of the SM is nice and rust-free. A few spider webs here and there, but a good power wash and detail will take care of the underneath nicely.
And here is Jim behind the wheel of his new SM. After giving the Weber carbs and ignition system a quick tune (the motor was down a cylinder), we were able to take the car for a drive. The motor runs well, but the clutch was slipping – time for a clutch.
I love this picture because it illustrates the spirit of my uncle, who is not afraid to dig in and get dirty with a project. Because SMs have many hydraulic-based systems and also because they are a curious French/Italian hybrid, there are abundant opportunities for leaks, as the grime in this photo illustrates. Like many British cars, it’s a built-in rust prevention mechanism! With the front accessory clip and transmission extracted, the real work can begin.
Here, you can see the cleaned up SM transaxle. Unique features include 5 speeds (relatively rare in the 1970s) and inboard disc brakes. FUN FACT: this transaxle was also used in the early Lotus Esprit models.
The engine bay, cleaned up. Here, you can see the all aluminum Maserati engine (minus the transaxle), along with clean frame rails. Lots of interesting details here. A variety of different paint finishes were used, from the dark green of the hydraulic spheres to the dark metallic brown that was curiously used on some of the inner fender shrouding. Less visible in this picture is the cool polished shroud that covers the firewall of the car. Neat!
Part of owning and restoring a classic car is getting to know the community of people who support these vehicles. I bumped into Mark (the owner of the blue SM in this photo) at a local cruise night in Downers Grove. He introduced me to Andy, owner of Chi-Town Citroen, and the beautiful silver SM parked in the foreground. Andy has been an excellent source of info, and a sounding board for our plans to move forward. You can see the excellent alloy wheels he has on his car, which are aluminum copies of the original Michelin-designed carbon fiber composite wheels, which were ahead of their time and also rare as hen’s teeth. Stay tuned for more updates as this Citroen project develops.