It was a gamble, a challenge, a slice of grandeur that in those years France extended to the sky thanks to the Concorde, the first supersonic aircraft for civil use. Above all, it was a wonderfully beautiful and at the same time very unfortunate car, ultimately defeated by uncontrollable events, such as the oil crisis, but also by commercial errors in the battle against rivals of the same category, especially in the Mercedes, BMW and Porsche.
Fifty years ago at the Geneva Motor Show (this year jumped at the last minute after 89 editions due to the global health emergency) Citroën presented the SM, a GT that crowned the idea of entering the luxury coupe segment, alongside an older sister with the legendary DS. The Goddess, however, would have provided components of its technology, from adjustable headlights to hydropneumatic suspensions.
Flaminio Bertoni, the Varese stylist father of the most iconic Double Chevron cars, he started the studies of the new flagship. But a stroke quenched his genius and it was his heir, Robert Opron, who got there. In the meantime, a key element had entered the mosaic: in 1968 Citroën had acquired control of Maserati. Then he managed to get his hands on powerful engines to give an adequate heart, as well as Italian, to the ambitions of the birth.
The abbreviation SM stood for Sport-Maserati, but for all it was Sa Majesté, His Majesty. The audience was amazed: traction on the front wheels, with a wider axle than the rear; the Diravi system with progressive hardening of the steering; the two internal headlights of the “3 + 3” optical group that followed the road; the softness of the attitude; very comfortable armchairs, real goodies like the Jaeger oval clock set in the dashboard that replicated that of the Maserati Merak.
And then a fascinating aesthetic: truncated tail, keeled muzzle and fiberglass rims. As for the engine, Citroën imposed tight times on Maserati. Engineer Giulio Alfieri replied, sharply, that the engine was already ready. But it was an 8 cylinder and did not meet French tax regulations. So he “cut” two cylinders and created a 2.7-liter V6 with 170 horsepower (there would then have been a 3-liter version, 180 Hp and with electronic injection). Until the advent of the Lancia Thema 3.2, the SM, with its 220 hours, was the fastest front-wheel drive car of its time.
The audience was impressed. The VIPs as well: Alain Delon, the composer John Williams, the Shah of Persia Rezha Pahlavi, in Italy Cino Tortorella (the Mago Zurlì) and Renato Pozzetto. When Johan Cruijff signed for Barcelona, he asked for it as a benefit and Jay Leno, an American comedian, still has one in his collection. The cinema was in turn fascinated; Burt Reynold drove her to Palm Beach in That dirty last goal, Ben Stiller used it in ZoolanderThe promising start, however, stumbled into trouble: above all, the delicate mechanics (the timing belts were fragile) that sent dealers into crisis. The failed boom in the USA did not help, where MS arrived with a different light and without adjustable projectors. It was the car of the year in 1972, but it didn’t break through.
Citroën in Europe expanded the offer with a convertible version (the Mylord) and tried to polish the image with the rallies and make it the presidential car. But I exaggerated to adjust the price: the SM ended up costing like a Fiat 130 – 8.6 million lire – and slightly less than a Bmw 3.0 CSL. Too much. The oil crisis marked the end of the line. Peugeot, which became the owner of the Double Chevron, closed production in 12920 units in 1975. Today His Majesty continues its history on the planet of historic cars: having one – the writer has experienced it – means living the driving from an exhilarating point of view. With some headaches, but also with truly unique sensations.
March 27, 2020 (change March 27, 2020 | 4:35 pm)
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