FWD Champions: The Citroën SM
Behold, one of the coolest cars ever made (even Automobile magazine agrees with me): The Citroën SM.
Featuring a far more tasteful, structured shape than the technically groundbreaking yet gothic and overwrought DS, the SM was Citroën’s performance model for the duration of its 1970-1975 model run. Developed during the French automaker’s partnership with Maserati, the SM was fitted with one of the Italian company’s 2.7l, 170-hp V6 engines, later bumped up to an even 3.0l and 180 hp. Paired with a bantamweight 3,300-lb car, the V6 delivered competent acceleration and top speed for the day.
The SM’s engine was oriented “backwards” behind the front axle line, in the same manner as the engine of the later Saab 900. This mechanical configuration minimized FWD’s inherent weight distribution shortcomings and made room under the hood for the car’s complex hydraulic system, by then a Citroën trademark and arguably the key to its overall excellence.
The SM’s hydraulics powered most major peripherals under the hood and within the chassis, including steering, braking and the self-leveling suspension system. The fully-powered steering, in particular, was a technical tour de force in the sense that the hydraulic power provided the driver feedback normally communicated by the suspension geometry. The result was that the front suspension could be optimized for roadholding alone, without having to compromise in ways the undercarriages of conventional cars do by incorporating a self-centering quality, for instance. No, in the SM’s case, the hydraulic pressure centered the steering automatically, allowing the front suspension to be fully optimized to maintain as consistent a contact patch as possible at all times. Brilliant, really.
The upshot of all the technical trickery was, for its day, an unrivaled blend of roadholding, stability and ride comfort, especially for a FWD car. The SM’s mechanical uniqueness alone guarantees it a spot in the Cool Car Pantheon™, but add to that forward-looking yet timeless design, inside and out, and consider its rarity and quasi-exotic cachet, and the SM quickly rises to the level of the all-time greats. I want one.
Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series highlighting FWD cars I think highly of, in spite of my overwhelming RWD bias. Read the other installments here:
- Peugeot 205 GTI
- B4 Volkswagen Passat
- Lancia Fulvia Coupe
- Acura Vigor
- Mazda Millenia
- Fiat Coupé
- ’91-’96 Infiniti G20
- ’91-’94 B13 Nissan Sentra SE-R
- ’88-’92 Mazda MX-6
- Audi Coupe GT
- Volkswagen Corrado
- Peugeot 405 Mi16
- ’78-’93 Saab 900
- Volvo 850 T-5R
- 5th-generation Honda Prelude
- 1st- and 2nd-generation Volkswagen Scirocco