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FWD Champions: The Citroën SM

August 3, 2012 by Matt

Citroen SM Gold Bronze

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.

Citroen SM Black

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.

Citroen SM Engine Motor

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.

Citroen SM Interior Inside Cockpit Dash Dashboard Console Shifter Brown Maroon

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:

Filed under: Citroen, FWD Champions


  1. John D says:

    You are truly a unique man with strange and unique tastes. (This is not a reflection on you at all, Diane. Rather, you are the exception to the rule. But I’m sure you know by now that you married a rather…interesting…man. But that’s probably a big part of why you love him. He has truly wormed his way into all our hearts…and tries to sell us on Citroens. Strange. But carry on if you must, oh idiosyncratic individual… ;)

    • Matt says:

      It would appear that the majority of this comment is addressed to my wife, so I shan’t speak for her, but only say yes, yes I am. :)

  2. Al Grayson says:

    You wrote:
    “… the hydraulic power provided the driver feedback normally communicated by the suspension geometry.”

    The steering provides precisely zero feedback from the tires. It was marketed in England as “Speedfeel,” but all resistance to turning the steering wheel is provided by the centering device that is regulated by a governor driven by the pinion/secondary shaft.* The power cylinder operates with so much force (ca. 2,300 psi) that the effort to scrub the tires is irrelevant.
    The SM does not have rack-and-pinion steering. It has fully powered steering. The rack and pinion merely provides a return to the steering power valve. The only time that “rack-and-pinion” would be appropriate would be if hydraulic pressure to the steering was lost. In such a case the steering would have play of a couple of inches at the steering wheel rim.
    *On Automatiques the steering centering regulator is connected to the main pump in the automatic gearbox.

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