Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Difficult Beauty

Some friends of mine have recently been discussing the unusual Citroen SM, created during the brief period when Automobiles Citroen owned the Italian carmaker Maserati.

Trust the French, and Citroen in particular, to create a car that was both beautiful, and frustrating. I once had the pleasure of a short drive, and I vividly remember its outstanding acceleration and ride. The handling was something else, because the Citroen engineers hadn't quite managed to tame the vicious torque-steer before it was launched on an unsuspecting public.

This car, a 1974 model, was photographed at an impromptu car show in Paris and I really think of the SM as a classic design (by in-house designer Robert Opron), although less than 13,000 cars were ever produced.

As for the frustrating element, that would be the servicing of the engine. The Maserati V6 was inclined, so to adjust the tappets on the right hand bank, the car had to be jacked up, the right front wheel removed, then a panel on the inner guard had to be removed, to allow (very limited) access to the tappet cover, and thus the tappets. That was just one of the many eccentric mechanical aspects of the SM.

However, probably the most important component was the Citroen-designed DIRAVI power-assisted steering. It was both complex and effective, and the concept became a basic design later copied by many other manufacturers.

In 1974 Citroen went into Bankruptcy and was acquired by Peugeot, which ended production of the SM in 1975. Despite being swallowed up by Peugeot we shouldn't forget Citroen's many contributions of technical excellence and innovation which the company contributed to the automotible industry.

Photo: Jerome Mage

Citroen was the brainchild of industrialist, Andre-Gustav
Citroen and began making cars in 1919.

Andre's vision of innovation and leading-edge design was imbued in all of its successive chief engineers and their staffs. It was definately a company you could describe as being 'out there'!

Citroen works on the Quai de Javel
The beautiful DS series (knicknamed the 'Goddess') was launched in 1955 and was designed by an Italian sculptor and a leading French aerodynamicist. It was this car which inspired the styling of the Citroen SM.

I remember a wonderful experience in 1976, after returning a Citroen CX to the PR staff in Paris. I said: "The indicators do not self-cancel, is that normal?"

The cute PR girl said: "Yes, of course! Why should they? It's a Citroen!"

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