I’ll admit that I have a lifelong obsession with the Citroen SM. Probably unhealthily so, because sometimes I find myself wanting one so much I want to cry. As a young boy growing up in the 1970s, surrounded by the mundanity of Ford Cortinas, Morris Marinas and Vauxhall Vivas, the Citroen SM was a genuine leap into the future – but one available to buy now, if you were wealthy enough.
The styling was shaped in the wind tunnel, the engine slinked straight out of the Maserati factory in Italy and the innermost pair of Cibie headlamps – which were shielded behind glass for goodness sake – swivelled in unison with the super high geared DIRAVI steering system. Not that I knew about these, aged seven. No, it simply looked like nothing else on the road, and I thought it quite possibly the most beautiful wheeled object ever made.
Pushing 40 years on, and my obsession burns just as brightly today. I want one – and not a day goes by that I don’t wonder how I’ll end up with one in my life. Yes, I know it’s going to be a rolling heartbreaker and, you know what, I really don’t care. Today, while idling thoughtlessly on YouTube, I stumbled across this lovely factory-backed promotional film, showing the SM’s maiden rally win in 1971. As can be seen from the title screen below, it’s not modest about the success of this most unlikely of rally cars.
‘First run, first victory,’ the French proudly proclaim – and rightly so.
Of course, the idea of running such a beautiful and fragile car through such unyielding scenery should fill me with horror and, in a way, it does – when (if) I get my SM (because one day I will have one, even if it involves a bank robbery), I will wrap it in cotton wool and take it out on only the nicest days. Fording deep and angry looking rivers, thrashing through the desert and hammering through muddy river beds is something you do with Volvo Amazons, not Maserati-powered Citroens, designed to transport your mink coat-clad lover for a naughty weekend at the Carlton Hotel in Cannes.
Still, whatever, it proves that these cars are tough, and the inherent superiority of their suspension system wins rallies. In reality, the long-legged SM was suitable for very few rallies and, once the afterglow of the Moroccan victory had worn off, there was little for Citroen to crow about in terms of the SM’s motor sport prowess.
But the glory of the SM can be enjoyed in a different way with the video. Watch the way it glides over the roughest of terrain, shrugging off all the desert can throw at it, and you can understand why this car would be so good on your average British A-road. Indeed, from my own experience of driving SMs both here and in France, they really are magnificent – given a long run on a flowing road, nothing from its era would come close. Even today, in the age of super-capable modernity, the SM shines through.
So, even if it was a resounding flop both in the marketplace and on the motor sport circuit, its amazing performance vindicates my love for them all those years ago. Now, all I need to do is start saving harder.