Video : Citroen SM, the unlikely rally winner

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

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.

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

15 Comments

  1. It was one of the most beautiful cars ever made, and even it’s dash was so modern. I had an orange Matchbox toy version and loved it to bits. It’s a shame the fuel crisis happened when it did or this car may have had an even bigger following.

  2. A fair amount of technology from the SM was used in the CX, which could handle very well when pushed, but only the turbos could really do it justice.

  3. The text could have been by me 🙂 I found the same video about a year or so back and I watched it in full length for a few times. How many know that the wheels are not even made from metal? This car is, in essence, where basically all the earned money from Michelin (then owner of Citroën) went…. And yes, in terms of engineering, many of todays cars are plain and simple compared to that – not to say a thing about imagination to start with….

  4. Why can’t such amazing cars like the SM be made again? It’s the sort of machine that you can’t keep your eyes off

  5. Burt Reynolds drove one into a harbour in Mean Machine. Not saying that I welcomed the demise of such a fine car, but it was an unusual choice in America at the time, where most American football players would have favoured an all American sports car like a Corvette.

  6. A Citroen SM prototype was also the unlikely recipient of a 4.0 V8 based derived from the Maserati Merak 3.0 V6, which was originally intended for the SM-based Maserati Quattroporte II.

  7. SM in a different role in 1974.
    Gendarmerie brigade rapide (In French, obviously)
    The documentary presents the formation and the role of this new squadron, that uses Citroën SM, Citroën DS23 i.e. and Renault Alpine A110 to patrol the autoroutes.

  8. Interesting to see the other cars which were also in the rally. Some of them I wouldn’t have expected to be doing that kind of thing.

    The ones I spotted included Citroen DS, Peugeot 404 and 504, Mk1 Capri, and Renault Alpines (which don’t seem to have aged the way other cars do)

    But I was surprised to see Simca 1000 and 1100; and Porsche 911.

    • In the late 1960s a few of the big rallies were won by Porsche 911s, one book semi-jokes that you needed one to beat a Mini Cooper S.

  9. My idea of what a luxury coupe should be like. Real Citroens are the best cars ever and so far removed from the German-inspired stuff we have now.

    DS, Traction Avant, SM, GS, CX, 2CV. Truly fabulous and BL were right to look closely at what they were doing.

  10. Patrick McGoohan, on one of his two or three bad guy stints on Columbo, relieved the tedium of the show with his presence, and that of the Citroen SM that his character drove.

    I had the blue Matchbox model, but as a toy car I wasn’t convinced by its tapering width towards the back.

  11. I had the Matchbox one too!

    As I young lad I also thought they were simply amazing to look at.

    Never imagined one in a rally !

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