Citroen's 'Piece de Resistance' The SM
by Arian Smits, images by Doug Breithaupt

We now continue the Citroen History, (click here for part 1 and part 2) introduced in the September issue of 'Tales of Toy Cars'. Here is the story of the Citroen SM and the small-scale models that followed.

SM is said to stand for Sa Majesté; 'Her Majesty' in English, but according to Citroen, it stands for Systemé Maserati, referencing the Maserati powerplant. Either way, with this model, Citroen made a statement of automotive style and engineering inovation, that many consider the company's high-point. The death of the SM in 1975, falls at the very moment that Peugeot took control of Citroen.

In 1968, Citroen took over the controlling interest in Maserati. For many years, Citroen had wanted to produce a sport/GT car to prove the viability of a powerful front-wheel drive motorcar. The problem was that all the Citroen engines were small, four cylinder motors and would not provide the necessary power. With ownership of Maserati, Citroen had access to some of the most respected power plants in automotive history. The fruits of this cooperation were first seen in 1970 with the Citroen SM.

The SM had a four-cam, 2.7 litre, 170 h.p. V6 engine that was three quarters of a Maserati V8. The body was very Citroen with its long-lined aerodynamic shape. While the suspension and brakes of the SM came from Citroen's earlier work with the DS, the SM was full of amazing technology. With auto, self-centering steering at two turns, lock-to-lock, the SM was F1 quick in the corners. Headlights were self-leveling and the the two inner lights of the six-headlight ensemble, turned with the front wheels. A Citroen five-speed manual transmission was standard and later used on the Lotus Esprit and others. An automatic was later offered as well with fuel-injection replacing the triple, dual-throat Weber carburetors. Special composite wheels were offered as an option from Michelin that weighed only 5 lbs. each. Full leather interiors, air conditioning and AM/FM cassette stereo were additional features that made the SM both luxurious as well as sporting. Offering 0-60 in 7.5 sec. and a top speed of 150 mph, the SM was more than just a pretty face. Motor Trend selected the SM as the 1971 'Car of the Year'.

Citroen now had a very powerful engine that fitted perfectly to the SM's stylish body. It was the only Citroen 'grand touring' car ever produced. A special presidential cabriolet version was built with four doors (modeled by Norev in 1:43 scale). Chapron of Paris offered the Milord convertible in small numbers. A four-door sedan was built by Citroen, but never put into production. When Peugeot took over Citroen in 1975, the SM was killed and Maserati was given to the Italian government, as it was bankrupt.

In 1971 the SM won the Morocco Rally and took 3rd in the Rally of Portugal. The SM enjoyed some success on race tracks like Spa but was never really intended for serious race competition. Competition success did increased sales but the fuel crisis of 1973 (SM's offered 20-25 MPG) did the car no good and production stopped in 1975 after 12,920 examples been build. The SM was the most successful Citroen of it's day in North America. Of the 12.920 cars build some 2.000 went across the Atlantic to the U.S. Some 400 are still driven today, including the European-spec car shown above, owned and vintage-rallied by Editor Doug Breithaupt.

Maserati in the early seventies also benefited from the cooperation with Citroen as can be seen on the Bora V8 of 1971, the V6 Merak of 1972 and the still-born V6 Quattroporte II, that used the Citroen brakes and hydropneumatics. The French Ligier JS2 used the SM engine to battle on the Le Mans circuit.

Although the production time was short and the numbers of examples build modest, the sporty SM was not missed by the model car makers. The big European brands quickly added a SM to their lines. Siku, Matchbox and Majorette all produced SM models in 1971 and Tomica followed a bit later.

Majorette introduced the SM with a good body line but this model does not give a good feeling for the real car. The tail is a bit to long. The model has a clear plastic headlight cover and red painted rear lights. Later the car became available as a raid version with four additional rally-lights hanging below the front bumper and with racing stripes and numbers. This was possible the influence of the rally wins in 1971. Near the end of its production, around 1978, it lost its decals and was now painted in bright metallic colors.

Matchbox introduced its SM as a typical early 70's Matchbox with its Superfast wheels and basic but good body lines. It has opening doors but lacks suspension or plastic headlights. There are several versions of this car. The first one was orange/brown metallic and the following ones are bright blue metallic with racing numbers. The last version had a roof rack and Yahama decals and was part of a double pack in which it towed a trailer with motorbikes. This version was also metallic blue. This SM gives the best feeling for the real car of the existing 1/60 models. Later Hungarian and Bulgarian versions came in a variety of realistic colors.

Siku also introduced a SM with a good body shape that features plastic headlight covers and opening doors like the other two models. The firm suspension does not have the suppleness of the real car. The only shame on this model is the color choice. Bright orange with a light blue interior and an orange dashboard would have been in bad taste even by the standards of the early 1970's. The Hungarian versions have better body colors but are harder to find. The Siku SM is the only model to correctly represent the shape of the doors as all the other models added a dog-leg that does not exist on the real car.

Several Asian models of the SM were produced. The best is a very nice Tomica model. It features suspension and opening doors. Curiously, it features the four, sealed-beam headlights required for U.S. cars. The quality is everything we expect from Tomica but the green and red example is color-challenged. The other model is a rare and rough example from Zylmex. It does not have the rear wheel covers and so misses that special Citroen look.

The Maserati Merak with it's mid-ship, SM engine and interior, fits in this story. It is well-produced by Tomica with engine detail. The Merak originally shared the dashboard and seats with the SM but these were re-designed for the Merak SS. The SM motor and transmission were simply reversed in the Merak and as a mid-engine car offered rear-wheel drive. The V8 powered Bora was done by Matchbox, Ertl, Yat Ming and several generic Asian manufacturers. The Bora did use hydropneumatic systems from Citroen but was otherwise, a true Maserati supercar.

The Ligier is very well done by Norev in it's Mini-Jet range and one of the best models in this line. This is the only JS2 done because Norev had bought the rights to make it in 1/64 and 1/43. The Norev JS2 features opening doors. The V6 Quattroporte II has never been done in small-scale and only seven of the real cars were built before the project was killed. The styling did re-surface as the DeTomaso Deauville, a Jaguar XJ6 look-alike.

Maserati Merak SS - Tomica #F7

Ligier JS2 - Norev #306887

Next issue we will finish the Citroen model car story with the CX.

SM - Majorette #250

SM - Majorette #250

SM - Matchbox #51

SM racing - Matchbox #51

SM rally - Matchbox #51

SM - Matchbox (Hungary) #51

SM - Matchbox (Hungary) #51

SM - Matchbox (Hungary) #51

SM - Siku #1026

SM - Siku (Hungary) #1026

SM - Tomica #F37

SM - Tomica #F37