1972 Citroen SM: Worth its weight in gold
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By golly this 1972 Citroen SM is eye-catching, with its sleek lines coated in a deep gold so luscious it looks green where it reflects the sky.
A passer-by has stopped to photograph this rarity — only 15 Citroen SMs arrived here, all imported privately.
Carl Maitland explains the only thing Citroen’s DS had lacked was a decent engine.
“They wanted a sporty car; so they bought Maserati,” he says.
Thus the SM has a Maserati 2.7-litre V6, plus DS suspension and brakes.
“This engine loves to be revved, yet the car has this comfy suspension — the two don’t really go together.”
As for his SM’s fuel injection, only 3500 of that variant were made. This is one of just two in NZ.
The SM was packed with technology unusual for the time. Of course there’s the hydro-pneumatic self-levelling suspension.
There’s speed-sensitive power steering, and a wheel that self-centres when you let go of it.
The steering column adjusts for height and reach, and the wipers are allegedly rain sensitive at the low-speed setting, though Carl hasn’t seen it work.
The hydraulic brake pressure balances front to rear to keep the car level. And all this was mechanical, not electronic.
“It was the most complicated car of the time,” Maitland says.
No wonder the engine warning light is so big.
“If it does come on, it seriously does mean ‘stop’,” he says.
Maitland spotted this one on the internet, in 2013. It was for sale in Germany on behalf of the owner who lived in Bordeaux, France.
Maitland had always wanted one precisely because it is unusual. As he was about to visit Europe, he could check the car out.
“I should have done more homework, and now I’ve got to live with it!”
He compared the Citroen with one he had driven in Rotorua, however he hadn’t been impressed with its condition, or the price asked.
“I ended up with a car in similar condition, but the fuel-injected version. And I got to drive it up the Berlin autobahn.”
He wasn’t a complete novice to classics (he’s had his original Fiat Bambina for 21 years) but it was the first time he’d imported a car.
“It was much more expensive than I thought because the Germans considered it to be hazardous goods because of the petrol tank.
“To go in a container — I didn’t want roll on, roll off — I had to pay an extra $1000. Then there was the compliance process.
“I had to replace the brake discs, there were two little spots of rust I had to get repaired, there was a tie rod ... ”
Having restored his Bambina, Carl had expected to do the work himself, but it’s a complicated car.
“I got started, but then realised I had to take it to Auto France (specialist mechanics). For a start, the brakes are inboard.”
Fortunately, since the car is more than 25 years old, there was no issue about leaving it left-hand drive.
Carl did some resto work. He had the steel bumpers polished, and the frame around the front headlights painted the correct colour, silver, not the body’s gold.
“Other than that, it’s been maintaining it, and trying to get it to run, which has been a battle.”
He’s a member of the Citroen Car Club of Auckland, and was in the Citroen SM Club of France, but found it unhelpful.
“The SM owners here are all on their own. We contact wherever we can round the world to get what we need, but some parts are just about impossible to get.”
For example, the car needed a new steering governor, and they are unique to the SM.
“They don’t make new parts, there were no new-old ones, and after a couple of years I found someone who had a used one in better condition, and now it’s running well.”
Otherwise, he fitted an electronic ignition, though like the steering governor, simply diagnosing the cause of the problem wasn’t easy, as there are no local specialists for such a rare model.
“I used to flat with this friend who was a mechanic. The car wasn’t running properly and he got his stethoscope out, found all sorts of things, and it’s running better now.”
He uses it as his daily commuter. “I’ve got used to driving it, it’s an unusual feel. The steering is sensitive, and most people will oversteer.
"Combine that with the soft suspension, and if you turn too hard, it will tilt over, and you can get a fright. You have to take it precisely.”
He’s discovered his SM started out as brown, but this was an original SM hue so, when he does his restoration to original, it might stay that way. It’s only fitting for a car that was a gold standard of its time.