Idi Amin had seven of them
The fascination with French cars has always struck us as a bit odd. Almost like being addicted to toast with Vegemite, or claiming Hungary is the best country to spend your holidays. It is almost as unbelievable as the love that some people have with their Harley-Davidson bikes or people that say they would want to wake up next to Cameron Diaz.
But this car, this French car, it is something else. Zut alors! It is timeless. Not a classic, just timeless. Something the Italians never managed to do; built a timeless car. By saying this, we must admit that we conveniently overlook the fact the SM has a 3L V6 Maserati engine in it.
Citroen began working on project ‘S’ in 1961. The goal was to built a sports variant of the revolutionary Citroen DS . In 1968 Citroen acquired Maserati, with the intention to combine its Citroen suspension with Maserati’s high performance engines. Something the French alone could come up with.
The Citroen SM was first shown in the Geneva car show in 1970, came third in the European car of the year award (The Citroen GS was the winner for that year) and won the Motor Trend Car of the year award in 1972.
When this car rolled off the production chain, the French looked at what they made and thought that it was very good. Fair enough it was and still is a fantastically good looking car, but its performance was mediocre. Its contemporary brother, the Jensen Interceptor (which was thrown together from washing machine parts), had considerably more grunt and had far better acceleration. But what do you expect when you put 170 hp under the hood. I did have an aviation grade aluminum bonnet though.
This car is full of technical innovations, such as its hydro-pneumatic suspension, which were the dogs bollocks in its time. Its implementation can easily be spotted when opening the bonnet, because it looks like Citroen threw a handful of unripe fruit on top of the engine.
The SM was designed in house by chief designer Robert Opron, they guy who, among other things, would later design the bland looking Renault 25 and is a far cry from the Citroen DS. (Opron was probably true to his heritage and exposed to years of wine and cognac abuse and from what we can see he difinately reached his peak with the SM).
In 1970, it was a car of the future and the fastest front-wheel-drive car, with a factory-quoted top speed of 220 km/h. It was an example of the car as a symbol of optimism and progressive technology.
The Citroen SM came out with a 2,7 and 3.0L engine, limited by French puissance fiscale taxation, which effectively banned large displacement vehicles. Funnily enough, the same engine was used in the Maserati Merak but in a bored out version, delivering 220hp. Yep, when it comes to boring shit out, leave it to the Italians.
In 1974 Citroen went bust and was taken over by Peugeot, which quickly flogged off Maserati. Au revoir!
Its demise came quick, possibly because of the oil crisis, possibly not. But what is certain is that maintenance must have been hellish. A French car, with a 90 degree V6 engine from Italy, overlaid with extraterrestrial suspension, the concept alone. Imagine the mechanic opening the bonnet of a Citroen SM, quickly dropping it down again and saying “I aint touching that shit!”. The SM required a Maserati and a Citroen specialist. That is probably why Idi Amin bought seven of them, because he knew neither of these specialist were ever gonna make it to Uganda.
All this crazy, non-practical engineering makes us love this car even more.
But this car was never built to be practical, it was built to look good and modern, and that it still does.
And Amin? Well apart from being able to dispose of his enemies, he was not a very practical man himself. Because who in the right frame of mind would barrel this car over African dust roads?
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