Joyeux Anniversaire, Majesté

As Citroën’s Grand Tourisme with the Italian heart celebrates its fiftieth birthday this year, we peruse the few brochures printed during its brief tenure at the summit of the French firm’s hierarchy.

All Images: The author.

The ambitious SM of 1970 took the Citroën brand into a hitherto unexplored market segment. Instead of Peugeot, Rover, Renault and Lancia – to name a few – now it entered an arena occupied by names such as Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Jensen and BMW. Still, the initial reception was overwhelmingly favourable – the SM placing third in that year’s European Car of the Year contest (the GS won that year), and voted Motor Trend Car of the Year in the American market in 1972.

The vast majority of road tests worldwide resulted in positive to rave reviews, in most cases accompanied by a few provisos concerning the SM’s comparatively leisurely acceleration and the very direct DIRAVI power steering with variable assistance – although it was usually stated that most drivers would not want to have it any other way again after becoming familiarised with this latter feature.

The futuristic big coupé also emerged victorious at its first motor racing competition, the 1971 Rallye du Maroc. Unfortunately, the fastidious maintenance requirements of the Maserati engine, especially relating to the cam tensioners, blighted the SM’s reputation. In addition, a confluence of malign factors would seal its fate, and it was over all too soon by 1975.

However, let’s have a look at the most significant sales brochures issued during Sa Majesté’s reign over the Citroën realm.

The first brochure issued to promote Citroën’s technical tour-de-force was an A4-sized portfolio containing eight large photos and a four-page folder with an introduction and technical specifications. The French carmaker obviously aimed for an upmarket clientele; apart from the introductory prose on the inserted folder, it allows the pictures do the talking. As with all other European Citroën publicity material of the period, this brochure was produced by Robert Delpire.

Being the first brochure for the SM, the photographs show what is likely to have been a pre-production vehicle as there are a few small differences when compared with the actual production cars: the metal double chevron badge on the bottom of the steering wheel spoke which is gold with the chevrons engraved on production SMs seems to be silver here, with a clear dark centre.

The instrument panel itself also is silver in colour while the production cars had either a pale gold or slightly darker bronze-ish hue. Finally, the photograph of the inside door panel shows a crank to manually operate the side window; to the best of this scribe’s knowledge, all SM’s sold to the public were fitted with electric windows.

Next is the brochure for the American market; this one was made in two versions – one with a white cover and another with a black cover as presented here. Inside they are virtually identical; the oblong format being slightly larger than the European brochure.

The style of presentation is quite different here – the first European brochure shows just the car in a cool studio setting, while here there are people accompanying the SM in every photo, engaged in various (suitably aspirational) activities. It is interesting to see that in every large photograph occupying a whole page the stateside SM’s legislature-compromised visage is in full view; a less confident manufacturer might have attempted to hide it as much as possible.

There is more text in this catalogue, and in one instance it appears as if Citroën is keen to impress on the prospective American customer that the SM needs to be handled in a different manner from what they are used to in order to get the best out of it: “Trust the SM. You’d be surprised what a machine can do when it knows you believe in it. Easy on the steering wheel. Handle it gently. Don’t overwhelm the SM. It will do what you want it to. The Citroën-Maserati is happiest, will do its best for you, when it’s trusted.

Although US sales were reasonably healthy (about 25% of SM production was exported to America), it became a victim of increasingly stringent regulations in 1973 – meaning the end of the SM in the USA – a year before its cancellation elsewhere.

The final brochure, dating from 1973, is the most aesthetically attractive. Another Delpire production, it features photography by Sarah Moon of Pirelli Calendar fame. Size-wise it is very similar to the American catalogue. Apart from the first two pages, there are no words at all and the production is better for it; they would only interfere with one’s appreciation of the atmospheric, oh so Seventies, photography. Among Citroën collectors this is one of the most coveted printed items – its layout and photography style even spawned imitation, as has been noted previously on DTW.

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Nowadays the Sarah Moon brochure is by far the most difficult one to obtain among the three and therefore the most valuable; the white portfolio (make sure it has a complete set of photos in it) and even the American brochure shouldn’t be too hard to locate at any reasonable sized classic car show’s automobilia sellers’ booth.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

21 thoughts on “Joyeux Anniversaire, Majesté”

  1. Those are lovely brochures, Bruno, thanks for sharing. I’ve never seen the SM without electric windows either. I prefer the silver instrument panel to the gold or bronze one. Too bad it didn’t make it to production.

  2. Yes, thanks for sharing, Bruno, they are lovely examples of the art. Incidentally, do you take any precautions in storing and handling your collection of brochures to protect them from deterioration?

    Regarding the US version of the SM, the DOT mandated circular headlamps do its frontal aspect no favours. I wonder if it might have looked better if they were positioned closer together, or even in a triple rather than double formation? Time for some photoshopping…

    1. Hello Daniel,
      I do take some precautions to protect the brochures from their enemies- the most dangerous of which are moisture, insects and rodents. Every brochure is stored in its own clear plastic sleeve and the collection itself is in archive/book boxes (open on one end), these put in sturdy wooden storage cupboards. These “cupboards” are originally meant for storage of vegetables, car parts and other heavy stuff. I resorted to using these as normal cupboards can not handle the weight, especially over time as the shelves tend to bend alarmingly.
      Another enemy I was unaware of at first is UV light; initially I simply had the brochures in the cupboards which were open at the front (no doors). Because some brochures are larger in size, I discovered that the area that was exposed to daylight changed colour on some brochures. I found a simple solution in some cheap dark coloured shower curtains and rails sets that I mounted on the front. Problem solved.

  3. Original US version:

    Triple headlamp front:

    Dual, headlamp, but more closely spaced:

    What do we think?

    1. Without the vertical chrome struts between the lights, as on the original, the chrome border of the middle section makes no sense and is too heavy.
      The triple headlights are too much. Maybe also because the heavy chrome border around the middle section.
      Maybe your (very well done, as always) versions need a grille instead of the sheet metal, but then the SM would no longer be a Citroen.

    2. I like the three round headlights arrangement- a real improvement and I am puzzled why Citroen did not choose this solution….
      One unidentified photo I have shows a hybrid between the European and USA styles but it could be something homemade:

      Another photo showing an SM prototype in the studio with what looks like pop-up headlights might have done the trick but doesn’t really fit the rest of the SM’s body in my opinion:

      To make for the relative ugliness in the two preceding pictures, here’s one of my favourite photos of an SM that captures its striking lines perfectly (and I love the unusual colour!):

    3. Hi Bruno. I’ve taken the liberty of amending your comment so the photos are displayed rather than just the links. I hope that’s ok with you. Those custom apertures in the first photo look like they were designed for US DOT regulation small rectangular headlights, which were introduced in 1974.

      Well done on looking after your brochures carefully. They tell their own story about the marketing and target customer for the car, so are a valuable accompaniment to the cars’ history and worth preserving.

  4. Brrrruno, I am becoming sort of dependent on your brochures, they are really beautiful.
    I only drove an SM once, because at the time I was toying with the idea of buying one (used of course, but the prices were always too high, and when I could I had no time nor sufficient interest left). Already a DS driver, the only thing that really impressed me was the DIRAVI, a beautiful thing which I later could enjoy again at long when I bought a CX.
    I can only say that it is correct that “it was usually stated that most drivers would not want to have it any other way again after becoming familiarised with this latter feature”, as, at least in my case, it was an unique feature that I really missed afterwards and to this day, notwithstanding the make of the car.

    1. Anastasio, What was it that you enjoyed about DIRAVI? What was it that you missed about it in other cars since then?

  5. In my view the SM was a car that helped to end Citröen as an independent business.

    ¿How in heaven can you waste so much money developing a niche luxury car (with a Maserati engine!) when you have veeeeery long in the tooth bicylicindrics (2CV, Dyane, Ami, Dynam…) as your base and medium offerings? I have read period test reviews of those cars and they were clearly obsolete by the 1960s.

    The SM in my mind is like those Nazi Superheavy tanks at the end of the Second World War: Technical achievements, beautiful to behold but entirery counterproductive for the war effort (Google Jagdtiger or Panzerjager Elephant to see my point)

    And for a automobile manufacturer the war is to stay in business.

    The SM stayed in production only 5 years, versus the 9 nines year it took its development. I would like to see how much money Citröen LOST with this car.

    I have sat inside an SM in a Retro car event and is quite and experience. An otherworldly car, indeed. But useless to make money, which should be its first and most important function in the great scheme of things.

    Panzerjager SM, the Triumph of the Useless.

    1. Supposedly, Peugeot scrapped a couple of hundred unfinished cars when they ended production, because they would’ve lost money on finishing them and selling them. Which is one of those things that would make you cry these days…

  6. Among those who restore old cars the joke is that it is called SM because the SM restorer needs to be a Sado Masochist, due to her incredible complexities.

    1. Well, it depends on the restorer, I suppose.
      There is nothing different in an SM than in a DS o CX, people used to one of them can carry out work on each one of the others.
      On the other hand, people not used to hydraulics who do not want to apply themselves a bit and never saw, for instance, the internals of a Cat excavator or an agricultural tractor may have difficulties.

  7. Having owned one of these beasts in the mid seventies it has remained one of my all time favorits but the Maser engine less so. The car was long legged, pulled well with a beautiful sound but frequent routine maintenance required for the engine was a bummer!
    Having an idiosyncratic engine from one maker and a car from another spells disaster when seeking advise or service from a dealer. My solution as always was to obtain workshop manuals and service it myself similar to
    a previous RO80 ownership.
    Raise the bonnet on a idiling SM and it sounds terrible partly due to the Citroen hydraulic pump competing with the engines quad cams and injectors.
    The Maserati Cam chain tensioners require manual adjustment every three thousand miles which entails removal of all induction and injection items to access cam covers.
    Reaching this lump near the firewall is also a back breaking experience.
    Back when these cars were first being used there started to be numerous cam chain failures predominatly on one bank which I firmly believe was due to faulty instructions in the workshop manual which I won’t go into at risk of boredom.
    It was an unforgettable experience owning an SM but the engine was an anachronism in this car.

    1. When you look at the drawing you see the SM engine’s design fault.

      The secondary cam chains are in contact with the inlet camshaft sprockets only on three or four teeth. The chains themselves are on the small side and are very prone to excessive stretching which makes one chain jump a tooth or two occasionally. This can be cured by fitting better chains that don’t stretch so much and are available now but weren’t at the time the SM was new. More difficult to handle is the fault on the primary chain between crankshaft and intermediate shaft. The tensioner there has a design fault and allows the chain to get slack which is an even worse idea than in other cars because the intermediate shaft drives all things from generator to hydraulic pump. Today you can get tensioners redesigned by SM clubs that work and once and for all eliminate this achilles heel.
      I know a guy with an SM who retro-fitted these improvements and enlarged the engine to 3.2 litres and now has nearly 400,000 kms on it.

  8. @J T
    the DIRAVI is marvellous. Hydraulics are always pulling the steering back to center position, which makes driving conpletely effortless and provides an unparalleled directional stability. Steering with DIRAVi is simply asking the car directly where you want to go – and it will comply. If you don‘t ask anything, it will move ahead forward in the straightest of lines. Plus, the aid decreases at speed. An SM – and a CX – is a dream driving at speed on the highway. Nothing comes close.

    DIRAVI is very, very different from any other steering and takes a bit getting used to. It‘s really a love it or leavit proposition. I am on the love side, obviously, and am convinced all other cars are inferior.

    1. JT, I did not notice your question, sorry.
      I completely agree with CX.GTi’s opinion, DIRAVI is unparalleled; I would however add that it blends perfectly with the way an hydraulic Cit behaves, but I have some doubts as to its application to a normal car.
      It is of course only a theoretical question, as I do not know other applications of it.

    2. JT, I forgot to add the answer to the second question, what I miss of DIRAVI, and the answer is the return of the steering to the center, which in normal cars is done by forces exerted on the steering organs by the front end geometry : I never experienced again such a proportional, quick and flawless return.
      I should add also that I like a direct steering, the more the better.

  9. Thank you both for explaining about DIRAVI. I understand the mechanism but not not how it feels in use. I drove XM and CM a long time ago and can’t remember much about the steering (we were interested in the ride and NVH at the time) so I shall go borrow a car to try it out at length.

    1. Only V6 XMs had Diravi steering. I´ve tried it in XM and the CX. I can´t recall the steering of the CX feeling like much but the car reacted instantly to steering wheel inputs. On the XM there was not any sense of dartiness, it felt numb (meaning one turned the wheel, there was resistance though no sense of it meaning anything) and also the steering wheel returned to centre when one came to a halt, at say, a T-junction so one had to remember to remind the car which way one wanted it to go in next.

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