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.
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.
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.