The New Frontier : [Part Two]

A brief, meteoric rise and sudden precipitous fall.

Geneva 1970, the SM makes its debut. (c) sm.uk

While there may have been some discord as to the conceptual nature of Citroën’s 1970 flagship, the matter of its style appears to have been more assured. Certainly, there are few observers who could cogently argue that the SM’s styling was not a success – indeed it remains probably the car’s defining feature – still a futurist marvel, despite a half-century having elapsed since its introduction.

Within Citroën’s Bureau d’Études, the Style Centre was hidden away in an unkempt and dingy section of the Rue de Théàtre facility. Overseen by longstanding Citroën design chief, Flaminio Bertoni, he alongside his small team of fellow designers and put upon artisans would work largely in seclusion, without much by way of recognition.

Originally training as an architect at the Ecole des Beaux arts in Amiens, Robert Opron joined Citroën’s style centre in 1962. He quickly developed a rapport with the mercurial Bertoni, the two men sharing mutual interests in art, cuisine and culture.[1] Opron was said to be devastated when in 1964, he learned of his sudden and premature demise.

Having already illustrated his abilities and gained the confidence of his superiors, Opron was asked by head of the Bureau d’Études, Jean Cadiou to elaborate upon Bertoni’s work, being appointed, Responsible de Style – an unexpected promotion for the young designer. Opron quickly put his stamp upon proceedings, and while initially at least, his output was very much a continuation,[2] he recruited a number of talented designers, who would prove pivotal in the development of not only the SM, but a whole new generation of Citroëns.

Opron was amongst those within the Bureau d’Études which espoused the ideal of a prestigious Grand Tourisme, rather than something “short, spartan and very fast“. With no overt design brief from above, Opron’s primary intent was to establish a balance between aerodynamics, style and function. Initial sketches were the work of Jacques Charreton, and a number of these were translated into quarter scale models – one of which would prove to be a fascinating blend of DS and SM features.[3]

The definitive outline shape is believed to be that of Opron with the bulk of the detail work by Jean Giret. The styling lines themselves are quite simple, there being very little elaboration apart from the extremities, which are (especially towards the rear) quite complex. The side glass DLO upkick was a feature of pretty much all of the early proposals – the definitive form taking shape to mitigate the falling beltline, which Opron told chroniclers would otherwise have made for a “ridiculously small boot“.

Believed to be the initial full-size styling model, which was approved by Bercot and Breuder. Author’s image.

Despite the lack of overt styling flourishes, there was a tremendous sense of dynamism to the SM’s lines, with a notable contrast between the clean, almost unadorned nose to the almost discordant rear, which has something of the aesthetic of an aircraft’s jet engine extractors. This area has been the most criticised of the SM’s visual envelope and perhaps suffers from too many converging elements, but discord is often a sometimes overlooked element of design realisation. Certainly, nobody could accuse Citroën’s designers of not being bold.

A 1:1 scale mockup was created in May 1968 to be reviewed by Bercot and his deputy, Antoine Brueder. This duo-tone full-size plaster styling model was presented and despite some reported misgivings from Brueder over the lack of chrome garnish, it was approved unaltered.

One of the SM’s most distinctive features was its fully glazed double curvature nose section, containing six rectangular headlamps, two of which turned hydraulically with the steering (also controlled for pitch variation), which Opron had insisted upon for sound aerodynamic reasons. At a style briefing with senior management however, production engineers dismissed his scheme as unworkable. Bercot, unimpressed by their attitude, told them to “either resign, or get to work.[4]

Image: daunatclassique

Opron also maintained that the decision to allow provision for a four-cylinder version of the SM, which forced a compromised location for the windscreen base had been anathema to Bercot, who he said refused to countenance it.

Although aerodynamic performance was central to the SM’s body design, the final shape was not submitted for wind tunnel tests until after the design had been finalised. Nevertheless these tests showed a drag coefficient some 25% less than the DS, itself regarded as a paragon in this area. Opron’s close co-operation with Citroën’s aerodynamics specialist, Delassus and his previous experience with Nord Aviation appears to have been fruitful.

The design of the SM’s cabin was the responsibility of Michel Harmand, the brief being to reflect the SM’s performance capabilities, but with an ambience of luxury and ease. Henri Dargent proposed a design combining four circular instruments within a sweeping arced binnacle. However, owing to the fixed positioning of both steering column and windscreen base, legibility was horribly compromised. However, Dargent then arrived at a clever solution, whereby ellipsoidal instruments were substituted, eliminating the problem.[5] The use of anodised stainless steel throughout the cabin added visual richness, while the seat design and generous appointments left no doubt as to the Citroën’s luxury status.

The SM’s style would perhaps represent not only the peak of this form of late Sixties modernism – a logical visual progression from the radical pragmatism of the DS. To this day it remains incomparable, otherworldly; a thrilling symbiosis of pure function and voluptuous sensuality, and testament not only to the ideals of progress, as embodied by Citroën during this period, but also to a design team at the very peak of their powers.

Spring 1970, and for months now the prospect of a new high performance Citroën flagship has become an open secret amid the motor-press. A concerted proving programme by Citroën engineers has been completed, although the chosen name is something of a late in the day affair. Regardless of what Monsieur le Président is said to have originally wanted, the SM is ready to make its debut.

Claude Alain Sarre had been chosen to manage Automobiles Citroën, an appointment which would not be a happy one, proving neither harmonious nor, as it would elapse, long-lasting. The contrast between the two Citroën leaders was striking; on one hand the diffident, erudite, culture-loving Pierre Bercot, who viewed Citroën as a vehicle of liberation and edification, while on the other, the pragmatic Sarre, who had worked his way up from the sales floor. And while both men shared a passion for the marque, Citroën’s new administrator was not a man to be distracted by the irrational.

(c) citroen-sm-uk.com

When it came to the SM, Sarre appeared to view the programme as tantamount to a personal affront, both ideologically and commercially. For him, Projet G (the GS) was Citroën’s over-riding priority, not this “big, heavy and clumsy car“. Sarre lobbied incessantly to have the SM programme cancelled. Bercot however, would have none of it.

The official debut for the SM took place at the Ambassador Hotel in Geneva, on the eve of the 1970 motor show. Maserati’s Giulio Alfieri gave the technical briefing – a snub to Citroën’s engineers. A more overt rebuff saw Robert Opron’s invitation being mislaid – said to have been an oversight, but seen as an overt political act.[6]

Given his role within Citroën, Sarre latterly stated that he had felt duty bound to present the car, although it does appear as though his was very much a performance through gritted teeth. In his presentation, he stated, “Whenever we plan a new car, we like to achieve the impossible. No-one thought that a very fast and very safe front-drive car could ever be produced. We did.” These words clearly stuck in his throat, for exactly one week later, he presented Bercot with his letter of resignation.[7]

Despite the drama behind the scenes however, the world’s motor press were captivated by the new Geneva salon star and for the most part, wrote breathless accounts of the SM’s technical and stylistic innovations. Later that year, the press launch for the SM also took place; the setting being a chateau in the Camargue region of Southern France, where a fleet of SMs were arranged for a cadre of journalists to sample. Following a drinks reception, the scribes headed for their steeds and hopelessly unfamiliar with the car’s exceptionally direct and highly sensitive steering (not to mention, several sheets to the wind), a significant number failed to make it through the imposing courtyard gates without making some form of contact.

Image Favcars

A considerable measure of the SM’s commercial prospects rested upon its reception in the United States. Having envisaged selling the car in the US market from the outset, Pierre Bercot correctly viewed the American market as being pivotal to the business case of the SM – the projection being to sell 50% of production there.

With the SM, Citroën seemed ready to get serious, opening a brand new headquarters in Englewood, New Jersey. US market requirements had been given due consideration during the car’s design, but with the regulatory environment changing constantly, Citroën engineers ended up chasing what would become a fast moving target. While the SM was first introduced by the Citroën Cars Corporation in time for the 1971 model year, it wasn’t until Spring 1972 that it was fully certified for sale. US-market SMs were initially fitted with a de-smogged version of the standard 2.7 litre engine with manual transmission.

Cosmetically, US market SMs bore a close resemblance to their European counterparts, albeit with one glaring exception. Owing to US headlamp mandates, the elegant glazed headlamp covers were outlawed, the six rectangular headlamps replaced by an ungainly pair of sealed-beam units, prompting Motor Trend’s John Lamm to lament, “the man (or men) who devised the laws that keep that system out of the US have done us all an injustice.[8]

The Citroën-Maserati, as it was marketed in North America came fully loaded, with standard-fit air conditioning (praised as being on par with domestic makes), leather upholstery, tinted glass and an AM/FM radio for an introductory price of $11,492. US imprint, Import Buyer’s Guide concluded their review of the car, saying; “In our opinion, the SM is years ahead of anything else existing on the road today… It’s the car of the decade.

The 1973 model year saw a Borg Warner 3-speed automatic transmission offered as an option, combined with the larger capacity 2965 cc unit, developing 190 bhp (SAE) – an option denied to European customers. Top speed was down slightly on the 2.7 manual, but the SM Automatique’s power to weight ratio was better, with improved on-paper fuel consumption.

But while the car of the decade’s critical introduction would prove something of a triumph, timing was not to be the double chevron’s friend. The lack of an automatic version hampered sales that first year, at a point when early interest in the car was high. As a result, the SM only really enjoyed a single full year in the US market before troubles of both geopolitical and legislative natures would engulf its North American business case entirely.

A number of federal regulations relating to impact protection would come into effect during the early 1970s. While the mandate for 5 mph impact-absorbing front bumpers (2.5 mph for the rears) would not be fully enacted until 1975, the bumper/headlamp height regulations were more immediate. The ride height of all hydropneumatically suspended Citroëns altered constantly as the system adjusted for load and speed, and when stationary, system depressurisation sank the car to its bump stops, meaning post-1973, the SM was no longer in compliance.

While initially, the importer was confident that a sensible accommodation could be reached, it soon became apparent their optimism was misplaced. The North American market, making up at least 20% of SM sales, was forfeit and its loss would be keenly felt.

Meanwhile back in Europe, Citroën had promised a right-hand drive SM for 1971, but this failed to materialise. Because initial demand for the car was strong, development of a RHD version (for markets such as the UK, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) was not prioritised, there being no spare capacity at Quai André Citroën once mainland European and US markets had been accounted for. However, Citroën moved some SM production to the Ligier facility to take up the slack.

1972 saw the debut of Injection Electronique version. Autumn 1973, and Citroën, now severed from PARDEVI, introduced the SM Automatique for the 1974 model year. Customers had been agitating for an automatic transmission model since its introduction, and since this was the direction the market was taking in the luxury car sector, it remains something of a mystery as to why it took Citroën so long to offer it.[9] Like its US market equivalent, it came fitted with the 2965 cc version of the 114-series engine.

A month later, the Arab oil embargo turned the automotive world on its head. Virtually overnight, demand for expensive, indulgent luxury cars evaporated and the business case for the SM too began to melt away. By the beginning of 1974, the situation had become dire; the wholesale collapse of European demand being one thing, but with the car being effectively banned from the US market, its ultimate demise became an inevitability.

So what brought about the demise of such a futuristic, brilliantly (if chaotically) conceived motor car? Was it simply a victim of the oil crisis, as many commentators and chroniclers have posited, or the loss of the US market sales? Both certainly were significant factors, but there were others too.

In his imprint documenting the SM’s brief career and sudden demise, Author, and UK-based SM specialist Stuart Ager examines not only the rationale behind the car, but explores the politics behind its demise and posits a number of possible reasons, much of which sits outside of conventional narrative or received wisdom. For those who wish to better understand the SM’s fall, it provides a compelling and sometimes provocative narrative.

Ultimately, however, could it be possible that the SM’s demise has a more straightforward rationale – simply that it suited all concerned?

oo00OO00oo

According to Citroën’s records, 12,920 SMs were built, the majority by Citroën themselves at Quai André Citroën. France was the SM’s largest market (5509), followed by Italy (2070). Germany ordered a comparatively modest 971 cars, while Britain took a mere 327 – Citroën’s delay in providing RHD costing them dear. The United States received 2037 SMs, while 396 were exported to Canada.[10]

In December 1971, specially developed lightweight Michelin RR wheels were made available as an extra cost option. These were not available as a retrofit, owing to the fact that they required a different design of flange for the drive shafts, and rear wheel spindles. The RR wheels were never offered on any other car and production ceased with the SM.

More on the SM here.

[1] Both men were talented amateur artists in their own right – Bertoni being both a painter and sculptor. Opron described him as one of the “greatest artists the world has ever known”. [Peter Pijlman]

[2] While the revisions to the Ami were very much Opron’s work, the acclaimed 1967 DS facelift was acknowledged as having been an elaboration of a scheme originated by Bertoni, prior to his death. [Peter Pijlman]

[3] A proposal from Bertone by Giorgetto Giugiaro was considered, which was a more overtly rakish design. This was strongly supported by Maserati’s Giulio Alfieri, but was not favoured by Citroën. [Jan Norbye]

[4] At Bercot’s behest, Opron was given a direct telephone line to Citroën’s CEO, and it would appear that the two men enjoyed a professional rapport. It’s telling that Opron was quoted as saying, “I did the SM with Pierre Bercot”. [Peter Pijlman/Marc Sonnery]

[5] When Giulio Alfieri saw the proposed instrumentation, he reportedly reacted “very negatively”, convincing Bercot to reject them. However, Opron won that particular argument. [Marc Sonnery]

[6] According to Opron, his invitation was “lost” owing to the machinations of Albert Grosseau (described as a “young ambitious engineer”), who allegedly not only plotted to oust Jean Cadiou from his role, but also “really wanted to get rid of me [Opron] because he felt I didn’t appreciate him much.” Opron made it to Geneva in the end, Claude Alain Sarre flying him over at short notice to present his grand vision. [Marc Sonnery]

[7] Claude Alain Sarre denounced the SM as “infamous”, describing it as being “of no value to us whatsoever.” His conclusion was that the car was “Bercot’s clumsiest error, but not the gravest one.” [Marc Sonnery]

Sarre seems to have been something of a killjoy, also renowned for a scathing critique of the Concorde programme. Interestingly, former Citroën director, Jacques Fleury latterly also drew unfavourable comparisons between the SM and Concorde. [Marc Sonnery]

[8] Canadian SM buyers were spared this visual horror, with the standard six Cibies retained behind glass.

[9] Stuart Ager makes the case that the reluctance to offer an automatic SM in Europe may have been the result of a gentleman’s agreement with FIAT, so as not to step on the toes of their rival’s 130 Coupé model, which sold primarily in automatic form.

[10] Source: Peter I Pijlman.

 

Key figures within the style centre with direct influence on the SM design were as follows:
Robert Opron – Design oversight – senior management liaison.
Jacques Charreton – Concept design. Structural design/ liaison with body engineering
André Estaque – Body design engineer.
Jean Giret – Concept design. Three dimensional Modeller/ detail design.
Michel Harmand – Interior design.
Henri Dargent – Instrument panel design.

Henry de Ségur Lauve was a freelance American designer of French extraction who was employed by Pierre Bercot to stimulate his design team. It’s unclear just how influential he was to the SM’s design, but it is known he did submit proposals, which Bercot is stated to have dismissed.

Sources and references:

Robert Opron L’Automobile et L’Art: Peter I Pijlman
Citroën SM : Jan P. Norbye
Citroën SM : Brian Long
Sa Majesté – Citroën SM : Peter I Pijlman/ Brian Cass
Citroën SM – Accidental Death of an Icon : Stuart Ager
André Citroen – Engineer, Explorer, Entrepreneur – John Reynolds
Maserati- The Citroën Years 1968-1975 : Marc Sonnery

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

44 thoughts on “The New Frontier : [Part Two]”

  1. A beautiful car. Clever also.

    A terrible shame it was unappreciated by certain people important to its survival- people who ought to have known better, people who ought to have behaved better…

    This is THE car Citroen ought to have further developed. It is ageless. SM is definitely an expression of engineering excellence (just like Concorde). Aspirational yet available for purchase and private ownership (unlike Concorde- even the mega-wealthy R Branson wasn’t allowed to get his hands on one of those).

    If the tragedy of unappreciated Citroen was to be represented by one car, this one is that one. Poor SM. Poor Citroen.

  2. What a shame that these machinations were poisoning the atmosphere for the launch of the wonderful SM, a car that only Citroën could have built. Great story though. Thank you for your excellent detective work in unearthing it for us, Eóin.

  3. I have a lot of respect for Peugeot and their cars have been a part of my life almost as much as Citroens have. The trouble with advantages is that they come with disadvantages built in. And the disadvantage of that which makes Peugeot so fab is that they can´t or didn´t recognise what made Citroen so fab. Looked at analytically, the Peugeot Citroen tie-up was a marriage made in heaven: one firm could tackle the conservative customer and one firm could tackle the less conservative buyer. It was the ideal way to hedge bets. Instead they gradually strangled Citroen and left it a shell of its former self. They were worried that Citroen would overshadow Peugeot whereas they needed to see Peugeot and Citroen were two wings of the PSA group. Hamstringing Citroen hasn´t been a great idea and they find themselves with a weak and pointless pair of brands distinguished by air bumps and complex upholstery options.

    1. Perhaps the dilution of each marque’s identity is an inevitable consequence of such mergers and acquisitions? The money men will always be pushing to extract the maximum in synergies (i.e. cost savings) which will militate against distinctive design and engineering solutions, so all that’s left is the decorative garnish, such as ‘Airbumps’.

      Look at how VW Group has stripped the individualism out of its mainstream group marques, especially the SUVs, which, grilles and badges apart, are pretty much interchangeable. I’m hoping the new VW ID models might herald more distinctive models in future. I think the ID.4 looks quite interesting (for a crossover):

    2. I don’t like the iD4, I think its proportions and forms are most odd … there are images of an iD6 doing the rounds and its looks are what I would describe as pretty shocking.

    3. It would be interesting to learn more about the prevailing attitudes upon the formation of the PSA Group in 1976. Were the Citroën employees fearful of a future under Peugeot, or just glad to have a future at all following Citroën’s bankruptcy? How did the Peugeot employees view the influx of people from their historic rival, were they resentful?

    4. SV: I had a look for the iD6. I found a lot of things like a Lexus. Some mistake, surely?
      Is it that VW have decided that they need to be expressive and that expressive means using all the curves in the box?

  4. The individualism of the brands (of all brands) gradually disappeared from the 80s/90s onwards. Since the beginning of the new millennium, a general “we-too” design has prevailed. Every company looks at what the competition is using to achieve unit sales and stirs the same dough in the hope of getting a cheap piece of the pie.
    It has probably always been this way.
    When you read how controversial the SM was within the Citroen management, what dirty ego fights took place, nothing surprises you anymore why it is the way it is today.
    Richard Herriott described it well, “one firm could tackle the conservative customer and one firm could tackle the less conservative buyer”. In this constellation they could have covered the full 100% of the market. Instead, they turned Citroen into a “slightly different Peugeot” and both brands competed with each other for the same 60% target group.

    The same can be seen with VAG from my point of view. On their products you could randomly swap the logos, no one would notice.
    At least the difference between Peugeot and Citroen (still, or again) is such that it wouldn’t work. That could be interpreted as a good sign.
    How arbitrary the VAG design is – and the taste of the 60% buyer group – can be seen on the ID.4. You can replace the VW logo with any brand logo, except maybe LandRover or Scania, everything else would fit – or at least no one would notice the mistake.

    1. Yes: the VW is pretty banal. Renault have done much of the same thing already and have done for ages. VAG need to set up quarantined design studios with only senior access to the whole portfolio. As it is it looks like the same five people do everything, much like GM´s dark period in the 80s.

  5. In retrospect Claude Alain Sarre was right with Project G / GS being a much higher priority (together with an earlier version of the Citroen TA Project that eventually became the Oltcit / Axel as well larger 1654cc+ Flat-Fours), which would have still also allowed for a more accessible SM-like GS Coupe prototype to be built compared to the SM.

  6. The SM’s story reminds me a bit of the Edsel’s from the point of view that a project progressed with insufficient planning and with significant pockets of resistance against it within the organisation concerned. For any project to succeed, everyone needs to be heading in roughly the same direction.

    In the SM’s case, I don’t understand the logic of asking one of the project’s fiercest critics to take responsibility for it at its conclusion, and thus gain maximum association with it in the public’s mind, unless the motive was actually to get that person to resign. Extraordinary.

  7. A bit of provocation…
    Old Citroens like Trêfle, Rosalie or old C-cars were pretty ordinary with no features of particular interest except for the couple of them running through deserts on tracks.
    After the advent of André Levèbvre this changed dramatically when he created the Traction Avant and the DS. Lefébvre’s spirit was strong enough to carry Citroen on to cars like GS, CX and SM.
    Under Peugeot Citroen simply has come full circle and is building the kind of cars it started with.

    1. Which original is orginal, one might ask. There is Citroen the entity and there is “Citroen” the idea, or construct. I would argue that the most generally accepted idea of Citroen is the maker of radical cars which goes back to 1955. The Citroen before that was not so distinguishable. Yes, the company has come full circle and there are many examples of that not being good in itself (e.g. Genesis 3:19, (King James Version)).

    2. Dave: André Citroen to my knowledge enthusiastically embraced the idea of an advanced FWD car and pushed for its conception well before Levèbvre joined the company. My understanding is that the Traction design was essentially complete when Levèbvre joined the Bureau d’Etudes, and that he was essentially responsible for troubleshooting a programme which had run into considerable problems. Nonetheless, your point stands to some extent, especially insofar as Levèbvre was an acolyte of Gabriel Voisin and shared his innovative vision. Levèbvre left an indelible stamp upon Citroen for decades. And yes, today’s Citroens are deeply ordinary motor cars.

    3. Richard, the Traction Avant was plenty radical in 1934 with mass-produced FWD, independent front suspension and unitary construction.

    4. John: Yes, you´re right. It only reinforces my point: “Citroen” as a radical company goes back a long way.
      If we get too exacting about original, we might insist the original Citroen was one man in a shed wondering what to do. And the Rolling Stones were originally four guys meeting for the first time. They didn´t even play any music the moment they met. So, really, to be truly original, the Stones need to not play anything but say “hello, I´m Mick… who are you?”
      The upshot of all this is that Citroen have been on the original side since the TA (which I forgot about!).

    5. And you forgot the 2CV between the TA and the DS. That was also radical in its own way.

    6. Yes, I forgot that. So, it was a radical company for decades. And from 1976 that was snuffed out. The period 1976 to about 1989 was a period of refinement and integration. From then on the technology became more general and the styling less distinctive. It´s now just a matter of styling.

  8. The breadth of Citroën’s model range by the end of 1970 was staggering. Even excluding the various Amis, the Méhari and the H van, we have:

    – 2CV/Dyane: A cheap yet clever car originally conceived for farmers
    – GS: A sophisticated car for the family motorist
    – DS: An advanced and expensive car for the successful executive
    – SM: An expensive and highly sophisticated GT car for the wealthy

    I’m struggling to think of a contemporary single manufacturer (i.e. not a conglomerate) that covered so many bases. Perhaps that was part of the problem? Trying to be all things to all people is rarely a successful strategy.

    1. Only a couple of years before the Citroen range consisted of
      – 2CV
      – DS
      which is neither logical nor economically viable.
      They struggled until the GS (or BX?) to close that gap in between.

  9. Spot on – André Citroën’s final gamble on surviving the downturn in the market which was popularly expected to see his company be the first to fail was a tour de force of radical design – and absolutely brilliant of course. But it forced the company into receivership…..

  10. In response to John’s questions about the takeover of Citroën by Peugeot, I guess the Citroën people would have been resigned to their fate and just grateful that another French carmaker was taking them over (although the French government wouldn’t have allowed anything else). The Citroën people would have realised who was boss, though, and the release of the Citroën LN in the year of the takeover made the point to the world, in case anyone had any doubts.

    It’s true that Peugeot got a large sweetener from the French government to take on Citroën. However, the companies had been in talks about a merger since 1962. From what I’ve read (e.g. from articles by Peugeot family management) I believe Citroën were seen as a useful way of diversifying and adding volume, plus their engineers were highly respected. Their commercial abilities were seen as less keen, and that’s a fair conclusion.

  11. So for me, the summary so far from Part 1 to Part 9 is that only a company like Citroen, which was able to develop such ingenious vehicles as the 2CV, was also able to build one of the best-looking luxury-class Grand-Tourisme. You only have to look at what other companies were offering at the time. It was everything from “yes and?” to “expectation fulfilled”.
    Citroen may have failed grandiosely with the SM. At least the SM was grandiose. The others just failed without being grandiose.

    Even if one can say – possibly justified by many – that the LN can be considered the beginning of the end of Citroen, for me the LN is one of the best cars ever. I was lucky enough to drive one (in “bleu roi”, of course) around 83/84. Great. And if I get the chance to buy one again in this life, I will do so, no matter what the-best-wife-of-all will say.

    1. A good deal of the points raised here will be covered in some way, shape or form in later episodes.

      Fred: You will be gratified to learn that the LN will receive its moment in the spotlight in the relatively near future…

  12. A question that almost never seems to be asked is: how did absorbing Citroën affect Peugeots? Much ink has been spilt, and pixels darkened, all over the motoring universe, in regretting the slow death of Citroen engineering as the product lines were aligned with the Peugeot platforms. I wonder, though, what would Peugeot have done differently had there been no Citroën with to share components. Would spreading costs over fewer units have compromised Peugeots’ hardware? Or would Peugeot, not needing to platform share, have perhaps retained more of their conservative reputation? Maybe there would have been more component sharing with Renault? Would Peugeot have proceded with the use of the FIRE engine that we saw only in Fiat group cars? The takeover of Chrysler Europe probably would never have happened…

  13. While the SM was GT not a direct successor to the Panhard CD, which was a sports car, it seems that the struggle to define and justify a sporting Citroën could perhaps have been mitigated.

    Did Citroën unwittingly move the dial toward conservatism and forgo a marketing opportunity for the SM by pruning Panhard off of the evolutionary tree?

    1. Those are very impressive box hedges.
      Poor Panhard. It needed to be paired with a conservative company like Renault. Matching it inside Peugeot-Citroen led to an internecine conflict and it lost. It had to, under the circumstances. Then again, that´s assuming every brand needs a full range. Maybe Panhard could be a brand for wierd experiments like Innocenti was for Fiat.

  14. “Claude Alain Sarre subsequently denounced the SM as “infamous“, describing it as being “of no value to us whatsoever.” His conclusion was that the car was “Bercot’s clumsiest error, but not the gravest one.” A review of Bercot’s legacy will form part of this series.”

    My God. I always thought that the SM is the car that put the final nail on Citröen’s coffin (the previous nails were the failure of Project F and de Wankel engine debacle, that killed also NSU)

    And now I see that this man knew this was the way it was.

    “SM is definitely an expression of engineering excellence (just like Concorde)”

    Concorde was a prodigious money -losing machine, made possible by the folly of the British and French governments.

    As a private venture Concorde would have never been born.

    But governments rarely go bankrupt. Private businees do, as Citröen did.

    1. “Concorde was a prodigious money – losing machine, made possible by the folly of the British and French governments.” Yes indeed, the Concorde programme cost a vast amount of money, very little of which (if any) saw a financial return. Just think of the schools and hospitals that could have been built!

      But at least Concorde was a project which had some edifying ambition to it, that achieved its goal of providing reliable (if not particularly affordable) commercial supersonic flight for a time at least, and like the SM, created one of the technical and stylistic wonders of its age. It also acted as a halo product for both country’s technical sectors.

      Those same governments, we choose to forget, who have also spent and continue to spend multiples of Concorde’s budget on weapons systems and often futile military adventures, few of which are subject to anything like as much financial oversight or criticism and from what I can ascertain, create no appreciable benefit for anyone apart from a few opportunists, arms dealers and weapons systems manufacturers.

      The SM didn’t kill Citroen – it didn’t even come close. It was at most a symptom perhaps, but no more than that. I will return to this aspect of the story at a later date.

      “As a private venture Concorde would have never been born.”

      By that rationale, I might argue, neither would the internet, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

    2. Don’t tell the part regarding reliable Concorde transport about flight AF4590. Concorde was exceptionally fault prone because of its design fault with the tyres immediately in front of the jets’ air intake. As tyre defects were a regular fault on Concordes it had to happen one day…

    3. Yes Dave. Just like the De Havilland Comet. Fatal weakness. The Douglas DC10. Fatal weakness. Ditto the DC9 and its derivatives. Innumerable Boeings of various stripes who fell out of the sky for various reasons. I could go on, but you know this, surely? Of course, statistically speaking the vast majority of air crashes occur as a result of human error, and in fact, if you look at the facts of the case, the Concorde crash – the only one by the way – was as much the result of failings on the ground alongside weaknesses with the aircraft design itself (which of course ought to have been addressed).

      To be honest, I’d expect better from someone like yourself, who clearly has an understanding and appreciation of engineering. Concorde was an incredible technological achievement. It was a marvellous piece of original thinking – and it’s quite telling that it has never been replaced. Yes, it cost enormous amounts of money, and was a commercial failure, but dear heavens, wasn’t the world a better place for it? Did it not lift your spirits to see it fly overhead?

      I recall working in central London during the 1990s and every evening at around 5pm, Concorde would fly overhead on approach to Heathrow. The sound was unmistakable, the sight unforgettable. Wage slaves on their way to the Underground would stop in their tracks, look into the sky and smile. I saw it every day. Another memory was of descending the steps of a prosaic 737 at Heathrow one night onto the tarmac, when out across the airfield a loud roar caused me to look out as Concorde landed, nose down, navigation lights on – an unforgettable sight (and sound). No, I will never hold with the Concorde-bashers. It was a wonderful aircraft. My only regret was never having the chance to fly in one.

      I was at Duxford in Cambridgeshire (one of the better aircraft museums in the UK) about two years ago and got chatting to one of the team who developed the aircraft. He volunteers (probably not now…) there to tell anyone interested the story of an aircraft increasingly few people recall in flight. I considered it an honour.

      Another quite poignant aspect of Concorde is the collaboration between Britain and France. As much as it may have been difficult at times, it’s very hard to imagine it happening now.

    4. Have a look at Rienhart & Rogoff´s book “This time is different” which has enough examples of government bankruptcies to fill 400 pages.
      The standards for the validity of private ventures is not the standard for anything except private ventures. All the technology in one of the world´s most transformative products was invented by public ventures.
      The debate of “private versus public” is as absurd as a debate about up versus down or right hand versus left hand or quantitative versus qualitative.

      Down below: most possible failures will occur and everything has a reason for some form of failure. David Pye correctly spotted that every design is a failure to some degree. The attempt to eliminate failure results in the failure ever to finish a problem-solving task either ever or under an infinitely large budget. Military projects might be good examples of the attempt to eliminate failure as they notoriously overrun and cost too much.

  15. It’s difficult to make a case for the economics or otherwise of Concorde, because the context changed so radically with the increase in oil prices in 1973. Boeing were working on a supersonic transport too, after all. The 747 was originally supposed to be a stopgap measure until Boeing could catch up. The idea behind supersonic airliners was that since the aircraft could cross the Atlantic in half the time, it would be possible to get twice the number of services from the same number of aircraft. Had fuel not suddenly become so much more expensive, the price of a ticket would have been a lot closer to the price of a 707 ticket.
    The romantic in me rejoices that the Concorde ever existed, and I feel much the same way about the SM. All that said, though, it’s hard not to agree that Projet G should indeed have been much more important to a supposedly volume manufacturer than Projet S. By the late sixties it should have been apparent that the Ami was reaching the end of its life, and while the profit margin on mid-market cars is pretty slim, nothing burns money like an open large volume car factory whose product is not selling…

    1. I agree with all of that. To add my two-penn’orth – Concorde’s case was scuppered by arguements over routes and landing permits. It started out with quite a full order book.

      I’m pleased it existed and that those involved had the bravery to go ahead with it. The same goes for much else – the space programme, the NHS, the channel tunnel – even the Eiffel Tower. On the basis of pure short-term financial return, some things don’t make much sense. In a wider context, over a longer period, it’s a different matter.

    2. Yes, absolutely agree. If every decision to pursue new scientific and technological advances was driven by dry calculations about expected financial reward, humanity would be very much poorer in its knowledge and understanding.

      Regarding Concorde, I recall reading somewhere that the French, who didn’t want to allow Germany to share in the rewards of the project, dictated that the aircraft’s range would be adequate for direct flights from London and Paris to New York, but not from Frankfurt to New York. I’ve no idea whether or not it is true, but I’m sure a DTW reader out there will know. Of course, the Americans, pushed by Boeing, tried to strangle the aircraft by banning supersonic flight over its land mass.

    3. Daniel, rest assured that the range of the Concord would have been sufficient to fly from Frankfurt to New York. Presumably the prohibitionists at Boing worked hand in hand with the prohibitionists in Germany – we are great at prohibition.

      @ Eóin, I never had the opportunity to fly with the Concord either, unlike my wife, who had the (dubious) pleasure several times. She always describes this experience as following: Imagine driving the distance Hamburg-Munich in the back of an S-Class or a Rolls Royce in 9 hours, the Concord in comparison is driving the same distance in 5 hours in the passenger seat of the racing version of a Porsche 911. You had to have a good dose of masochism to call that travelling in first class.

    4. Fred: thanks for that. Up until now I´ve not thought about what it might be like to be in the Concorde travelling at Mach1. My impression is dominated by a picture of Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner smiling at the camera as he pours someone a drink. It doesn´t suggest much discomfort. Now I come to think of it, the vibration and noise must have been something of a presence on board. How could it not be when an ordinary jet is a mass of vibration and noise.
      I believe the journalist David Frost used Concorde to hop between Australia and Europe to do television programmes at the height of his glory. Or else he used Concorde for his US shows.

    5. Hi Fred. Thanks for clearing that up. Perhaps I imagined it? 🙂

  16. At least the Concorde was just about quiet enough for use on passenger services, which is more than could be said for the Tupolev TU-144. SORRY? WHAT WAS THAT? I think it was used for mail services for a while…

    1. A very late response (I have been off-air owing to a house move). I have no experience of Concorde and and am thus guessing slightly, but quite a lot changes above the speed of sound. For a start, you must be leaving the sound of the engines behind, no? Also, you are very high in, I think, a less turbulent atmosphere. So, smoother and quieter might be expected. No sprawling room, perhaps, but I seem to remember LJKS’s comments about Bristols…something about sitting upright and getting there quickly, if I recall.

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