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 Continue reading “The New Frontier : [Part Two]”

The New Frontier : [Part one]

We profile the incomparable SM.

La Fluidité. Image: autoevolution

Observing 50 year old events through modern eyes can make for a faulty tool, yesterday’s visions of the future tending to appear somewhat naive to twenty-first Century sensibilities – as much a consequence of socio-economic factors, evolving customer tastes, not to mention the relentless march of time itself. Few carmakers have done more to define the modern automobile than Automobiles Citroën – especially during the post-war era – not simply in design, but also in terms of systems engineering, in particular its widespread adoption of aviation-inspired, engine-driven hydraulics.

If only Citroën could have made a car as technologically and stylistically advanced, as resolutely modern as the 1970 SM, it could only have done so during this fecund (some might say profligate) period of their history. Today, the SM still appears thrillingly futuristic, yet the future to which it spoke so promisingly seems more the subject of fond regret; one where to Continue reading “The New Frontier : [Part one]”

The Transalpine Formation

A closer look at the SM’s Maserati-sourced V6 engine. 

Alfieri’s production SM unit. (c) citroen-sm.uk

Like most aspects of historical record, the story behind the development of Maserati’s 114-series 2760 cc V6 engine is dependent upon whose account one reads; the orthodoxy suggesting that the engine supplied to Citroën was a derivation of an existing Maserati V8 unit. However, its bespoke basis has been placed beyond doubt.

When the request from Paris came through, Maserati technical director, Giulio Alfieri took a pre-existing 4.2 litre 90° V8 unit from his workshops, and by effectively slicing two cylinders from the block, fashioned a 2.9 litre prototype engine. However, while the subsequent production engine may have shared the original unit’s included angle, it was in fact new from the ground-up and designed specifically to Continue reading “The Transalpine Formation”

Oh Lord Won’t You Buy Me A… Porsche?

My friends all drive Citroën’s…  

Image: lautomobileancienne

After all this, they have created an enormous car; I wanted a Porsche.” These are the words of none other than Citroën President, Pierre Bercot, spoken at the time to delegate-Maserati administrator, Guy Malleret.[1] Quite some statement to have made, one which flies in the face of all conventional lore on the subject; the commonly held version of the SM’s creation saga being that Projet S was schemed almost entirely to Monsieur le Président’s specification.

Jacques Fleury was the Citroën director responsible for factories, production and acquisitions. By consequence, the Maserati factory in Modena, and the SM engine programme would come under his purview. Speaking to Marc Sonnery, Fleury suggested that the S-programme had lost focus, morphing into the type of Grand Turismos Maserati were already producing. But by that point he suggested, it had become too late to Continue reading “Oh Lord Won’t You Buy Me A… Porsche?”

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 Continue reading “Joyeux Anniversaire, Majesté”

Not Just in the Metal, But In Print Too

While adding to his brochure collection, Bruno Vijverman notes a somewhat overt case of borrowed inspiration.

All images: The author

A while back, upon these pages, I wrote about the coincidental (or otherwise) similarities which have occurred in car design over the years. But more recently, since one of my past-times is collecting classic car brochures, it came to my notice that in some cases the practice of copying does not seem to be limited to the actual product, but also to the sales publicity material itself.

To be clear, I am not talking about the obvious broad similarities which are often dictated by the fashions and prevailing tastes of the era – in the sixties and seventies for instance the focus of the illustrations and text was on people and the freedom (real or imagined) and happiness that their new car was supposed to provide them.

In the decades thereafter there was a gradual but unstoppable shift to Continue reading “Not Just in the Metal, But In Print Too”

An American in Paris

As Citroën’s SM turns 50, we trace an unlikely inspiration.

(c) Conservatoire Citroen

During a cocktail party at the French consulate in Detroit in 1960 – it is not known if any Ferrero Rochers were served – Citroën president Pierre Bercot met a man by the name of Henry de Ségur Lauve. Present as an interpreter because of his excellent command of both French and English, de Ségur Lauve was soon engaged in animated conversation with Bercot as the Citroën boss discovered that the Franco-American had considerable previous experience in car design.

Born in 1910, in Montclair, New Jersey, Henry de Ségur Lauve’s family had roots that went all the way back to the French colonists who Continue reading “An American in Paris”

Forward Orange

A famous footballer, a composer and musician and one shared passion. Andrew Miles delves into the mystic.

(c) Vinylsoundshop.com.

Predominantly, this site is for the automotive enthusiast. But with that enthusiasm comes other tangents, arguably tenuous but wholly relevant. To that end, we today delve into the worlds of football and music. One particular patrician of the game is no longer with us but still commands respect and admiration. The music side is dealt with through the medium best known as Jazz. 

Johan Cruyff was born in Holland in 1947 near to the Ajax football stadium. Fear not dear reader, we are not striking any further into his on-pitch antics or managerial career. Benjamin Herman was born in London in 1968 though raised in Holland from an early age. What connects these two apart from the Dutch references? Please, Continue reading “Forward Orange”

Idée Fixe [3]

In this final part, Steve Randle concludes his proposal for a latterday successor to the seminal Citroën DS. 

Image: citroenvie

Previously, we explored styling, power unit and drivetrain. Today, Steve Randle outlines his thoughts on body structure and vehicle dynamics.

Structure:  “Aluminium and magnesium would dominate the vehicle. The recycling problem with composites – particularly thermosets – are a concern. While both Aluminium and magnesium alloys are expensive in the first instance, they are easy to recycle.” Continue reading “Idée Fixe [3]”

Theme : Values – 1973 Citroën SM (Very) Long Term Test

As the ever quotable Oscar Wilde wrote, a cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

As prices have escalated over the past three decades, that aphorism certainly applies to many contemporary classic car collectors. If you have an interesting looking car, people come up and talk to you about it. My Citroën SM is now entering my 21st year or ownership so, over the years, I’ve got reasonably used to this, though my social grace occasionally lets me down. Sometimes the speaker is highly informed and might tell you something you don’t know. Sometimes they are like-minded enthusiasts who just want to make a pleasant comment or Continue reading “Theme : Values – 1973 Citroën SM (Very) Long Term Test”

Theme : Engines – France

Do French engines live up to that nation’s fine engineering heritage?

1913 Peugeot twin OHC 16 valve 4 cylinder
1913 Peugeot twin OHC 16 valve 4 cylinder

In Post War Europe, engines were restricted by reasonably arbitrary taxation classes. In Britain, the old ‘RAC Horsepower’ rating was based on an archaic formula that related to the bore only, not the stroke and didn’t actually refer to the actual output of the engine.

Despite it being abolished in the late 1940s, it meant that the longer stroke engine, with its relatively low rev limit, lived on far longer in much loved stalwarts such as the Jaguar XK and BMC A Series and it did stem the development of lighter, freer running engines.

Italy was less prescriptive and, although there were aberrations, like home market only 2 litre Ferraris and Alfas V6s, it allowed the development of the sweet engines found in the Alfas and Fiats of the 60s. The French tried to Continue reading “Theme : Engines – France”