New Frontier (Part Six)

We dive beneath the skin.

Image: influx

Irrespective of whether Citroën’s Bureau d’Études was acting in concert or as alleged, in a contrary and fragmentary fashion, there were a number of engineering imperatives which for them would prove sacrosanct. The first of these and perhaps foremost was the mode through which drive forces would be transmitted.

The second and if anything, just as much a prerequisite would be the use of Citroën’s centralised engine-driven, high-pressure hydraulics for damping, steering, braking, levelling and attitude control. This highly innovative and technically ambitious oleo-pneumatic system was developed by Paul Magès and first employed for the rear suspension of the 1954 15 h model, prior to it being rolled out in fully fledged form in 1955’s DS 19.

Assisting Magès on Projet S was Hubert Alléra, who had amongst his other palmarès, designed the hydraulically actuated gearchange for the DS. Suspension-wise, the SM didn’t depart radically from existing practice, in fact a great deal of DS thinking (and hardware) was almost literally carried over; largely for cost reasons, but also because in the opinion of Jacques Né, not only were they strong enough to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part Six)”

New Frontier (Part Five)

My friends all drive Citroën’s… Oh Lord won’t you buy me a … Porsche? 

Image: lautomobileancienne

After all this, they have created an enormous car; I wanted a Porsche.” These are believed to be the words of none other than Citroën President, Pierre Bercot, spoken at the time to delegate-Maserati administrator, Guy Malleret. Quite some statement to have made; one which flies in the face of virtually every known document of the SM’s gestation. After all, the commonly held version of the SM’s creation saga is that Projet S was schemed almost entirely to Monsieur Bercot’s specification.

Jacques Fleury was the Citroën director responsible for factories, production and acquisitions. Amongst his responsibilities therefore was the Maserati factory in Modena and by consequence, the SM engine. According to his account, the prototype Maserati unit, having been tried in a DS saloon was deemed not only too powerful for the chassis, but that any resulting DS flagship model would have to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part Five)”

New Frontier (Part Four)

What prompted Citroën’s buyout of Maserati?

Maserati’s Viale Ciro Menotti works during the early 1960s. Image: norskmaseratiklubb.no

By 1967, Pierre Bercot had secured an engine supply deal with Maserati for Citroën’s forthcoming Projet S. Yet within a year, not only would he have taken over the Modenese atelier in its entirety, but inked a far more wide-ranging deal with Fiat Auto in Turin. But was the Citroën-Maserati takeover a symbiotic coming together, or simply Monsieur le President’s Victor Kiam[1] moment?

Having traditionally confined the lion’s share of their sales effort domestically and within Europe, the pull of the US market became too lucrative for Maserati to ignore. However, by the mid-’60s, the regulatory environment in the US was becoming more hostile, with increasingly stringent crash testing mandates and emissions regulations, which for such a tiny outfit would ladle enormous costs upon an already stretched enterprise. By mid-decade, Maserati’s owners were already seeking a means to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part Four)”

New Frontier (Part Three)

Citroën didn’t have an engine worthy of their nascent 1970 flagship, but it wasn’t for the want of trying.

Image: The author

The highly unusual structure and operation of Citroën’s legendary Bureau d’Études may have created a number of technical masterpieces, but it equally resulted in a number of serious operational drawbacks; perhaps the most serious being the lack of a cohesive singularity of purpose. Not only did the nominal Rue de Théàtre headquarters lack an effective figurehead (notably so in Lefèbvre’s wake), but the bureau itself was apparently scattered across a number of locations around Paris, each very much in effect its own personal fiefdom.

Of these, perhaps the least regarded represented the double chevron’s longest standing and most glaring weakness – engine development. This department, led by Italian former Fiat racing engine designer, Walter Becchia, seemed a largely forgotten outpost; the last meaningful programme to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part Three)”

New Frontier (Part Two)

Just as Citroëns were not like other cars, Automobiles Citroën itself was unlike any other car company – especially in conceptual engineering terms. 

Image: racingcars-wikidot

It might be convenient from a narrative perspective to suggest that the SM came about as part of a carefully considered product plan, but that would be inaccurate and misleading. In fact, the model came into being almost by accident or at least osmosis; primarily at the behest of company president, Pierre Bercot, but at a more fundamental level in response to another man’s determination to prove a principle.

Few carmakers operated quite like Automobiles Citroën, not only during the tenure of the company’s eponymous founder and chief architect, but equally in the years that followed the carmaker’s initial cashflow crisis, collapse, and takeover by Michelin in 1934. Michelin had placed Pierre-Jules Boulanger as company President, under whom existed an environment which permitted Citroën engineers a great deal of freedom to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part Two)”

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”

New Frontier (Part One)

Over a series of articles, we examine yesterday’s vision of the future – peak chevron, Sa Majesté – the incomparable Citroën SM.

(c) stubs-auto.fr

Observing events through a half-century old prism can make for a faulty tool; contemporary visions of the future appearing to modern eyes, slightly naïve and somewhat inaccurate. Not necessarily a consequence of inexperience or ill-thought execution; certainly not in this particular case, it is as likely to pivot around the manner in which socio-economic factors, and customer tastes evolve, to say nothing of the relentless march of time itself.

Has any carmaker done more to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part One)”

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”