New Frontier (Part Twelve)

America is waiting.

1972 SM in US market spec. Image Favcars

Unquestionably, 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.[1]

With the SM, Citroën seemed ready to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part Twelve)”

New Frontier – (Part Eight)

La Fluidité.

Image: autoevolution

While there may have been some disagreement as to the conceptual nature of Citroën’s 1970 flagship, the matter of its appearance seems to have been more assured. Certainly, there are comparatively 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 Continue reading “New Frontier – (Part Eight)”

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)”

A Matter of SMantics

Separated by two decades, and a good deal of ideology, we trace the seemingly improbable; the similarities between Honda’s 1990 NSX and Citroën’s 1970 SM. 

(c) dyler-com

For a short period of time during the close of the 1980s, it did appear as though the Japanese auto industry were poised to, as the UK’s Car Magazine rather hysterically headlined in 1988, “tear the heart out the European industry.” The reality behind this seemingly overnight transformation was quite naturally, anything but; Japanese carmakers after all, have never been in the business of impulse.

By mid-decade, the land of the rising sun had learned about as much as they felt they needed from the established players and were confident enough of their abilities, particularly from a technical standpoint. Furthermore, it had dawned upon the leading Japanese carmakers that European and US lawmakers were unlikely to drop the punitive barriers to unfettered trade; not when the domestic producers were incapable of competing on quality, durability or increasingly, sophistication.

The only route for Japanese carmakers was to Continue reading “A Matter of SMantics”

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 not only be inaccurate but also 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)”

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”

Porte de Javel

The technically advanced 1974 Maserati Quattroporte expired at birth. We chart its brief life.

1974 Maserati Quattroporte II. (c) carstyling.ru

When the Maserati Quattroporte was introduced in 1963 it became the first Modenese four door super-berlina, offering well-heeled customers the space and practicality of a sedan with the dynamism and vivid performance of a grand turismo. In 1969 however, production of the model ceased, with close to 800 built – a commercial success by Casa del Tridente standards.

A significant cultural shift had been under way at Viale Ciro Menotti – Automobiles Citroën having acquired control of the Modenese carmaker the previous year. With work quickly progressing on a new sub-3.0 litre V6 engine for the double chevron’s forthcoming grand turismo, Maserati engineering chief, Ing. Giulio Alfieri took a long hard look at Quai de Javel technology, in particular Citroën’s widespread use of centralised engine driven oleopneumatic applications for suspension, braking and steering, adopting them in varying intensity into forthcoming Maserati models.

But as the Franco-Italian alliance unravelled in the wake of both the energy crisis and Citroen’s financial collapse, work had begun on a new Quattroporte model, based wholly upon the chassis and technical underpinnings of the Citroën SM. Hence the AM 123 Quattroporte would be front wheel drive, employing not only a variant of the SM’s powertrain, but full Citroën-derived hydropneumatics.

The timelines are a little uncertain at this point, but muddying the waters to some extent was a concurrent commission from longstanding Tridente customer, Shah Karim al Husseini Aga Khan IV for a bespoke four-door saloon. Given a model code (AM 121), this car, based on a lengthened floorpan and suspension design from the production Indy GT model was powered by a 4.9 litre version of Maserati’s mighty V8 powerplant.

Something of a marque aficionado, the Shah had previously commissioned a highly distinctive carrozzeria Frua-bodied 5000 GT which was to form the basis for the first generation Quattroporte’s body styling. Once again, Frua was commissioned, this time producing an elegant, conservative shape, with a distinctively tall, slim-pillared six-light canopy treatment.

Two cars were built (the second was sold by Pietro Frua to King Juan Carlos of Spain) and were believed to have been developed to production standards, so it remains unclear as to why this attractive and comparatively cheap to produce design was not proceeded with. It’s been suggested by some marque aficionados that pressure was exerted from Quai de Javel to employ Citroën hardware, but the truth is that the impetus came entirely from Ing. Alfieri himself.

 

Carrozzeria Bertone was engaged to produce the AM 123 body design, which must have been something of a snub for Pietro Frua at the time. Creative Director, Marcello Gandini oversaw a modernist three volume shape, which thanks to the SM powertrain’s longitudinal positioning (mounted well back in the engine bay), avoided the usually unsightly dash-to-axle ratio which otherwise would have dictated the proportions.

Bearing a notable thematic similarity to Gandini’s Jaguar XJ40 proposal of the same year, the AM 123 Quattroporte carries its 1970 BMW Garmisch cues in an even more overt manner, not just in the surfaces and volumes, but in the bonnet and bootlid treatments, which are far more BMW in execution than anything previously associated with the Casa del Tridente. Only the nose treatment, which combined the fabled Maserati emblem with a Citroënesque six-headlamp arrangement suggests otherwise, although a set of kidney grilles would undoubtedly have sealed the deal.

Unlike the Jaguar proposal, the Maserati was a relatively harmonious form, but in essence, there was, just as with the Browns Lane study, little marque-specific resonance in its slightly bland overall appearance – Gandini again resorting to liberal use of brand iconography by way of compensation. The cabin too, while distinctly modernist, was not particularly attractive – a massive slab of dashboard with digital readouts for instrumentation and a sprinkling of SM goodness here and there, which combined to offer a rather mixed set of visual metaphors.

The 3.0 litre Maserati V6 was said to have provided less than vivid performance in the heavy Quattroporte bodyshell, but a larger capacity V8 derived from the same power unit was in the process of being developed. However as the car neared production – it had made its world premiere at that Autumn’s Paris motor show – the already precarious financial situation of their French parent reached a tipping point.

Maserati was placed in administration and with full homologation for the Quattroporte incomplete, the programme was cancelled with only thirteen cars built. Three are said to now remain. Under new owner Alejandro de Tomaso, a further attempt was made at replacing the Quattroporte, the resultant Quattroporte III being a hybrid of Tridente and de Tomaso genes, with body styling from Ital Design, itself believed to have been derived from another rejected Jaguar proposal. All roads, it would seem, lead to Browns Lane.

Quattroporte II (c) wheelsage

Marque aficionados remain divided on the subject of the Quattroporte II. Simply a four-door Citroën SM as some maintain, or a technological pathfinder of a new, less hidebound direction for il Tridente? Certainly its technical specification lends it an element of intrigue lacking in many of its stablemates.

There remains one area where it’s possible to speak with clarity however. Because Quattroporte II’s styling abundantly underlines that not only did Bertone’s resident design genius have more than his share of off-days, but that the fabled Italian carozzieri really struggled with the concept of the luxury saloon, especially when it came to the grand marques.

A Sense of Occasion

What you want from your car? Function, Frivolity or why not both?

McLaren Driving Gloves
McLaren Driving Gloves

Is driving an event for you? By which I don’t mean do you enjoy driving, but do you enjoy the whole ritual? Do you have driving gloves, or driving shoes, or a driving hat? Do you have a mental checklist of things that you do when you go to your car? If so, do you do them for safety’s sake (checking tyres, etc) or because it’s part of the game (adjusting a rear-view that’s already adjusted)? I’ve been driving so long that, often, I’m half way down the road before I’ve really registered I’m driving. Don’t worry, you’re safe. Continue reading “A Sense of Occasion”

Theme : Economy – Effort

Why make a mountain out of a molehill?

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When compared to the human body, even a small, light car is a powerful and relentless device. Once under way, momentum builds up and, as anyone who has been in or just considered any car accident at a speed of more than single figures knows, a car deserves great respect. So, it’s maybe understandable that some people treat driving a car as they would wrestling with a bear. For them, the car is a beast to be tamed, and each turn is a matter of hauling on the steering wheel, maybe with an inverted hand inside the rim for extra leverage. The wheel is clenched, the car lurches round and the sweat finally recedes from their brow as another herculean task is completed – just in time for the next bend. Continue reading “Theme : Economy – Effort”

Theme : Wheels – Citroën’s Plastic Wonder

From a time when Citroën led the way – and, of course, nobody followed

SMs
I know which I’d choose

The standard wheels for the Citroen SM were heavy steel items, clad with hubcaps. These are made from stamped stainless steel, held firmly to the wheel by a centre bolt. The centre section is painted satin black and the sections between the outer fins are painted in satin silver-grey. There are holes in the hubcaps that allow the actual wheel bolts to show.

Although that might not have been the intent, there is the distinct feeling that they were trying to Continue reading “Theme : Wheels – Citroën’s Plastic Wonder”

Zoom Lens

A tale of tail lamps…

Somewhat similar to those of the SM? Image via specialblog.hu
Fiat 130 Coupe. Image: specialblog.hu

On the subject of tail lamp units, an cursory glance might suggest to the uninitiated that the Maserati Kyalami sported a pair of these –  not exactly the wildest assumption given their superficial similarity to those fitted to the SM. Both Citroën and 130 are from very much the same era, so one can safely assume their respective designers were thinking along broadly similar lines. But regardless of whether or not these were also borrowed for use elsewhere, they definitely set a template for the 1970s, as did the 130 Coupe itself. Continue reading “Zoom Lens”

Rooting in the Parts Bins – Again…

It’s always the way. You wait ages, then two incidences of Citroën SM’s tail lamp units crop up on the same week – on two vastly different cars.

Those SM tail lights again. Frua's Phantom Drophead. Image: onlycarsandcars
Those SM tail lights again. Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead by carrozzeria Frua. Image: onlycarsandcars

Firstly (as we saw earlier) on Maserati’s 1976 Kyalami, and now here on Frua’s 1977 Rolls Royce Phantom VI Drophead. Of course the common strand here is Frua themselves who plainly had a job lot of SM lens units knocking about. Regardless of the merits (or otherwise) of this vast open tourer’s aesthetics, it’s interesting to see how adaptable a humble lens unit such as this can be. I can’t help feeling I’ve seen the SM tail lamp elsewhere. Any thoughts? Continue reading “Rooting in the Parts Bins – Again…”

Theme : Dashboards – Citroën, a Dash of Style

When Citroën showed the way but the industry was too dull to follow.

TPV

For all-out minimalism, the TPV prototype of the Citroën 2CV is hard to beat but, since then, Citroën have produced some of the most adventurous dashboards.

Throughout its twenty year life, the DS dashboard went through various iterations but, in its first instance, it was as modern as the outside. The least successful DS dash was the length of plywood fitted to the fascia of some of the upper range Slough built UK cars, on the assumption that Brits must Continue reading “Theme : Dashboards – Citroën, a Dash of Style”

Arriving – Or Just Travelling Hopefully?

How to define a car

On A Road

It’s hard to explain this to people who view cars as polluting, selfish devices, that kill, maim and generally mess up lives. And it’s equally hard to explain it to people who see cars as pure, powerful pieces of engineering, that mainly offer them control and prestige. But the car is a flawed but hugely romantic device, and that has been its true enduring strength.

What defines a car? For some it’s outright speed, or acceleration. For some status. For some it’s sheer practicality, for others it’s individuality. For some it’s handling, steering feel, lightness of touch, whilst others want weight, bling and intimidation. There are so many criteria for what makes a good car and, if you are trying to explain why you like a car to someone else, it’s tricky. Watch their eyes glaze as you lasciviously trace the curve as the C pillar kinks round the inset vent to join the rear wing. See them shuffle with embarrassment as you present one fisherman’s yarn too many about lifting the front wheel in Tesco’s car park. Risk them questioning your manhood as you mime the ingenious folding mechanism of the rear seats in your MPV.

Continue reading “Arriving – Or Just Travelling Hopefully?”