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 Eleven)

Politics dominates at Quai André Citroën. 

Image: citroen-sm.uk

As early examples of the SM began to appear on Europe’s roads, the political fallout to its advent took another, even more high profile scalp with the June 1970 announcement of the impending retirement of Monsieur le Président, Pierre Bercot. And while it was characterised as a scheduled act, the timing was nonetheless, to say the least, interesting.

Because while it would appear that Bercot had won the day over his deputy and fierce critic’s opposition, it is equally possible that Claude Alain Sarre’s unilateral decision to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part Eleven)”

New Frontier – (Part Ten)

Press and punter have their say.

(c) citroen-sm-uk.com

Otherworldly, at least as celestial an apparition as Roland Barthes’ depiction of its DS 19 forebear, the appearance of the new Citroën poleaxed visitors at its debut. Because in the Spring of 1970, nothing spoke of the now quite like an SM, although the Pininfarina Modulo, also shown at that year’s Geneva salon potentially ran it a close second.

The motorshow also presented Citroën’s public relations with their first tangible opportunity to gauge the public’s reaction to the new Quai de Javel flagship, but more to the point, to elicit the impressions of those who might be minded to Continue reading “New Frontier – (Part Ten)”

New Frontier – (Part Nine)

High drama amid the champagne flutes at Geneva.

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

Spring 1970, and for months now the prospect of a new high performance Citroën flagship has become something of 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. Nevertheless, and regardless of what Monsieur le Président is said to have originally wanted, the SM is ready to take its bow.

A prerequisite of the 1968 PARDEVI alliance with FIAT Auto was the creation of a new Citroën SA holding company, a development which saw Pierre Bercot Continue reading “New Frontier – (Part Nine)”

New Frontier (Part Seven)

Every car, no matter how well wrought has an Achilles heel. 

1970 Citroen SM. Image: daunatclassique

Like most aspects of historical record, the story behind the development of Maserati’s 2760 cc V6 engine for the SM is dependent upon whose account one believes, but its bespoke basis has by now been largely placed beyond doubt.

A primary stipulation from Quai Andre Citroën was for a compact and lightweight unit, physically no larger than their own in-line four. With the 114-series V6, the architectural layout chosen by Maserati technical director, Giulio Alfieri allowed these strictures to be met. However, this brought forth a number of structural and operational compromises – one in particular proving something of an expensive error.

Owing to the 90° included angle between cylinder banks, such engines were prone to uneven firing intervals and a lack of smoothness at certain engine speeds. The fitment of engine-driven contra-rotating balance shafts would have alleviated this, but was ruled out on cost and weight grounds. It was therefore decided to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part Seven)”

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 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 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 increasingly hostile, with 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 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 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)”