Over a series of articles, we examine yesterday’s vision of the future – peak chevron, Sa Majesté – the incomparable Citroën SM.
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.
Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1970 Franco-Italian feature film, The Conformist is billed as a cinematic masterpiece. Set during the 1930s fascist-era Italy, its themes of politics, betrayal, and psycho-sexual guilt, framed within Vittorio Storaro’s lavish cinematography remain as provocative today as they were when first screened in cinemas half a century ago.
As Citroën’s SM turns 50, we trace an unlikely inspiration.
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.
Cars no longer differ from country to country, but once they had definite national characteristics. What happened when two nations met – collaboration, collision or confusion?
We now seem to have reached a consensus that the type of car most should be is ‘Germanic’, being lazy shorthand for something efficient, hard riding, fast enough and, usually, a bit clinical. Some sports cars remain, possibly, more traditionally ‘Italianate’ in spirit, being nervy, noisy and involving to drive. Nowadays, though, car making is truly a global industry where an Italian car maker might produce a model exclusively in Poland, and where the designers and engineers come from scores of different nations. Nearly fifty years ago this wasn’t the case.