The List




The List


Citroen SM


Despite having the unpromising combination of French build quality and a temperamental Italian mini-supercar V6, the SM has earned its place on The List by being a kind of automotive equivalent of Concorde; the epitome of the Seventies’ love affair with style dictated by speed.


From the fared in rear wheel arches to the slippery body shape, the exterior of the SM exudes the sense of purpose and optimism that was inherent in Europe before the Oil Crisis gate-crashed the party. It speaks of high speed trans-Europe journeys, of gliding past the masses in their spluttering boxes, of a glamorous future that somehow never became the present. When you were a child and dreamt of life in the mythical Year 2000, this is the car that you thought everyone would be driving.


Inside is no different – the quilted seats, single spoke steering wheel and oval dash look like they’ve been lifted directly from the cabin of a Seventies sci-fi series’ spaceship. But it’s the button brake ‘pedal’ that really catches the eye. Reminiscent of the floor mounted buttons used to flush the stand-up toilets that are still strangely popular in the more rural parts of France, it instantly challenges the orthodoxy of conventional pedal design, both in looks and function (more on this later.)


It’s almost a disappointment when you twist the key in the ignition and hear the raucous cacophony of an internal combustion engine; you half expect it to be powered by a silent electric motor, like the DS in the sci-fi film Gattaca. This thought is soon displaced from your mind after a short drive, though. The Maserati V6 is wonderfully mellifluous, emitting an Italian howl that, although initially incongruous, somehow melds perfectly with the character of the SM.


Being front wheel drive, the SM understeers at the limits of adhesion, but to fling it down a twisty back lane is to miss the point of owning this car – its forte is the high speed A road, where the supple hydropneumatic suspension and Maserati V6 enable you to make rapid, unflustered progress, the engine singing so sonorously at three thousand plus revs that you don’t mind changing down to overtake a dawdling lorry, or vicar on his way to church.


Steering is high geared and precise, and features one of the first variable assistance systems. This also helps to eliminate any kickback through the wheel, although it does rob the steering of a little feel.


The brakes are less cooperative – although extremely powerful they are controlled by a button that is pressure but not distance sensitive, and can result in some interesting on/off moments until the driver becomes accustomed to exerting the appropriate amount of force. The recent Mclaren Mercedes SLR has been criticised for a similar problem with brake modulation, which just seems to give credence to the old adage ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’


So, what does an SM say to the world about its driver? It certainly manages to avoid conjuring images of self-consciously retro-obsessed individuals treating it as an ironic statement, as has afflicted many of its lower class contemporaries. It is far too classically elegant, and requires too much commitment on behalf of its owner to ever fall into such hands. No, the SM makes a clear statement that its driver is able to pick from a dismal decade one of the true hidden gems.


It is a melding of all that was cool about design in the Seventies, before brutalism and wedges became the predominant aesthetics in architecture and car manufacturing, respectively. The fact that you would be joining an illustrious club of owners that has included Graham Greene and Mike Hailwood only serves to clinch the deal.