A French GT, with an Italian Heart, back from the US : a Citroën SM 3L

Once upon a time, a french manufacturer named Citroën used to build… GTs. Even if nowadays it seems inconceivable, it’s true! With a pinch of Italy, they made the Citroën SM. And they also tried to sell it across the Atlantic! The car I tested was one of these US-compliant cars. Let’s ride!

Quick story of the Citroën SM

Since the end of Facel-Vega, there was no more GTs in France in the end of the 60’s. Citroën, used to build high standard cars, the DS was a good example. Comfort was ensured by the “unique” (RR fans won’t approve this statement) hydropneumatic system.
But concerning the engine, there was nothing made by Citroën that could turn a french car into a GT!

However, in 1970, Citroën bought… Maserati! So a 2.7 liter V6 jumped in the new project : the Citroën SM. 170 hp to the front wheels, through a five-speed gearbox. A french kind of GT. But the oil crisis that happened in 1973 would become the main issue about the new car… In fact anyone could say that the V6 was everything but sober…

The new anti-pollution rules forced Citroën to use an electronic injection in 1973. The same year, a 3-speed automatic gearbox appears, for the US market. The engine was deemed not powerful enough, so Citroën used another V6, the 3 liter from the Maserati Merak, with 180 hp.

Until 1975, Citroën manufactured 19,920 Citroën SM.

Above: The “regular” SM with its 6 headlamps behind a glass cover
Below: The US compliant SM, with its 4 headlamps without cover

Driving this special Citroën SM 3L is really something different!

The Relais de l’Auto Ancienne’s Citroën SM 3L

It’s during a french trip to Limoges that I discover this car, in a workshop named “Le Relais de l’Auto Ancienne” on the old Nationale 20.

The car is back from the US. It’s easy to notice it, behind the plexiglas, added to look more like the french ones, the 4 round projectors are fixed.

The entire design is the same, signed by Robert Opron. It’s aerodynamic, but with some particularities. The front track is bigger than the rear one. Like it or not, still, the car has a real personality.

Technically it definitely is a Citroën: unique

Under the long bonnet, there is the most interesting part of the car, the 3 liter V6 designed by Maserati. Like the V6 2.7, this it is derived from the 4 liter V8. Three Weber carburetors handle the fuel supply and the engine is actually behind the front wheels. Int front of it, the Borg Warner 3-speed gearbox delivers the power to the wheels. Right out of it, you find the “inboard” brake discs, a real nightmare for the mechanics in charge of changing the brake pads!

Still under the bonnet, you can see those green spheres. The place where the LHM fluid works. It’s the same hydronpneumatic system the DS owners enjoy.

For once, you don’t need a French-English dictionary

As explained earlier, this car comes from the USA. So, the annotations on the dashboard are in English instead of French.
The leather seats got a nice patina. Even if they are damaged in some places, they are really beautiful. There’s plenty of space in the front. However, you have not to be too tall to get in the back seats, but you could survive a short trip.

The switches are well-placed and they fall quite easily under your hand for a car of that era. The driver seat is easy to set, such is the steering wheel.

Let’s go for a ride

The engine starts easily and Ludovic, the owner, gets us for a little demonstration, while the car is heating up. Now it’s my turn to drive, I take the gear lever and put it on Drive.

Once the road is open, I rush forward. The car accelerates easily, even if i’m not flooring it, i quickly get into third gear, at 60mph. The car is easy to drive, it’s a speed it is used to. I’m so well-seated that I could cruise like that for hours. Unfortunately, here comes the first roundabout. Time to discover what makes these Citroen so peculiar, due to those green spheres.

First test: the braking system. Citroën’s “mushroom” (due to its shape) is hard to dose out. However, the car slows down, and quite effectively. Second test: the steering. It’s the famous Diravi. It’s a constant power-steering, that has a peculiar return system. If you release the steering wheel, it gets back to the center. It is quite practical, but in a roundabout, you can not do as you would usually do, or you will follow a weird path!

What’s it worth in the corners?

It’s a GT car, it’s powerful and it accelerates quickly. On small roads, the wide front track is really helpful. However, the car has some limits. It is quite heavy and most of the weight is on the front end, hence a huge understeer if you are going too fast.

The car is definitely made for wider roads, and lorries are not an issue, you just have to push it a little harder and the gerabox will go down a gear.

What I think about it

I have to admit I was expecting something more like a sports car. The Citroën SM 3L is not the Porsche 944 we tried earlier, but, huh. I can’t deny it’s powerful or comfortable, but i was expectind something else. It’s a perfect GT, made for long travels.

Own a Citroën SM 3L

A lot of Citroën SM have been preserved. Despite the small production, it’s quite easy to find a good one nowadays. However, be really careful about the car condition. It’s a sophisticated car from the 70s, so it van be a real bother. Fortunately, several specialists know how to service them.

You can find carburetors versions around £20,000. Th fuel injection ones are a little cheaper, so are the automatic ones.

Global rating:

3 etoiles




– Lovely engine Hard to get used to it –
– Unrivaled comfort Not a sports car –
– Unique GT Parts or service sometimes expensive –
Rarity  4 etoiles
Price from £15,000 to £25,000

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