Citroën SM

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Dream garage
For sale @ Lap63 Bicester Heritage, Oxfordshire. Tel: 020 8202 8011 www.lap63.co.uk

Brave. Innovative. Controversial. Not words you want the press to attach to your new grand tourer, but then Citroën didn’t used to worry what people thought. A ‘sporting DS’ sounds like an oxymoron, and with that model’s four-pot powerplant it could have fallen flat on its suspension gas bags. Sensibly though, Citroën decided to buy into engine technology from someone with a name for it – Maserati – and somewhat less predictably dropped a pokey V6 into its hydro-pneumatically sprung, power-everything, front-wheel-drive four-seat coupé. And then clothed it in, shall we say, unusual lines.

A startled world took one step back from the crab-tracked high-speed cruiser, then split into two camps – unbelievers and addicts. But launched into the fuel-strapped 1970s it was all over in five years, so the SM wasn’t and isn’t a common sight. A reputation for complexity scares buyers, but this one was fully restored last year and, says Ludovic Parayre of Lap63, everything works.

A keen SM man since 1970 when his father took him out and did the ton in the new model, Ludovic says the key is to have these cars done by a specialist. “A lot were bodged up which produced only problems, but now we know what went wrong, and how to sort out those things.” He cites the Maserati engine’s sodium valves, which dissolve and have to be replaced with modern ones.

The result, Ludovic says, is a neglected classic: “They’re great fun to drive once you understand the very direct steering and the very sensitive brakes. They’re fast, stable and quiet, they don’t use too much fuel and if they’re properly maintained they’re reliable too.”

A fan, then – which is why he’s excited by his next one, first owned by Mike Hailwood. “It’s coming from New Zealand and I’m sending it to the SM guy, Andrew Brodie. He knows all the improvements to upgrade an SM, and this one is going to be a concours car. Hailwood was well known for driving it; he even modified the engine. We’ll have to investigate that.”

Meantime the gold car awaits one of the select band who can happily adapt to the super-fast steering and on-off brake button. A good SM gives a blissful ride in a luxurious leather-lined cocoon, pampered by features the rest of us wouldn’t get for years – self-levelling suspension, steerable headlamps and rain-sensing wipers.

“People don’t realise how advanced they were in their day,” says Ludovic.

“But the movement has started – prices are on the rise.”

Factfile

Year: 1970
Engine: 2.7-litre Maserati V6, 170bhp
Transmission: five-speed manual
Suspension: hydropneumatic; front: double wishbone, rear: trailing arms
Top speed: 135mph
Number built: 13,000
Price: £60,000