Stunning exterior design elements continued throughout the car including partially covered rear wheels, and a very wide front track which narrowed dramatically at the rear. This not only improved high-speed stability, it gave the car a sinister forward presence, as though it was lunging forward even while sitting still. And while most of these features were visually exciting, they also contributed to a remarkable if not impossible and previously unachievable coefficient of drag of just .26, an astonishingly low number for a production car of any era, let alone a sedan available to the general public. As with the DS, Citroën leveraged previous technology including disc brakes all round (inboard at the front to reduce unsprung weight), automatically adjusted hydraulic brake bias using weight distribution sensors, adjustable oleopneumatic suspension, and variable assist power steering. All this in a singular car of flagship pricing, while America built lumbering solid axle, drum brake cars still feeding the waning Muscle Car movement that demanded straight line power as the pinnacle of automotive performance.
Upon release, the automotive press unanimously praised the Citroën SM as one of the most technically advanced automobiles of the century. It was not only a phenomenal road car it was shockingly quick, capable of 140 mph top speeds, and could manage a wide range of roadways or varied terrains due to the dynamic suspension and incomparable handling. In 1971, Road & Track pronounced it as one of the 10 Best Cars in the World, followed by achieving the 1972 Motor Trend Car of the Year award.
Designed by the illustrious and enormously talented Robert Opron, the SM was by all accounts a stunning achievement of design and automotive production. Opron was greatly influenced by aircraft but also by the mechanical artistry and combined power of structure as art. Fluidly blending these ideas into one design was a challenge, but Opron pulled it off. Looking at the car even in today’s context, there was quite simply nothing at all like it and still today, no one has dared to copy it. The panoramic glass, the headlight design and clear cluster fascia, the rear hatch, and the covered rear wheels are all remarkable singular design elements, but in the SM Opron delivers them all in a Bouillabaisse of such exquisite unity that one struggles to find even a small portion of the design that does not work in concert with the total theme.
When elevated to a suitable driving height using the unique suspension, the car develops a taut upright muscularity that gives the impression of an airplane about to take flight. Yet, in the lowered parked position, the design appears to almost melt into the asphalt, impossibly low with surfaces pulled in perfect tension from the wide front fenders to the tapered rear chrome uprights, once again evoking aviation themes. The powerful and commanding SM delivers in every respect. Even the interior of the SM is a statement of futurism and elegance with contoured seats, sweeping dashboard, and the unique Citroën single-hub steering wheel.
Bold when new, and a remarkable blend of two proud cultures, the Citroën SM remains today a hallmark of automotive design featuring unparalleled excellence, innovation, and individuality in a partnership that will hopefully one day be repeated. The raw Italian power unleashed within the tradition of French Avant Garde futurism remains today a continued example of how diverse people can work together to achieve a powerful expression of both cultures, without compromising each of their unique and desirable traits.