I still can’t believe that this actually happened. I met the owner of this car during a Citroen club cruise and he offered to show me around his shop whenever I had the time. Well after taking him up on his offer and seeing his three(!) SM’s we decided to go for a drive. After a brief cruise with my jaw in the footwell, he pulls over said “you drive.” Yes, actually.
How can anything top this? It looks like 1970’s vision of 2019 and it still makes heads turn today. Absolutely nothing looks like an SM. I especially like the tapered shape of the body as it thins towards the Kamm tail. Chrome is sparse but well placed and lovely little French details are everywhere. I adore the look of this car.
The interior isn’t quite the home run grand slam of the exterior. The SM was very pricey when new and despite that, there are some nasty bits of hard plastic in the cabin. That said, the seats are absolutely sublime. They look like Star Wars props and are so perfectly comfy. Not exactly supportive but eh, it’s a GT car. The seatbelts are a bizarre two-piece affair and the brushed aluminum trim on the dash is very cool. It’s also completely silent at speed. I was able to have a nice conversation with the owner at 120 km/h even with the windows down. There is absolutely no wind buffeting.
The SM’s greatest “toy” is the amazing height adjustable suspension. It can be moved up and down from stancenation to 4x4 by moving the lever at the base of the driver’s seat.
The SM is famously powered by a 3.0L Maserati V6. I made the above video about a different SM so you can hear just how amazing this thing sounds. The V6 sounds rich, strong and has a penchant for revs. It pops on the overrun and it snarls at full throttle. It’s was engines used to sound like before we got all this nimby pimby fuel injection. The only cars that sound sweeter in my opinion are those with 12 cylinders in a V. Hence why it receives only 9 instead of 10. One of his SM’s has a full ANSA exhaust and though we didn’t take it out that day, I’ll bet it sounds even sweeter than the one I drove.
The SM is hardly a light car and though it sounds amazing, the Maser V6 makes just 190 horsepower. It never feels slow but it also never feels rapid. I judged it against the cars it competed against in the era like the Mercedes SL, DeTomaso Pantera and Aston Martin DBS. While it might not accelerate quickly, it’s aerodynamic shape and rock hard tires help it achieve an impressive top speed of over 140 MPH.
No car (Maybe a DS) has brakes like an SM. The brakes are activated by a little button on the floor and it maybe deflects half an inch during normal use. The result is that you merely have to poke it with your toe to come to a complete stop. Anything else you’ll drive will feel mushy and broken in comparison. Another weird SM fact: When the rear seats of an SM are unloaded, the rear brakes don’t even engage and the fronts do 100% of the stopping. This was to prevent skidding with a light rear end. When passengers or cargo fills the rear of the car, the SM senses the increased weight and diverts power to the rear callipers. Amazing.
I almost feel guilty for giving it so many tens but the SM is such an amazing car! The hydropneaumatic suspension is cushy without feeling wallowy and well composed when cornering. The (completely awesome) owner encouraged me to charge across rough train track crossings just to feel the amazing suspension at work. And he’s right. Few cars and eat bumps like a ‘71 Rolls Royce and then corner like a Ghibli on the next turn.
It’s sometimes hard to remember that I’m driving a 3,200 pound FWD car with not even close to 50/50 weight distribution. The word to describe the SM’s handling is composed. It understeers in tight turns but once up to speed, it dices high-speed corners with ease. This is a GT car made to blast from Paris to Monaco in the height of comfort and luxury.
The SM is shifted by a 5-speed manual with a hydraulic clutch. The shifts are fairly well defined though i sometimes had trouble snaking the lever into first. The car I drove had over 250,000 kilometers on it so that may have been a factor. By far the coolest part about the shifter is the distinct metallic clinking noise it makes between gates. It feels like an gated Ferrari shifter of old. Shift lever is well weighted though the clutch is fairly heavy and somewhat numb. So much fun to shift!
A nice SM will run you around $50,000 these days and ratty ones can be found in fields for $5,000. I think $50k is a fair price to pay for the exotic styling and soundtrack. Try pricing a Dino 246 to compare prices for classic V6 greatness. The scary asterisk there denotes the hellish cost of maintenance on these cars. Hardly any of the parts for these are remanufactured and when you can find them they’ll be heinously expensive. This owner had to resort to spraying metal onto his cam lobes and grinding them back into profile after his lobes wore down. Parts are that difficult to find. He also flat out told me that you have to have “a lot of money and a lot of time” to keep one of these going.
If you are interested in cars and under 25 you owe it to yourself to get involved with local car clubs. I’ve been involved with the Mercedes-Benz Club and the Citroen Club recently despite not owning either of those cars. I’ve been invited to club events, toured private collections and had access to people with amazing knowledge. These clubs are predominately filled with older enthusiasts who want nothing more than to pass their passion for cars on to the next generation.
The SM owner who let me drive his car also invited me to drive it on a rally this coming spring. His son doesn’t care enough the learn to drive stick and the owner wants to pass on his knowledge and enthusiasm for these cars to a younger audience to carry the torch.
These clubs will help you find cars to buy, show you how to maintain it and fill your calendar with cool events. Don’t be put off by not owning the car of the club but just get started. I promise it will be a rewarding experience.