It’s easy to praise a car for being a stand-out in a single category—horsepower, looks, handling—but a truly well-rounded automobile generates a particular magnetism. Citroën’s SM, the latest star of Jay Leno’s Garage, is just such a car. The 1970s French star, though it fell victim to strict regulations and bad timing, combined brilliant engineering with futuristic looks and daily usability; 35 years and 110,000 miles later, Jay Leno is still in love with his.
The 1970–75 SM was Citroën’s bid for a slice of the American luxury market. French engineers outsourced the engine to Maserati—a 2.7-liter, four-cam, water-cooled V-6 affair—and focused on their strengths: styling, handling, and engineering. The SM was the first car with rain-sensing wipers and, when introduced, stole the title of world’s fastest front-wheel-drive car from the 1966 Toronado. The French four-seater’s showpiece, of course, was its hydropneumatic suspension.
The magic happens thanks to little green capsules under the hood, containing nitrogen in one half and fluid in the other. Leno advises that owners not attempt to modify the system but keep it stock, ordering the LHM fluid directly from Citroën. When he pops the truck to display the SM’s generous cargo area, he reveals his backup stash of the green fluid. “It’s lasted me 35 years, I’ve never had a big problem with it.”
Cruising around in the SM’s luxurious cabin, Leno praises its airiness and size. He points out another engineering oddity; the amount of power steering changes with speed. At a stop, he can twirl the wheel with a finger—it always returns to center—but as he drives away and presses the accelerator, road feel returns. With a drag coefficient of just .26, the SM just slips through the air, Leno says; the car may have only 170 hp, but at highway speeds, the speedometer needly hardly drops when he takes his foot off the accelerator.
“Horsepower can cure a lot of problems—I’m the first to admit that,” Leno says, “but when you have a well-balanced package like this … ah! It’s so enjoyable to use.”
Watch the entire video to get the rundown of Leno’s 35 years with this eccentric vehicle: