By Marvin McFalls…..
Since 1955 Citroën’s top of the marque model had been the four-door DS, while it was a wildly popular car, it was not particularly sporting. With the exception of winning the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally after the entire Mini Copper works team was disqualified for using illegal headlights, it made very little impact within the European sports car market. Citroën dreamed of building a new French sports car, but their four cylinder engines were just not up to the task.
So, Citroën’s acquisition of a sixty percent share of Maserati in 1967 was followed almost immediately with an announcement that they would infuse a new Citroën luxury sports car model with a Trident powered engine. Maserati Engineer, Giulio Alfieri designed a V6 engine from the V8 motor used in the Maserati Indy. With four overhead cam-shafts, the engine size was kept at 2,760cc to avoid the French super-tax imposed on vehicles over 2.8 litre. Initially, using three Weber carburetors, the engine produced 170 hp and provided the performance expected of a luxury sports car of the era.
Combining Citroën’s celebrated hydro-pneumatic suspension from the DS, along with a Maserati V6, the SM was only offered as two-door sedan. Citroën’s latest creation featured an industry first, with the introduction of variable power-assisted steering. The overall shape of the SM was styled by their Chief Designer, Robert Opron, and its pronounced front end featured six headlights, with the two inner lights movable with the wheels to help with illumination during turning, and all lights were covered by unique wrap around glass panels.
At the SM’s debut at the 1970 Geneva Motor Show, the new Citroën was well received by the press and the driving public. Citroën finally had a car capable of matching the German and British luxury models. While the origin of the model name SM is not completely clear. The S could come from Project S, the designation given at the outset, of which the goal was to produce a sporting version of the Citroën DS, and the M may refer to Maserati, hence SM is often assumed to stand for Sport Maserati or System Maserati, and another commonly used vernacular is Série Maserati. However the French generally refer to the car as Sa Majesté or Her Majesty, and it is often jokingly said that SM owners, have sadomasochistic tendencies.
Henri Chapron had established his coachworks company during the 1920s creating custom-car bodies for luxury French marques such as Delage, Delahaye and Talbot in his garage in Levallois Perret, a suburb northwest of Paris. Following the war, like most coach builders his business had significantly slowed by the 1950s. With the introduction of the D, Chapron contacted Citroën in hopes of working out an agreement to buy unfinished bodies to create convertibles. However, no arrangement could be made, so Chapron was forced to buy completed factory examples to convert.
From 1958-1961, Chapron disassembled sedans and constructed convertibles as well as a number of special coupe variants, also during this period, he also offered a sedan given a Chapron treatment. Finally an agreement was reached, in which Chapron could buy unfinished models ready for his conversions. In exchange, Citroën received Chapron’s components needed to build their own version of the cabriolet. From 1961-1974 both Chapron and Citroën built around 1300 examples of the production convertible. Chapron also continue to offer his hand built special bodied coupes and sedans until the end of DS production.
With favorable relations with Citroën for nearly a decade, Chapron expressed interest in the new SM. He approached them about building a custom convertible of the new model. At the Paris Motor Show in 1971, he introduced his creation, named the Mylord. After removing the roof, he strengthened the chassis, added a fiberglass trunk and created a boot in same color as the interior to cover the folded top. This luxurious convertible could carry four people comfortably. The biggest issue with the Mylord cabriolet was that the price, costing more than twice the standard SM, put it in the same range as Ferrari Daytona. Unlike Chapron’s DS Convertible which were produced in relatively large numbers, the Mylord was instead built to order and as many as seven examples were built during production.
For the first time ever the Citroën marque was invited to the 2018 Pebble Beach Concours d’ Elegance, and not one or two examples were invite, but an entire featured class entitled Postwar Custom Citroën. Included in the unique exhibit was the original Chapron Mylord. Since its debut at the Paris Motor Show it has covered more than 134,000 km and still remains nearly completely original. Currently owned by Thierry Dehaeck of Kruishoutem, Belgium, he drives it at least 3000 miles each year. While the car is far from perfect, it is in excellent condition for its age.
Being that the car is a 1972 model, it received Bosch fuel injection instead of their earlier models which came with three Weber carbs. Also the wheels on the car were made of fiberglass. Constructed by Michelin, very few examples were made, as they never became standard equipment. Chapron badging consists of chrome script on the front fenders, stainless steel flares on the wheel arches and a small logos on the doors.
The unique green interior with matching top and boot cover were chosen by the car’s original owner and done by Henri Dargent.
While the Mylord was well received, it was no comparison to the other examples in the Postwar Custom Citroën class. Each of those cars had been completely restored and many were in better condition than when they were new. While the Mylord did not return home to Belgium with any honors, it was the first example to possibly ever visit our hemisphere, and its rarity and uniqueness stood out.
Along with the Mylord, Chapron went on to build other SM based versions including the Opéra sedan, which was also presented at the same Paris Motor Show.
While In 1972, two four-door convertible known as the Presidentielle, were built for the French government. They were first used during a visit from Queen Elisabeth, and they remained in service until 1995. These cars were the last real creations to come out of Chapron’s garage.
Going forward, Chapron did special one-off treatments primarily using the Citroën CX and 604 Peugeot. Henri Chapron died in 1978, but his widow was able to keep the shop open for several years, before finally closing in 1985.
Often referred to as the last great truly French luxury automobile, the Citroën SM arrived just in time to usher in the decade of the 1970s. Initial sales figures were very encouraging, with nearly 5,000 models built in 1971, and the SM was also proven capable as a racer, by winning the Rallye du Maroc that same year. However the fuel crisis that soon followed as well as the downturn in the world economy slowed sales. Once the initial hype had subsided, many of the Citroën dealers struggled to sell the luxury, top of the marque SM. Citroën announced it was stopping production of the SM in summer of 1975, with these words: Born of speed, the SM must die with speed.
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