– by George Dyke
David Hume of Excelsior Motors is a man with a passion for Citroën SM’s. After collecting and working on them for over 30 years, Dave has amassed a wealth of knowledge and parts. The knowledge becomes apparent whenever you speak with him. However, when you get a chance to visit Excelsior Motors, just west of Lexington, Kentucky, you see just how extensive his dedication is to keeping SMs on the road. This past spring at Rendezvous in Saratoga Springs, New York, Dave displayed his newly restored 1975 3 litre, fuel-injected SM (a car he had squirreled away for 25 years). It took best SM honours as well as winning Best of Show. And Dave organized the 40th anniversary SM photo shoot meeting in Buffalo New York where a dozen owners assembled at the very spot where some of the original photos were taken for the Citroën’s US sales literature. To keep the 40th SM anniversary celebration momentum going, Dave mentioned at Rendezvous that he was going to hold a Fall meeting commencing at Excelsior Motors and that he hoped to take in the phenomenal automobile collection at the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee.
Dave set things up with Jeff Lane for a 3 day weekend outing on October 1- 3, 2010. And what a weekend it was! I set out early, leaving Toronto on Wednesday and stopping in Buffalo to visit Jim Berry who loaned me the original Motor Trend 1972 Car of the Car award, presented to Citroën for the SM, so it could be on display at our event in Nashville. On the way I spent a day and a half driving the SM very close to its limits on some lovely backroads in Ohio and passing through towns like Marietta and Athens. A fabulous drive, fortunately uninterrupted by Ohio state troopers.
As planned, we assembled at Dave’s on the Friday for a 1pm departure to Nashville. When we gathered at Dave’s, he invited us to look about the “shop” housing many SMs in various stages of repair and restoration. One SM being restored for a customer in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, had a driver’s side rear quarter panel cut away to expose rust requiring some welding and additional new metal. It was interesting to see its inside structure. The SM had holes for what appeared to be left side fuel access. Were they thinking about moving it to the left for North American customers, or were they thinking ahead for the possibility of right-hand drive? What also struck me in looking at the rear quarter panel was how easily the SM could be stretched by cutting the car at the roof just before the door post and the lower portion under the rear side window by cutting straight down from the horizontal line of the rear window. When we interviewed Robert Opron, the designer of the SM, during his visit to the US in 2005, he mentioned that Citroën had requested that the SM be designed for eventual 4-door capability. It certainly seemed that structurally Citroën had factored for that. (See the accompanying photos where I took the liberty to test my theory on a photo by playing with it in Photoshop to make a 4 door extension).
Driving to Nashville from Dave’s, was a visual SM feast on the road as drivers on the Blue Grass Parkway and I65 got a treat of these French style icons gliding along. We arrived at Jeff Lane’s for a cocktail party and private viewing of over 150 cars that are not in the museum’s public display. Notable Citroëns included a 4×4 2CV, two 2CV convertibles and a conversion done a few years ago by an enterprising Dutchman which resulted in an amphibious 2CV. More than 25 people registered for this event. Participants included: Russ Theus,Ed Grant, Pete & Gabe Bandy, Karen Tuerk , James Flaherty, Angus Mc Dougald, Kaye MacInnes, Ken Shriver, Ronald Kienhaus, Michael Lippig, Walter Chomentowski, Steve Claassen, Mike Janssen, Jeff Lane, John Rigby, Bruce Sweetman and David & Shelby Hume
Saturday, we assembled for an official SM photo shoot for Automotive Weekly, and then took the SMs on a backroads’ tour around Nashville. I drove Michael Lippig, a multiple SM owner from North Carolina, who flew into Nashville for the day. (Michael is sorting out which SM to get roadworthy again). After the drive and a leisurely, late afternoon stroll through the public display area of the Lane Motor Museum, we went for dinner at Verandah, a local high end restaurant, where we toasted Dave and Jeff and celebrated the SM’s 40 anniversary with a 40th anniversary cake! I went to downtown Nashville with Peter and Gabriel Bandy where the SM caused quite a stir in the nightclub district.
Sunday was “drive it” day at the Lane Motor Museum. Jeff pulled out a Traction Avant 15-6, Mehari 4×4, Ami 6 and a 1923 Citroën half-track “Kégresse” for us to experience. The Kégresse was the most entertaining. Actually getting behind the wheel and taking it for a spin out back, I was amazed that I was driving an 88 year old vehicle that formed the basis for Citroën’s legendary transcontinental expeditions ((Croisière Jaune, Rouge etc.) How they managed to go thousands of kilometres in these in their day is mind-boggling.
We bid Jeff adieu midday on Sunday and headed back to Dave’s in Kentucky, stopping along the way to pose a few SMs in front of the Corvette museum in Bowling Green. Once back at Dave’s, Angus MacDougald, Ed Grant and I took some extra time to get some service done. On my SM, we installed new front Michelin XWX tires, replaced the cams and upper chains, as well clunky front drive shafts and rear bearings. Dave had visitor from Florida, Steve Claassen who is beginning a restoration on a SM that he acquired. Steve owns a shop in Florida specializing in Maserati and Lamborghini. Steve has experience with SMs and is an electrical wizard. He made a lighting modification so that all six headlights can come on if I want – all powered directly from the alternator. And on low beam I can optionally have the turning spot beams work. In the dark, it’s now a day for night driving experience with it!
All in all a fantastic Fall outing. Thanks so much to Dave and Jeff for all their efforts and enthusiasm!