One of the best film car chases of all time and certainly one of the best known among Citroën enthusiasts is with Burt Reynolds in the original version of The Longest Yard — a 1974 American prison sports comedy film directed by Robert Aldrich, written by Tracy Keenan Wynn and based on a story by producer Albert S. Ruddy. The film, released as “The Mean Machine” in the United Kingdom, stars Burt Reynolds, Eddie Albert, Ed Lauter, and Mike Conrad.
Burt plays a pro quarterback who gets sent to prison, but not before the audience is treated to an opening sequence in which he gets behind the wheel of an SM and outmaneuvers the police by thoroughly mistreating it. The chase plays out with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Saturday Night Special as the soundtrack:
Though you may think that a single US spec (open headlight) 5-speed SM was used, look carefully and you will see that at least 2 SMs were used in filming the chase sequence;
In the shot driving down the driveway, body side molding is clearly visible (at the 0:17 sec. mark). This is the only shot where body side molding is seen on the car. And one has to wonder if this scene was shot at a later or earlier time to provide better continuity by showing the SM leaving the house and setting up the scenario for the chase. Note too that there is no “Citroën SM” name under the front glass license plate cover. And if this was indeed a 5-speed, it was most likely used for all the interior shots showing a manual center console shifter and those shots showing braking and use of the clutch. It could even be that these shots were filmed in a totally different location, like Beverly Hills.
As the street chase progresses (at the 0:37 mark), the SM used does not have the side molding. Therefore — #2.
Looking at the slalom skid at the 0:41 mark shows that it actually lifted a rear wheel – a pretty tricky maneuver done with a hard pull on the parking brake to cause the back to act like that! Could that be pulled off in an automatic? Probably — and most likely with #2.
At the 0:51 sec mark, the trunk-lid has an “automatic” plaque on the right. Presumably that is also the #2 SM
At the 1:24 mark, we see the rear of the SM, but this time there is no “automatic” plaque nor is there any body side molding. As the chase sequence was shot, someone either removed the “automatic” plaque or this would be SM #3 – possibly a 5-speed? Given cost and availability vs budget, it is most likely SM #2 – an automatic.
By 1:31 the SM is looking a rather beat-up in the front end. Based on how the damage progresses it seems to be consistent with one SM being used. Most likely the #2 automatic.
At the 1:38 mark the SM appears to be devoid of US side marker lights along with body side molding. But in reality, the car’s movement is so fast that motion in the film blurs the marker lights and only when we see the other side as the SM turns can we get a glimpse of a silver highlight that is a rear side marker light. Still probably #2.
As the SM backs off the elevating portion of the bridge (at 2:17), we see again that there is no “automatic” plaque nor is there any body side molding. Again – SM #2.
However, at the 2:28 mark, the “automatic” plaque is back and there appears to be no damage to the right front bumper. This shot was most likely done prior to the chase and was to initially be used as part of the opening for drive out of the home. In the editing process it was probably chosen as a drive-away shot from the bridge to better transition to the dock scene with the hope that the audience would not pick-up on the lack of damage to SM #2.
We get a clear view of the damage to the front of SM #2 at the 2:33 mark.
At 2:54 Burt reaches in to grab the gearshift and have SM roll forward into the water. Of course that would only be possible with an automatic — SM #2.
And with that we say goodbye to SM #2 as it goes off the dock and into the river at the 2:57 mark — with the same apparent damage to the front end.
At the 3:07 mark, as the SM sinks into the river, there is no “automatic” plaque on the trunk lid. But since the damage is consistent to the what we see from 1:31 onward, it is most likely the same car.
While we don’t know the about the 5-speed SM sourced for the opening driveway shot and interior cutaways, or its whereabouts today, thanks to Gary Kelly at Fun Cars Service and Restoration in Covington, GA, we can tell you the history of the SM that was actually used for the what he feels was all the exterior chase scene shots in the film.
Gary recalls that the movie company actually purchased the SM from Leonard Gaddis, a Citroën dealer in Atlanta at the time. (Atlanta-Gaddis Inc., located at 293 Pharr Road N.E., Atlanta 30305.) After shooting the last shot of the SM drowning in the river, it was pulled out and sat in a garage near Savannah, GA for several years prior to being purchased by a Doctor in Woodstock, Ga. and sent to Dave Barranti an SM specialist in Georgia at the time for a meticulous restoration.
Work was done to such a high degree that just one paint chip that happened to occur in the headlight bucket prior to delivery was found and glued back in place.
When Dave drove the SM to be delivered to the Doctor, he drove it on the I-75, and it was there that Dave had to stop suddenly to avoid an accident. Unfortunately, a tractor-trailer coming up from behind did not stop in time and the car was crushed then caught fire and burned up. It had to be written off. Dave Barranti managed to survive the crash, but he was so severely injured that he never fully recuperated or was able to drive again.
A sad ‘second’ ending to arguably a most iconic SM that most thought met its end as it slowly sank into the river in The Longest Yard.