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There's no brake pedal. Just a big, black button on the floor between the gas and the clutch. The pictograms on the buttons, switches, and warning lights make no sense. The seats are either reclined or really reclined. The Citroën SM seems like a UFO, making you wonder what our experts made of it in 1972. Except we do know: They made it the first foreign-branded Car of the Year.
It was an illustrious panel, to be sure. Created in 1971 to bring industry expertise to our judging, the Conference of Automotive Research Specialists (CARS) included racer Phil Hill, racer and automotive safety engineer Bill Milliken, automotive engineer/designer/reporter/author Karl Ludvigsen, automotive designer and Art Center design professor Strother McMinn, and MotorTrend EIC Eric Dahlquist.
That the SM was heavily based on the existing DS' mechanicals was outweighed by the advancement of the technology. A technical dive involving rare access to Citroën officials described enhancements to the car's hydropneumatic systems, a rework of the DS' unique control-arm front suspension, an automatic brake-force proportioning system, and a hydraulically powered steering centering mechanism to compensate for the race car-quick steering ratio at high speeds.
Also receiving good-natured scrutiny: the car's wind tunnel-tested aerodynamics and its new Maserati V-6 with 170 net hp nosed up to the firewall with the five-speed transaxle ahead of the engine driving the front wheels. As American automakers were limping into the malaise era, the Citroën was a technological tour de force. Or at the least it tried to be.
Nearly a half century later, Bill Lundby's personal 1973 SM is as strange to drive as it sounds. The steering is lightning quick, so you're often correcting yourself after turning harder than you'd intended. Once you have that figured out, you have to learn to be deliberate as you return the wheel to center. Most cars return to center slowly; the SM's steering wheel snaps back quickly enough to have you flopping around the cabin.