On results, enchantment, and closure

This text was written by the new owner of the Citroën SM that played a leading part in this series.

The SM was to me always a car I looked at and read about with wonder. As a young boy (I’m from 1958) the SM and the DS were unreachable gods, alien and majestic. Like you would, in your pubescent excitement, dream about Sophia Loren, unreachable, unapproachable, and beautiful to look at and dream about.

I experienced the brand through (short) drives in the CX, what a car… and later the BX, which I was much less enthusiastic about. I grew up, aged, and remained in love with those first Citroëns, the DS and the SM. It was nothing but pure curiosity which brought me to Renard in Beneden-Leeuwen after reading on their website about the ultimate SM, a car which would be specced to the highest standards, based on the customer's wishes. Not particularly focussed, browsing Citroën experts, I ended up at Renard, a company I had no experience with beforehand.

Once inside Nard van der Meer, the company’s owner, showed me a completely disassembled and stripped SM. The car did not inspire greed in me at all. What I was inspired by was the approach Nard proposed in restoring this car. I was charmed by the idea of ‘doing it once and doing it right’, eliminating baked-in faults in quality, and creating a masterpiece.

A vocal disdain for compromise which, in that moment, tells you that it might spark confrontation. After all, one man with pronounced convictions and a customer with pronounced convictions… long story short, we agreed after I let the price (considerable but fair) get through to myself. Thanks to a very detailed and correctly assessed quotation I had the impression that Renard was a company that possessed the coordinative qualities to deliver a project like this, on time and to my satisfaction.

We agreed on the specifications of the car. This would include a 3 litre engine, a manual gearbox, and a fuel injection system and ignition which were developed in-house. The engine had to be built so that it could be run at its full potential. Nard and I found agreement in a shared enthusiasm for building a torquey and powerful engine, the car would had to be driven fast and often after all. Other specifications: leather interior, mint-green metallic paint, ‘sporty rims’, tinted windshield, and above all a perfectly painted, rust-free and finely sculpted body.

The expectations were met at every point. Nard turned out to be a master in directing this project. Apparently, all external parties were reviewed sufficiently to deliver their contribution up to expected standards of quality and within the agreed time. I was able to follow the entire process through Nard’s messages. The moment the car entered the body shop to be sculpted, the moment the painter started working and, eventually after much preparation, coated the car in her perfect mint-green paint.

At the same time, I saw the different phases of building, in my own eyes, the perfect engine. The placement of the pistons, cylinder heads, adjusting the valves, the first test run, at every point the information was transparent and next steps were constantly communicated.

Where the car was supposed to be finished in May, this turned out to be April. I went to pick up the car in the first week of April and, to be quite frank, I had very few expectations. I know, this sounds weird, but I had never actually driven even a single meter in a SM. After the first drive I have to confess that I wondered how Citroën could have ever sold this car. The driver’s experience and the first few drives made me question: ‘will this be fine?’ Having driven my first 1500 kilometers, I thoroughly enjoy this car. I enjoy the quirkiness and I enjoy the driving qualities. The engine and the gearbox match perfectly with each other and with the car. I’m very surprised that an atmospheric engine can have such a broad powerband, in which the car cruises without fault and accelerates without problem without have to shift gears. It is truly a pleasure, especially when combined with the magnificent inlet and exhaust sounds. The handling is comforting. You have a feeling for what the road is like, despite a lacking sense of  what the wheels are doing, it is not true the car filters out all sense for the road. High-speed cornering does not fret her, the car glides slowly on four wheels to the outside of the corner if you go too fast. This is something you can hear very clearly from the sound of four tires losing grip. Gently let go of the throttle and all is well. Controlling the car is the biggest challenge, getting used to the fluctuating power steering, getting used to the steering wheel automatically returning to the neutral position. But now, after 1500 KM, I can truly say the SM has enchanted me. I’m under her spell.

To be honest, I have quite some disappointing experiences with these kind of projects. This SM is in a different order all together The car does what you hoped she would, surprises you in a positive sense. I feel happy looking at the car, I feel happy after every drive. I can also conclude that, thanks to ample visibility, small turning circle, and of course the power steering, the challenge ‘narrow parking garage’ gives me no problem at all.