Unique 1971 Citroen SM Espace Heuliez Shows Off Targa Top and Maserati V6

1971 Citroen SM Espace Heuliez 9 photos
Photo: HU3RAUM/YouTube
1971 Citroen SM Espace Heuliez1971 Citroen SM Espace Heuliez1971 Citroen SM Espace Heuliez1971 Citroen SM Espace Heuliez1971 Citroen SM Espace Heuliez1971 Citroen SM Espace Heuliez1971 Citroen SM Espace Heuliez1971 Citroen SM Espace Heuliez
Citroen is primarily known for affordable cars and highly innovative vehicles like the Traction Avant and DS, but the company also built a luxury grand tourer back in the day. I'm talking about the SM, which was born two years after Citroen purchased Maserati.
The SM project actually started much earlier than that. Citroen began working on "Project S," a sportier version of the DS, in 1961. The idea eventually morphed into an entirely new car with added luxury features and extra oomph. But Citroen lacked a high-performance engine, so it bought Maserati and had the Italians develop a V6 unit.

Displacing only 2.7 liters, the powerplant was smaller than the usual Maserati mill. At the time, all Maseratis had inline-six and V8 engines with displacements larger than 3.5 liters. But Citroen had to settle for a smaller unit due to the horsepower tax that restricted high-performance vehicles in France.

But the SM was more than just a Citroen with a Maserati engine. The grand tourer debuted many innovative features, including hydro-pneumatic self-leveling suspension, self-leveling headlamps, variable-assist power steering, and disc brakes at all four corners. The SM was also unusually aerodynamic for its era.

Citroen produced the SM only as a two-door fastback-style coupe, but the design inspired independent coachbuilders to develop different body styles. Henri Chapron, for instance, built a four-door convertible used by French presidents and visiting heads of state. Chapron also created a four-door sedan called the SM Opera and a two-door drop-top.

But the most striking iteration of the SM was produced by Heuliez. Specialized in convertibles and station wagons, Heuliez designed a pillarless targa top version with retractable roof sections and quarter windows. Called the SM Espace, it was unveiled in 1971 as a concept car.

Even though Citroen initially considered the Espace for production with certain modifications, the project was ultimately rejected. Heuliez eventually put together a second car, which is essentially the only "production" model besides the concept.

The Espace came out of long-term storage in 2023 to showcase its unique top and 168-horsepower Maserati engine at the Villa d'Este. And if you're a fan of the SM, the Espace is a gorgeous sight thanks to its Aubergine Metallic exterior, two-tone interior (with green velour), and louvered rear window.

The regular SM was discontinued in 1975 after only six years on the market, and nearly 13,000 units produced. However, its legacy endured as much of the SM's technology found its way into the successful Citroen CX.

Maserati used the V6 engine in the Merak and the high-pressure hydraulics in the Khamsin and Bora. The Biturbo of the 1980s featured a turbocharged version of the same V6. But that's enough history for today. Hit the play button below to see the unique SM Espace sitting pretty and on the move.

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About the author: Ciprian Florea
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Ask Ciprian about cars and he'll reveal an obsession with classics and an annoyance with modern design cues. Read his articles and you'll understand why his ideal SUV is the 1969 Chevrolet K5 Blazer.
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