The Greatest Car in all of Recorded History is… French and Double Italian

The only engine bay that asks "Where is your God now?"

There’s little question that the third most incredible car ever built is the Citroen DS. First appearing on the motive scene in 1955, the Goddess with it’s inboard-hydraulic brakes, oleopneumatic suspension set up and bolt-on body panels attached to a unibody frame, is still ahead of its time. Not a believer? There’s the final all important measurement metric employed by all serious doctors of automotive journalism: Just look at it! As you can see, DS = hella sweet.
[Ed: We’re honored and a little terrified to feature a guest appearance from Autoblog’s own resident Francophile Jonny Lieberman. Trust us, not hitting the jump on this one will make you a supremely uncool person.]
Of course, the second most incredible car ever built is the alien-technology version of the DS, the utterly flabbergasting  Citroen SM. Designed by Robert Opron, covered with aircraft quality aluminum and as far as we know is the only car ever specifically built to carry two men in the front seat and two women in the rear, the SM should have never existed. Did you know that according to some, the “M” in SM stands for Maserati? As in Sports Maserati, as in there’s a 2.7-liter (later embiggened to 3.0-liters) 90-degree,ultra-complicated Maserati V6 sitting way back against the firewall. According to others SM stands for Sa Majesté. I like both stories.
While most car enthusiasts pop their hoods with pride of ownership, happy and content to show off the power plant motivating their treasured ride, SM-owners live in constant terror of what lurks beneath the sculpted, lightweight bonnet. All the old school (though beefed up) French hydropneumatic sphere stuff is attached to the Italian heart by a single spinning rod. Think of it as a simulacra version of the La Provencale hitting the Autostrada dei Fiori just east of Nice. Put another way, the oil pump shaft is quite literally where worlds collide, “the backspacing of the crankshaft bore accepting the oil pump shaft is not controlled adequately. The oil pump drive shaft commonly falls into the crank and runs on a small area of its splines thus wearing rapidly.” But what if the SM was even more complex?
1971 Maserati Quattroporte II
French and Italian, the choice of Spanish Royalty

Meet the Bertone-bodied Maserati Quattroporte II, or as I like to call it, the Holy Grail. Well, more like the Holy Shit Grail, but that’s blasphemous on several levels. Without question the Quattroporte 2.0 is the greatest car ever (and almost never) built. Here’s the story. The original Quattroporte (1963-1969) was a pleasant surprise for the Italian sports car maker. Who knew people wanted a big, athletic four-door sedan capable of riding around Europe all day at 125 mph? Well, Facel Vega and Lagaonda knew, but that’s a side story. Point is, by the time cocaine the 1970s rolled around the Tipo 107 Quattroporte was long in the tooth. A replacement was needed and Citroen held Maserati’s reigns. We weren’t there, but we’re almost positive that the Gauloise and Pernod-infested back room discussion went something like this, “The SM, it’s très magnifique. Give it four doors, a trident and we’ll own the world.” Totally plausible, right?
So yes, the Quattorporte II was a Marcello Gandini penned four-door Citroen SM. True, Citroen did build a few 4-door SMs — called Operas –b ut something was lost in translation. They looked… not svelte. Maserati needed a slam dunk, a grand slam and a two-point conversion. So they brought int the ringers ringer, Mr. Gandini. In case you’ve forgotten, Gandini also drew up the Lamborghini Countach, Espada, Miura and Urraco, Lancia Straos, Fiat X1/9, De Tomaso Pantera, BMW E12, Ferrari Dino 308 GT4 and the Alfa Romeo Montreal. As you can see, not a bad effort at all Mr. Gandini. In fact, it’s quite sexy.
maserati quattroporte II
Sadly, only thirteen Quattroporte IIs were ever built. Six were pre-production show cars and the remaining seven were all built to order custom jobs made between 1974 and 1978. You can blame the Quattorporte II’s near total still birth on a combination of the 1973 oil crisis, an underpowered (210 horsepower) motor for such a prestigious segment and a string of seemingly never-ending autoworker strikes in France and/or Italy. But that’s the official excuse. The truth of course, is that the world simply wasn’t ready for a mechanized masterpiece of such meteoric magnitude. Hell, it still isn’t.

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  1. Texan_Idiot25 Avatar

    I'm staggered at the size of that motor, front to back it's short as hell. And is that transmission ahead of the motor?

    1. Deartháir Avatar

      I… think… it's a giant hydraulic pump. That can't be right.

      1. Texan_Idiot25 Avatar

        You can see the brass colored shaft that links the motor to the pump. Right under the dizzy…
        But, I see a bell housing still. Jonny, what have you found!?

        1. steamboatwillie Avatar

          Yep; there's a jackshaft driving the hydraulic system, which in turn drives the (rear-facing) A/C compressor and alternator. Almost like a Toyota Previa.

    2. dmilligan Avatar

      How would you change the plugs in that thing? Remove the front clip? Go under the dash?

      1. Jonny Lieberman Avatar
        Jonny Lieberman

        You probably have to drop the engine. That's how you change the front brakes.

        1. acarr260 Avatar

          Wow. I love me some crazy French hydropneumatic action, but dropping the engine to service the brakes is pure insanity.
          /Sign me up!

          1. AteUpWithMotor Avatar

            A frequent consequence of inboard brakes. Inboard brakes seem like a great idea until you consider the real world…

          2. Mac Avatar

            The engine cannot be "dropped" unless it is dropped after it is out of the car. It must be removed out of the top of the engine bay. The hood is removed and the engine-transaxle pack is lifted up and forward. AFTER the accessories platform and the steering assembly are removed. HUGE job. If I correctly recall, something like 22 hours R&R in a properly equipped Citroën shop by an experienced D/SM technician. It took me a lot longer to change the engine in a DSpecial and in a SM.

        2. Mac Avatar

          The front brake PADS are easy to get to and to change. Replacing the front discs … well, that's another matter. The driveshafts have to be taken loose and slid out. The brake calipers have to be removed … all four of them: two hydraulic calipers and two parking brake calipers. More tedious than difficult.

      2. Mac Avatar

        Plugs on the Weber carbureted models were easy to get to. They're in shallow wells between the cams. The fuel injected SMs were pretty miserable. You can see the oil filter (red) at the rear of the right hand cam cover.

    3. dmilligan Avatar

      It's a front wheel drive so I would say yes, under the suspension oil pump and what looks to be an air compressor. Yeesh.

      1. Mac Avatar

        It's an air conditioning compressor. the original was a York two-cylinder. This car has a rotary. Much better, but the Gates Polyflex belts use a different pulley V, so it either has to have the pulley on the new compressor modified with the 45° pulley off the old compressor or just run the Polyflex belt in the wrong angled V pulley on the new compressor.
        I did this job on one of my SMs and made a new bracket for the Nippondenso compressor I used.

    4. Maca Avatar

      Itsa V6a, nota V8a. Thatsa why itsa so shorta.
      Itsa front-engined, front wheel driven mid-engine.
      Same power pack as used in the back of the Maserati Merak and Ligier JS2.
      There's actually room for a V8. Alfieri had one with a Mas V8 for his own use.
      The rear of the engine could be stripped and the timing chain and slack take-up mousetrap replaced without removing the engine from the car. If you like oil dripping in your face, or lying on top of the engine doing the job.

  2. Manic_King Avatar

    Maserati? Swivelling directional headlights à la DS……but Front Wheel Drive and only 200 hp? Meh. I'd prefer this:
    <img src=""&gt;

    1. P161911 Avatar

      I'm stumped, whatizit?

      1. scroggzilla Avatar

        That's an Iso Fidia.

      2. Manic_King Avatar
        Engine versions:
        5358 cc V8 Chevrolet
        5769 cc V8 Ford

      3. Manic_King Avatar
        Engine versions:
        5358 cc V8 Chevrolet
        5769 cc V8 Ford

    2. straighteight Avatar

      How about an Iso Lele? That was a design that made the Espada look understated.

  3. Deartháir Avatar

    Oh! I see where you're looking.
    Sweet Jeebus, what the fuck is that?

    1. KillerZomBee Avatar

      I'm afraid…

  4. muthalovin Avatar

    Needs more spare tire in the engine bay.
    Shit, good writing Lieberman! Thanks for doing a Hoonivers joint!

  5. scroggzilla Avatar

    Beautiful….and fiendishly complex. Still, it's no 6.3.

  6. CaptainZeroCool Avatar

    That car needs another engine! WAY too much empty space!

  7. AteUpWithMotor Avatar

    I maintain that the SM name stands for "sadomasochism." (More on the history of the SM:
    I'm not a big fan of Gandini. I'll grant that the Quattroporte II is handsome, if obviously dated, but it's too rigidly angular for my tastes. For me, angular cars either need to have some curvature to offset the hard lines (like a '65-'66 GM B-body) or have really rakish lines (like the '63-'65 Buick Riviera). My eye looks at the Quattroporte II and just sees "rectangle." It reminds me of a '65 Plymouth Fury — not unattractive, but not exactly fetching, either.

    1. omg_grip Avatar

      Interesting that this Hooniverse article came up today, I read the Citroen SM article on your site this morning.

    2. Jonny Lieberman Avatar
      Jonny Lieberman

      You don't like… the Lancia Stratos? Really?

      1. AteUpWithMotor Avatar

        I kind of like the Stratos. The Stratos has sharp edges, but it's not rigidly angular like this is — it's more like what GM Styling used to call "The Sheer Look."

  8. rocketrodeo Avatar

    I don't recognize a single thing in there. Not one thing. I love it.

  9. engineerd Avatar

    Ah yes, the Citroen-owned Maseratis. All the best of French complexity and Italian reliability.
    Jonny, welcome to our fun, somewhat scary corner of the intertubes. Everyone, be nice to Jonny. I've met him and he's much more sensitive than he lets on.*
    *In true engineerd fashion, I've totally made this up.

    1. Peter_Dushenski Avatar

      I have a BS degree too! I’ve used it to convince dim-witted American girls that pigeons hibernate and that Jenga is Canada’s national sport. I’ve also used by BS to run real time polymerase chain reactions, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays, and pulsed field gel electrophoresis. Overall, I enjoyed talking about hibernating pigeons and Jenga more.
      As far as this Maser QP2 goes, it sounds like the only thing less reliable that it were the machines and workforce used to assemble it.

      1. Mac Avatar

        Since it wasn't a real Maserati outside the engine but was just a custom-bodied Citroën SM, it had the identical virtues and problems of the SM. A little slower due to an extra 200# or so and a blockier, less aerodynamically efficient shape. the SM was listed at 135 mph (195/70-15 XWX) and 142 mph (205/70-15 XWX and D-Jetronic injection). The "Maserati" QP II was listed at 125 mph. Not fast enough for those attracted to a car with "Maserati" on it. The old QP (I) was listed at 143 mph.

  10. BrianTheHoon Avatar

    Waitwaitwait … The Loverman's on the 'Verse??? I did not get the memo; when did you guys steal him from Autoblog???
    So good to see you here, Jonny!

    1. Deartháir Avatar

      No, I still think we scare Jonny just a bit. He likes to pretend he's big and tuff. In reality, he's a big softie who likes cuddling, long walks on the beach, candle-lit dinners and sadomasochism.
      It's true, I've seen his profile on
      And by "seen", I mean "created".

      1. Texan_Idiot25 Avatar

        Rumor has it he has a pink snuggy for his Chihuahua

        1. skitter Avatar

          Some say he has a pink snuggie for his Chihuahua…
          and that on weekends he likes to wear a frilly wig, and a long robe with something horrible underneath.
          Lieberman, Loverman, he's just a LeMon.

          1. Jonny Lieberman Avatar
            Jonny Lieberman

            Knuckles is in fact a Miniature Pincher/Dauchshund mix. To my knowledge she doesn't have a pink sweater. She has a cool blue sweater. And a really tough orange and black striped sweater with a skull and crossbones on it. Oh, and one of the skull's eyes is a heart.
            Knuckles does have a pink rain coat, however.

          2. Charles_Barrett Avatar

            Knuckles is da bomb…!

          3. Thrashy Avatar

            I vote that every article Loverman does here gets a Stig introduction.

  11. Deartháir Avatar

    Some say that his dog, Knuckles, may be the most photographed animal… in the world.
    And that his mustache is actually grown from Chia Pet seeds, then painted to match his haircolour.
    All we know is, he's called the Loverman.
    (cue cheezy 1970s porn music. Bowm chicka-chicka-chicka bowm-bowmp…)

    1. skitter Avatar

      My brain always segues that sort of steel guitar into Hendrix's Voodoo Chile. Read into that however you like.

      1. Deartháir Avatar

        Agreed. Even if I do like Kenny Wayne Shepherd's version of Voodoo Child better. Mostly because there's no singing.

  12. aSoundofSleep Avatar

    So that's what Pandora's box looks like on the inside. It doesn't even make any logical sense. I salute that.

  13. citroen67 Avatar

    I'd rock out in one for sure!!!

  14. Jonny Lieberman Avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    One little note: The air intake is in the back of the engine like that so it can be flipped 180 degrees for mid-engined Maser Merak duty…

    1. Mac Avatar

      The carburetor plenum is centered on top of the carbs. The original SM intake hose and filter housing are missing. A small element is fastened to the intake of the plenum.
      Yes, the same plenum, with a big Maserati "W" trident molded on top, is the same on both cars.

  15. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

    I'm disappointed that my thought process of 'hmm, I'd say Merak, but this thing is front-engined' didn't immediately lead to the four-port.
    I'm also scared of it, and I think I'll avert my eyes now.

  16. Mwydro Avatar

    Gandini didn't design the Pantera. That was Tom Tjaarda.

  17. Notasheep Avatar

    Are both the last two photos of the same car? They don't seem to be; so which is what?

    1. Mac Avatar

      The carburetor plenum is centered on top of the carbs. The original SM intake hose and filter housing are missing. A small element is fastened to the intake of the plenum.
      The first photo is of a 1971 two-off Frua custom on an Indy chassis. #004 from Maserati for Karim Aga Khan; #002 purchased directly from Frua by king Juan Carlos of Spain.
      The second photo is of the Bertone design on the SM chassis, of which 12 or 13 were made.
      For this car to have sufficient power to deserve the Trident, perhaps Jerry & Sylvia at SM World might be of help. They have added twin turbos to the 3L Mas SS engine for Bonneville speed runs (206 mph) of the SM. Perhaps they might, for sufficient $$, do one that is roadable. Also, Alfieri had one with a V8 for his personal use.

  18. Mac Avatar

    "All the old school (though beefed up) French hydropneumatic sphere stuff is attached to the Italian heart by a single spinning rod. Think of it as a simulacra version of the La Provencale hitting the Autostrada dei Fiori just east of Nice. Put another way, the oil pump shaft is quite literally where worlds collide, “the backspacing of the crankshaft bore accepting the oil pump shaft is not controlled adequately. The oil pump drive shaft commonly falls into the crank and runs on a small area of its splines thus wearing rapidly.”
    These are two different oil pumps. The brass-colored (cadmium-plated) shaft drives the hydraulic system pump that operates the suspension, steering and brakes is what you seen in the pic. This shaft is driven by the engine intermediate shaft, which turns the coolant ("water") pump, the distributor, and drives the upper chains that turn the cams.
    The shaft that is driven by the crankshaft is the engine oil pump drive shaft. A spacer was added to prevent the shaft from sliding too far into the crankshaft timing pinion. Later the shaft was lengthened, eliminating the spacer, the splines were lengthened for full engagement, and the waist of the shaft was enlarged to give it more strength.
    Interesting that all three of the "most incredible" cars ever build are 1966 Citroën D under the skin. The SM was based on the D and the QP II was based on the SM. And the 1966-75 D was based on the 1955 D.
    The 1966 D got a new engine and transaxle, revised brakes, and replaced the 400 mm wheels with hex hubs with almost-conventional 5 stud 15" wheels. In 1968 it got recontoured front fenders with glass over the lights (illegal in USA), and four headlights: two large lights and two smaller long range driving lights. These were all connected to the suspension for self-leveling and the driving lights swiveled with the steering. These systems were operated with Bowden cables (like bicycle brake and gear cables) (illegal in the USA).
    The SM was mostly a D under the skin but with the Maserati V6 and DIRAVI steering. The 5 speed transaxle was developed for the DSuper 5 and the DS 21, the 5 speed in turn based on the 1966 4 speed transaxle. The Borg-Warner T35 automatic was developed for the DS21/23 and the SM. The SM's 4 self-leveling headlights and two long range steering lights were operated by a low-pressure hydraulic system separate from the main system (illegal in the USA, of course: NIH).

  19. Mac Avatar

    The custom bodied SMs: the Opéras (France: 3, Spain: 4, Haiti: 1), the Presidentielles (2 for the French Presidential Palace), Mylord, were built by Henri Chapron.

  20. […] contrast to the company’s previous four door, the triumphantly complicated, massively disappointing Quattroporte II, Maserati kept the Quattroporte relatively simple. The company’s efforts […]

  21. Mike Avatar

    I have owned a u.s. spec sm for 33 years. It was a daily driver for eight of those years. Monthly thereafter for 15 years. It is like no other car, and I wish I had kept it properly maintained the past 10 years. I love the svelte beast, but it makes my back hurt when I just think of what it needs. I am ashamed of my neglect but Peugeot should be ashamed for failing to let the citroen engineers in full control. But why build 25-30 years ahead of the staid pack.

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