You’ve probably heard the name Henri Chapron at some point or another. The French coachbuilder had a long career creating fantastic, innovative designs; in the first half of the century for manufacturers like Delage and Delahaye and then focusing on Citroen, a choice which marked Chapron’s company path until its demise in the mid 80’s. As you can probably guess, the car that got Chapron’s attention was the brilliant and unique DS. However, we’re not gonna be talking about those conversions today. We’re picking much more exclusive stuff, models with production numbers so low that they didn’t even make it to double digits: three very special versions of that 4 wheeled space ship known as the SM.
But before going into custom SM goodness, let’s take a minute to talk about just how badass the regular SM is. Back in 68 Citroen had the awesome, highly impractical idea of buying Maserati. This gave the company the opportunity of coupling the DS’ extraordinary hydraulic suspension with some good ol’ Italian performance (via a 2.7 or 3.0L V6). The result was extraordinary: unique performance and a shape that endures until this day as one of the most complex, most futuristic forms the automobile has ever assumed. The SM was a sports car like no other and people absolutely loved it…in theory. Sales were another story.
“Some say” the car was just too complex and a prime example of how tough international cooperations can be when conceptualizing and creating an automobile. Others that the competition from established manufacturers in the sports car market was just too strong. Most just blame the economic conditions. By 74 Citroen had gone bust and the oil crisis was in full swing…just not a great time for a sports car, especially one as complex as the SM. Personally,k we feel that although everything played its part, what really got to the SM in the end was what got to most DSs out of France: no one knew what the hell to do with them when wrenchin’ time came round. To be fair, the SM is reportedly one of the biggest nightmares a mechanic (and an owner) can possibly have. Sure, the car was packed with innovations but that also meant that the potential for catastrophic failure was always just around the corner; not only do the French mechanics and Italian power train demand two completely different sets of specialists for the same car, but extremely relevant stuff like the carburetors and timing chains need regular, manual adjustment. Neglect of proper maintenance ended up giving the SM a poor rep from which it never recovered.
But we’re not here to talk about the “basic” SM; we want to focus on Chapron’s more unique interpretations of it.
The first thing Chapron did to the SM was – of course – take the top of. The company had achieved a lot of success doing this to DSs so it was a logical step to go through the same process with the SM. However, while Chapron made hundreds of DS convertibles, only 8 SM “Mylords” saw the light of day…and they are glorious!
Following the lines of the regular SM, Chapron got rid of the roof while maintaining the stunning features at the rear of the car, replacing the fastback like rear hatch with a shapely lid (if you will). Newly inspired and respectful of the original design at the same time, Chapron’s Mylords are some of the rarest, most special SMs in the world. The Mylord in the pictures sold for well over half a million euros at auction (Artcurial) in 2014.
The Opéra is right up there with the Lagonda, Quattroprte III and 375/4 as one of the most unique, best looking 4 door rides of the 1970’s. Just look at it, sleek and low, extraordinary lines…your brain doesn’t even register it as an SM and it’s the darndest thing because all the design cues are there, the elements are basically the same (after all it’s just an SM which was literally cut in half and lengthened) but the form becomes so unique that your perception about the whole car is altered. Pretty damn extraordinary.
With a grand total of just 8 units, the Opéra is, like the Mylord, one of the rarest SM Citroens in the world. When new, 3 remained in France, 4 were exported to Spain and one was shipped off to Haiti. When talking about French luxury for this era, this is the proverbial it. And if you wanna talk overall French automotive history/production, this is – in our humble opinion – second only to the EX1 Excellence. It’s that extraordinary.
In 1972, Chapron had a very special task at hand: coming up with two stylish, humongous presidential limousines for Georges Pompidou, one of the best love statesmen in French history. The coachbuilder delivered, and two stunning Opéra like 4 door convertibles were born, beginning an illustrious career of driving important folks around like the Queen of England and the Pope, a career which extended itself until Jaques Chriac’s inauguration in 1995 .
Despite the 2 Présidentielles still being property of the French government, they’re out of service…at least for now. However, if you think these are the most badass convertibles you’ve ever seen and you just have to have one, you’re in luck cause there’s one out there somewhere for you to find! Back in the early 00’s, Crescia SA in Switzerlad, a Lancia and Citroen restoration specialist, built an accurate copy of the Présidentielle at a reported cost of almost half a million Euros. Subsequently, this very fine copy (which you can see here in the pictures) was sold by Bonhams for only 155.000.
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One thought on “Making a Weird Citroen Weirder – A Guide by Chapron”
The convertibles are amazing. The two door and the four door. What a difference a “lid” makes.