Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Idi Amin, Tommy Chong, and the Citroen SM

From a cannibalistic despot to the even-more-evil glass pipe vender/felon, the SM has a number of iconoclastic admirers. Both Amin and Chong owned the Serie Maserati. Why? It is too late to interview Amin. Chong probably does not remember any of the 70s. My guess is they just wanted to be different.

You cannot get any more different than an SM. It married a tempermental Maserati V6 (the V8 was too long for the snout and sent too much power to the FWD platform) with the overtly and ostentatiously sophisticated Citroen self-leveling hydropneumatic suspension system. The system, which is filled with nitrogen and mineral oil, is such an integral part of the car it is even connected to the six headlamps in order to dampen bumps. This high performance GT's one-spoke steering wheel only takes two short revolutions to go from lock to lock. A simple hiccup on the expressway could lead to disastrous consequences. A more different car one could not find.

But what really sets the SM apart is its exterior styling. From the top, it looks like a teardrop. From the rear quarter vantage point, it looks like a Gaul-ish Honda Insight. And from the front, the headlights seem to say, in English, French, and Italian, "Get the f*&k out of my way."

I have only seen one SM outside of museums. It is usually parked on the street in quaint little downtown Martinez, a few miles from home. It is a daily driver. The paint is faded; the tires are dull; and evidence of decades of parallel parking can be seen throughout the body work. God knows the tens of thousands of dollars the owner has spent just keeping it running. The driver is probably not an exiled member of the Amin family or Tommy Chong. But he owns an SM for the same reason. He wants to be different.


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