When someone mentions V8 engines, I immediately think about American muscle cars or some Jaaaaags and Mercs. Not once have I thought about a French car. But, as I was digging up some cool cars from the past, I found out that there was a rather nice French car with a V8 engine.
It all started in the 1970, when we got the elegant model SM and when Maserati was under Citroën's ownership. The new SM was offered with either a 2.7-litre V6 or a 3.0-litre V6. In the beginning, the sales numbers were good, but the oil crisis struck in 1973, which lowered the sales of both SM models and Maseratis too.
For some reason, these two companies decided that they needed a more powerful engine that would be used by both of them. And since the Maserati Quattroporte II was just around the corner, this really seemed like a good time to work on a new engine. So, Citroën requested for Maserati to work on this project and, in 1974, they presented their vision-a new V8.
The new heart came from the Merak; they simply took 2.5 cylinders from one block and another 1.5 cylinders from another identical block, creating a 4.0-litre V8 with around 270-280 HP. But, the new heart needed to be tested, so they stuffed it into a red Citroën SM (the actual color name was Red Rio).
The engineers tested it (mostly) Italian roads, and even on few tracks like Monza and Modena Autodrome. During its testing faze, the car covered more than 40.000 kilometers. Apart from the power increase, they even made some changes to the hydropneumatic suspension, which in the end gave it a stiffer ride and better handling.
Even though everything seemed to be fine, Citroën went bankrupt in 1975, and the SM V8 project was terminated. Citroën was saved by the PSA Group, and Maserati was bought by De Tomaso. Sadly, when Maserati got its new owner, they were forced to crush the SM V8 model, but they kept the engine in their storage.
Maserati continued with their Quattroporte II project, which was a big flop. They gave it a 3.0-litre V6, and were only able to sell 13 units in 2 years. Not once has occurred to them to use the 4.0-litre V8 in their saloon. But, in 2009, Maserati sold the V8 engine to a car enthusiast Philip Kantor who, then, bought a Citroën SM and put the V8 in it. He even painted it in the same Rio Red, and now the "new" SM V8 is sitting in his garage.
Now, I'm not really a fan of the SM (I'm more of a Citroën DS guy), but I have so much respect for the SM V8. It represents a case when a smaller car maker comes up with a project that's out of its league. Despite the oil crisis, Citroën and Maserati still decided to go with the madness, and in the end paid for it with their lives. Thankfully, the V8 is still running, but it also begs a very important question: If it weren't for the oil crisis, could have this V8 change Citroën's future? I guess we will never know.