The ‘Espace’ project started in the second half of 1970 when the celebrated French coachbuilder Heuliez’s ‘bureau d’études’ (design centre) began working on a sliding lamella roof and registered a patent for it. A drawing from Heuliez dated November 1970 shows the first ideas of the ‘Espace’.
At the Salon de l’Automobile in Paris in October 1971, the SM Espace made its very first appearance on the Heuliez stand. It had following features:
- T-roof ‘patented Heuliez system’
- Aubergine colour (even the rear numberplate light housing)
- Interior in cream leather
- Dashboard and other parts in green leather`
- Rear window with louvres
- Exhaust in square section
- Special hubcaps in polished aluminium
The next appearance of the SM Espace was at the Brussels Car Show in February 1972 when it was exhibited on the official Citroën stand. Changes had been made as follow:
- The interior had been replaced by a factory standard leather interior
- The dashboard and other parts had been changed to their regular black/grey finish
- The rear window louvres disappeared
- Regular standard hubcaps were fitted
It is presumed these changes were made to convince Citroën of the Espace’s viability as a production model. However, after the Brussels Car Show, Citroën decided not to produce the Espace, so Mr Heuliez decided to keep the car for himself. Since Mrs. Heuliez’s favourite colour was Blue Delta (Citroën colour AC640), the Espace was repainted accordingly.
During the period 1985-2007 the Espace made the following further appearances:
1985: During the first ICCCR meeting (International Citroën Car Club Rallye)
1988: At the entrance of Citroën’s headquarters in Neuilly sur Seine.
1989: Rétromobile, on the Citroën SM Club de France stand
2004: Rétromobile, on the Citroën SM Club de France stand
For this last occasion, the Espace was repainted in Blue Delta by members of the SM Club de France, due to the degradation of the existing paint.
Espace in the USA
In 1978 Heuliez sent the Espace to the USA, to try to convince the American car manufacturers to adopt their patented ‘T-roof”. Unfortunately, this attempt was unsuccessful.
SM Espace auctioned by Artcurial at Le Mans 2012
In 2007 Heuliez went into a creditor protection program, which, unfortunately for Heuliez, ended in its bankruptcy. In 2012 Artcurial staged an auction at which the cars and prototypes still in Heuliez’s possession were auctioned off, including the Espace.
In the auction catalogue, Artcurial mentions that the original SM Espace was destroyed. The reason for this confusion is that back in 1971, Heuliez not only received a regular SM, but also a bare SM body. The bare body was used to carry out the necessary tests to perfect the patented Heuliez T-roof. Once the T-roof system had been designed and tested on the bare body, it was indeed destroyed.
The fact that this SM Espace is the original car that was exhibited at the Salon de L’Automobile is confirmed by traces of the original aubergine colour surviving in various places: behind the rear lights, behind the door panels, on the inside of the hood, and elsewhere.
At the auction, the car was acquired by Mr. Joannon, a former Citroën/SM dealer, who carried out a lot of overdue maintenance. He modified the standard wheel hubs to take Resine wheels. These wheels are made from a fibre reinforced plastic and are unique even today. This had been an option on the Citroën SM since March 1972.
The second SM Espace
On the request of a good friend and customer of Mr. Heuliez, a ‘Second Espace’ was manufactured. This second SM Espace is now owed by a Frenchman residing in the north of France. This Espace is two-tone: white (Blanc Meije) with a black top. Only two Citroën SM Espaces were made.
SM Espace after the Artcurial sale
Between 2012 and 2018, the car appeared on several occasions and many photographs of it are available. The SM Espace also appeared at the Chantilly Concours in 2015. At the 2018 Salon Rétromobile in Paris, I, Mr. Thierry Dehaeck, was very pleased to meet Mr. Denis Joannon for the first time, on the SM Club de France stand. He was the second owner of the 1972 SM Mylord, now owned by me, its fourth owner.
Mr. Joannon explained how he acquired the SM Espace and discussed the possibility of selling the car. So I began negotiating the price, which was rapidly agreed. Unfortunately, I was unaware that Mr. Joannon had gifted the car to his daughter, Isabelle Joannon, who did not agree with her father’s price. So a second, and very lengthy, negotiation was conducted over the phone with Isabelle Joannon, which was not concluded until 30th March 2018 when the Espace was finally sold to me. This SM Espace was, of course, a very nice addition to my SM collection.
In May 2019 I decided to return the SM Espace to its original configuration, as seen at the Salon de l’Automobile in Paris in 1971. So an extensive restoration was commenced, during which Mr. Yves Dubernard, chief designer at Heuliez back in 1971 and responsible of the Espace project, was a tremendous help. Thanks to him, the Espace is now exactly as it was shown in Paris in 1971. The restoration was finally completed at the end of February 2021.