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Ken Smith Interview

By Julian Marsh

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JM: I would like to turn now to the SM.  I know that Middleton Motors of Potters Bar converted three cars to right hand drive.  What was the input from Slough?
KS: I was given the job of producing the right hand drive SM. 
This was on top of all my other responsibilities and I did not have enough time. 
The biggest problem was the location of the air conditioning unit which was located on the right side of the dash exactly where the steering column on a RHD car would have to go. 
Ray Middleton developed the ‘date box’, a 3 gear box of tricks that allowed the steering to go over the top of the aircon unit.  We worked very closely with Middleton Motors but it was Ray Middleton who defined the conversions and obtained the components.
When CitroŽn bought Maserati, I was sent to Italy to liaise with the Maserati people.  I went to evening classes to learn Italian.

Below close up of the 'date box' (the silver box with the black rod with universal joint attached

RHD CitroŽn SM RHD CitroŽn SM
RHD CitroŽn SM RHD CitroŽn SM

Above the dark blue car is another of the three RHD SMs converted by Middleton Motors and the underbonnet shots are of this car which now resides in Australia.

JM: How soon after the launch did the SM’s engine problems become apparent?
KS: Fairly soon after the launch.  The problems were due to uneven firing impulses that came about as a result of Alfieri being obliged to remove two cylinders from a V8.  The V angle was wrong for a six cylinder. 

The problem arose at the primary timing chain which had no tensioner and was very inaccessible and was subject to abnormal engine vibrations throughout the engine speed range used for normal driving. 

There were also vibrations caused by the hydraulic pump cutting in and out.  This pump was driven by a jackshaft between the cylinder heads. 

By the time the third version of the engine came into being, the “sensitive” range of the engine speed had been raised above that used for normal driving and the problem diminished.  A tensioner was fitted and tooth jump of the primary chain was avoided.

Below and right two of the right hand drive SMs converted by Middleton Motors of Potters Bar.

RHD CitroŽn SM
(c) Tony Stokoe

Below the (LHD) car provided to the UK motoring press for test

Right another view of the RHD car

RHD CitroŽn SM
RHD CitroŽn SM

JM: Why did vehicle production end at Slough?
KS: For a variety of reasons.  The beginning of the slippery slope was at the end of the 1950s. 
Since Slough started exporting its right hand drive models in 1929, the proportion of exports to home deliveries was in the region of 50:50.  South Africa and other African Commonwealth countries along with other countries that drive on the left such as Australia and New Zealand were major export markets.  Vehicles for these markets were produced during periods of the year when domestic demand was lower and vice versa. 
In 1957 and 1958, the South African government, followed by the Australian government decided to impose a considerably higher rate of duty on vehicles imported fully assembled.  This was done to encourage local assembly and supply of components.  These changes took effect in 1960 and that year was the last one in which Slough exported complete cars to these markets.  1960 was also Slough’s best ever year with nearly 2000 cars being built. 
Once assembly started in South Africa and Australia, exports of complete cars to them from Slough were replaced by sets of right hand drive CKD (Completely Knocked Down) kits from Paris.  The loss of these two major export markets brought production down dramatically.
Thus the decision was taken to assemble cars in South Africa and Australia.  These were two of our major export markets.  We at Slough were ordered to share our expertise with the South Africans and Australians. In 1959 in South Africa and 1960 in Australia, the decision was taken for Paris to supply parts for cars that Slough had supplied up to this time.
In 1963 and 1964, local conditions in the Slough factory, in particular, intransigence in the Body Assembly Shop, led to a major change: body shell assembly ceased; cars were built in Paris with their body shells finish-painted but the doors , wings, bonnets, roofs and bootlids were supplied in primer.  Inner door panels were untrimmed, as were the seats.  At Slough, the body parts were removed from the body shell and received the full paint treatment.  The seats and door inner panels were trimmed, carpets were added and the cars re-assembled.  This procedure was entitled ‘Semi-Knocked Down’ or SKD.  The chassis number received the letter ‘P’ after the ‘9’.
Furthermore, the burgeoning European Common Market trading conditions and the fact that over several years, the nature and finish of the French production became more and more acceptable to the British market.  All this made it clear that it was no longer possible to justify maintaining assembly at Slough and the last DS left the assembly line on 18th February 1966, forty years to the day after Andrť CitroŽn had led the opening ceremony of the works.
Product quality of some proprietary articles had never been as good as that of the French models and we sometimes had to compromise and fit parts that were not what we would have preferred.

JM:  My Dad always replaced the Lucas headlights on his cars with either Marchal or Cibiť units which were superior…
KS: It was after I showed the Lucas rear indicator lights to the Bureau d’Etudes that they designed the one-piece ‘trompettes de Jericho’.  Technical feedback operated in both directions.  We demonstrated that the Castrol-made hydraulic fluid was superior to the French fluid.

Slough-built CitroŽn Traction Avant Six Cylinder redesign Slough-built CitroŽn Traction Avant Six Cylinder redesign

Above, right and below Slough's proposal for the redesign of the Traction. The picture below shows the standard Six Cylinder alongside Slough's proposal.

Slough-built CitroŽn Traction Avant Six Cylinder redesign Slough-built CitroŽn Traction Avant Six Cylinder redesign
Slough-built CitroŽn Traction Avant Six Cylinder redesign
CitroŽn SM

Left the front indicator treatment was also revised

Above SM

JM: Going back to the pas inventť ici, in John Reynolds’ book ‘From A to X’ and in the CitroExpert article, mention is made of the fared in headlights that Slough proposed for the Traction.  Having seen the photos, I think these represented a great improvement over the original.
KS: The proposal was rejected out of hand.  Years later, Flaminio Bertoni explained that this was indeed down to pas inventť ici.  Similarly, unhappy with the hemispherical front auxiliary lamps fitted to the pre 1967 D, we designed a much more aesthetically pleasing housing for the lamps.  Paris did not like this but we argued that it was sensible given the 51% rule.

JM: I was told that Hertfordshire Constabulary took delivery of a couple of Safaris to use as police cars.
KS:  Hertfordshire?  I know we supplied a DW to the Chief Constable of the Buckinghamshire police.  It was fitted with blue lights and I was given the job of running it in.  Needless to say, I was stopped by the police who wanted to know why it had blue lights fitted even though they had black leathercloth covers.

JM: In the sixties, there was an ambulance in the catalogue.  Despite the D’s success as an ambulance on the Continent, I believe very few were sold here.
KS: We sold a couple to Hampshire County Council and one to a private clinic.  The conversion was such that once they were retired from ambulance duty, they could be readily converted into a regular Safari.

Slough-built CitroŽn ID ambulance
Slough-built CitroŽn ID ambulance
Slough-built CitroŽn ID ambulance
Paris-built CitroŽn ID ambulance

Above After the Slough factory closed, the company offered this ambulance based on a French-built Safari.

JM: What involvement did Slough have in the 1968 London to Sydney Marathon?

KS:  We prepared the official team cars.  There are photos showing the cars in our workshop.

JM:  Again, I read in the CitroExpert article that component manufacturers were keen for the company to incorporate their products in your cars.

KS:  Yes indeed.  And I would use my company car to test them.  One of these was an electromagnetic fan for the radiator. The idea was attractive but after mounting it in my DS the coolant temperature quickly rose toward the boiling point. Something that was impossible according to the manufacturer. I then mounted a number of thermometers in the dashboard of the car to monitor the temperature in the engine and top and bottom of the radiator. It was obvious that for some reason, this fan did not work as described.

JM: Ricardo designed a diesel engine for the Rosalie.  Was there ever any intention to fit this engine to the Traction?
KS: To the best of my knowledge, no.

Right Ken Smith's D fitted with additional thermometers

CitroŽn DS London to Sydney Marathon
CitroŽn H Van RHD

JM: Was the H Van ever assembled at Slough?  I believe the CitroŽn Car Club used to own a right hand drive one.

KS:  Not really.  We did investigate the possibility of assembling the HY and to this end, three vehicles were sent over from France. We converted them to right hand drive using parts from the RHD Traction and we made some other parts by hand.

We also fitted one with a hydraulic clutch control.

The side door remained on the right, something that could have created problems had we gone ahead. We are talking about the early sixties, when national makes such as Bedford were at their peak. The market would ultimately not be large enough to justify production. The three vans were sold to customers including a dealer and a former employee, who used it as a minibus.

Left converted right hand drive H Van

JM: I am told that UK customers could order the DS and ID in any colour they wanted.
KS: Yes, at extra charge, provided the colour was in the paint manufacturers’ catalogue.  We used ICI and Valentine paints.  If the desired colour was not in the catalogue, it would be made up to special order at an additional cost.

JM: What do you think of modern CitroŽns?
KS:  I don’t really know all that much about them.  But they are more difficult to work on unless you have the right equipment, thanks to all the electronics.  I could do anything on my BX but the Xsara Estate that I have is a different proposition.  But it does seem to me that CitroŽn is no longer the poor relation in PSA.

After five hours, I reluctantly said goodbye to Ken.  We could probably have easily spent a further five hours discussing the Slough operations.  Some of the material we discussed has already been published in CitroExpert and I have endeavoured not to cover the same ground.

My thanks to Julian Leyton and Anna Lukas of CitroŽn UK Ltd. for facilitating the interview; to Wouter Jansen of CitroExpert for providing the trigger for this and for allowing me to refer to his article; to Nigel Wild, Brian Drummond and Adrian Chapman of the CitroŽn Car Club for suggesting questions to ask; to Mick Popka of the Traction Owners Club for suggesting additional questions and last but by no means least, to Ken Smith for consenting to be interviewed and for his friendliness and hospitality.

Photo of the white RHD SM © Tony Stokoe
Photos of the blue RHD SM © 2010 Lee Scholte
© 2011 CitroŽnŽt