We’ve had quite a few candidates for this week’s Potential Purchase — but none offered quite the technological intrigue and Gallic charm of this 1970 Citroën M35.
M35? Qu’est-ce que c’est?
We’ll forgive you if you’ve never heard of an M35, even if you’re somewhat familiar with Citroën products like the 2CV, DS, and SM. Although it was sold to the public, the M35 wasn’t considered a full-fledged production vehicle — in actuality, it was a prototype that allowed engineers to flirt with the Wankel rotary engine.
Citroën had been interested in Felix Wankel’s revolutionary engine design as far back as 1964, but formed a joint venture in 1967 — Comotor SA — to manufacture the engines with German automaker NSU, which owned many of Wankel’s patents. The firm produced a small 995-cc, single-rotor engine, which was reportedly good for 49 horsepower at roughly 5500 rpm.
Since it had an engine, engineers went searching for the ideal car to test it in. Although the DS and SM were already technological showpieces, the limited power output made the Comotor engine ideal for something small. As a result, they chose to base the M35 off the Ami — an angular, “premium” small car built upon the chassis of the famed 2CV.
Stuff a rotary under the hood, sell to consumers, and call it a day — right?
Mais non — this was Citroën in the ’60s, when there was virtually no constraint on exercising engineers’ imaginations. The M35 was given a custom two-door fastback coupe body from Heuliez, while the chassis beneath was modified to incorporate hydropneumatic suspension, similar to what was used in the DS, ID, and SM.
Citroën launched the M35 in 1969, and decided it would sell roughly 500 examples to select customers. In reality, those folks were paying to be French guinea pigs — all maintenance tasks on the M35 were performed by Citroen’s R&D division, which kept tabs on the Wankel’s performance in the real world.
All was rosy until the early ’70s, but rising fuel costs and the Wankel’s insatiable thirst for petrol caused the company to cancel the program. Only 237 M35s were built between 1969 and 1971, and many owners chose to trade in their vehicles for a “more conventional” Citroën — if there was such a thing.
Why would I want one?
Well, if you’re either a rotary-lover or a Citroën freak, there’s no need for us to justify the purchase. If you love tech, love French cars, or love the zany, the M35 has it — and in spades, to boot.
Are there any downsides?
Plenty, actually. There’s the matter of the somewhat unique engine, but the M35 also utilized bespoke windshield glass, doors, side windows, fenders, trunk stampings, and suspension parts. If you’re not handy, or you don’t live next door to a Citroën maintenance god, this may prove to be a handful over the long run.
Also, there’s the matter of cost — this example is going for roughly $21,000, and is located en France, so you’ll need to squirrel away a sizable chunk of change to have it imported to the New World.