In my time here at Jalopnik I’ve learned that I’m probably one of the only people in car media obsessed with Smart enough to have a beat on whatever’s happening with the company. Today, I have a Smart that I’m sure you’ll fall in love with. Up for grabs is an off-road 2012 Smart Fortwo Pure build that was featured on Netflix.
The United States missed out on the original City Coupé, Fortwo, Crossblade, Forfour and CDI models. What we did get was the second-generation Fortwo, paired to an engine with middling fuel economy and a controversial transmission. We weren’t even supposed to have that Fortwo, as we were supposed to get the Formore SUV.
While Smart may be long gone from the States you can still have some fun with its past. If a slow, smoky diesel isn’t your jam, how about a Smart that can hang with pickup trucks at an off-road park?
I’ve been off-roading Smarts for years. My 2012 Smart Fortwo has survived three Gambler 500 rallies and my 2008 has survived another. While the lack of front and rear overhangs have made for great approach and departure angles, the ground clearance leaves much to be desired. My 2012 gets by with a two-inch tire lift. But what if you want more?
Well, that’s what this Cars & Bids auction offers you.
This 2012 Smart Fortwo Pure started life as a boring base model car. Then Gotham Garage got its hands on it and turned it into something else. The builders of this didn’t just grab an off-of-the-shelf Daystar two-inch lift kit. Instead, they did a custom job to jack this car up.
Now, it has been raised eight inches and rides on a wide-track suspension.
Doug DeMuro makes an interesting hint at Smart’s past in the listing. This made me check my archives and sure enough, I don’t think I’ve laid out Smart’s history.
Smart production started in 1997 with the City Coupé (later renamed Fortwo in 2004), but its history goes all of the way back to the 1970s. Mercedes-Benz started playing with the concept of a two-seat economical compact car in 1972. Nothing reached production and Mercedes continued experimenting with the idea into the 1980s. A notable example is the 1981 Mercedes-Benz NAFA concept, a little city car that looks a bit like a proto-Smart.
Around the same time in the 1980s, engineers Elmar Mock, Jacques Müller and Ernst Thomke invented what would become the stylish Swatch watch. Their company, Swatch, would fall under the umbrella of SMH, run by Nicolas Hayek. Hayek loved what Swatch did to watches and thought that the automotive industry was sorely lacking a similar concept. See, Swatch watches weren’t just cheap, but they were stylish, trendy and effortlessly customisable. Hayek got to work on making what would eventually be called the Swatchmobile, a customisable trendy car with a hybrid or electric drivetrain.
And while Mercedes-Benz brought Hayek’s idea into production, the original plan was for Volkswagen to do it. In 1991, Hayek struck a deal with the Wolfsburg automaker to make the Swatchmobile a reality. Unfortunately, when Ferdinand Piëch became CEO in 1993 he wasn’t fond of Hayek’s project. Ultimately, he dropped the Swatchmobile in favour of what would become the Volkswagen Lupo 3L.
Hayek shopped around and was denied by everyone from Fiat to General Motors before finding a new home at Daimler-Benz AG in 1994. Mercedes liked the concept of a trendy car inspired by the design of Swatch, but changed a lot of the design.
When the car officially launched in 1998 gone was the hybrid powertrain and gone was the Swatchmobile name. It was now Smart, for Swatch Mercedes Art.
And the cars looked like my brown diesel there before the design you all know to the right.
Now with you up to speed on Smart, let’s get back to this wild build.
The car was commissioned by the owner of a vineyard and featured on Car Masters: Rust to Riches on Netflix. It was given the name “Grape Digger,” a nod to the monster truck and the vineyard that owned it. Thirty-inch BFGoodrich Baja T/A tires and an exoskeleton are the icing on top of an already ridiculous cake.
Unfortunately, while this build should make the little Smart pretty fun off-road, it is now a terrible street car. Gotham Garage didn’t touch the powertrain at all.
That means that momentum is achieved with a 999cc Mitsubishi 3B21 triple making 70 horsepower and 31 kg-ft torque.
This translates to a top speed that the seller describes as just 105 km/h. The big tires are the real speed killer here and it’s why I’ve gone for a far milder approach.
There have been many copycats to this car’s build since the airing of the show, but none of them are quite as good as the original. So if you want to have all of the laughs on your next off-road adventure, this Fortwo on Cars & Bids is bidding at $US8,000 ($11,106) with 6 days to go.