Finally, a Respectable Use For a Smart Car
Let’s face it: when it comes to modern cars, no model is as maligned as the diminutive two-seat Smart Fortwo. Well, maybe the Mitsubishi Mirage.
Measuring just 8-feet-10-inches in length, the rear-engined Smart looks less like a car than a rolling phone booth, or perhaps the bubble that would take Patrick McGoohan back to The Village in the TV show “ The Prisoner.”
Jokes and instances of car-tipping aside, the Smart harbors a secret ability that sets it apart from its larger peers — and it took an Ontario mechanic to find it.
A regular day will find Tod Anderson working on mainly European imports at Autobahn Tuning Inc. in a town just south of the Canadian capital of Ottawa. However, when free time allowed, Anderson spent the early part of this winter turning a 2006 Smart Fortwo into a snow-eating beast.
As it turns out, with a little elbow grease and imagination, you can convert a Fortwo into a snowmobile fairly easily at a cost of $7,000 Canadian (roughly $5,300 U.S.), plus the cost of the car itself.
“(The car) was something I’ve had my hands on for about six months,” said Anderson, who decided to convert it last November.
“It looked like something interesting to do. I’ve got buddies who put tracks on their trucks, and because the Smart is rear-engined and rear-wheel drive it seemed natural to try. There’s not many cars you can put tracks on, except a few Ferraris and Porsches.”
Anderson designed and laser cut the front skis from steel plate with the help of a former co-worker, now an engineer. To mount them, Anderson removed the wheels, brake discs and hubs and fixed them to the stub axle.
For grip, he mounted a pair of ATV tracks to the rear axle. Unfortunately, the tracks could only be bought in sets of four.
Once the work was complete, he had his very own Franco-Swiss-German diesel snow machine, complete with heater and climate control that can hit about 40 to 45 miles per hour running flat out.
“It hasn’t been radared, but looking out the window, I’d say it was hitting 70 kilometers an hour,” said Anderson. “We haven’t done calculations on the gear reduction and there’s a lot of top end loss.”
The Smart isn’t street legal when configured this way, but when you can be out on the frozen rivers and snowy fields, who needs traffic? This winter’s warm El Nino conditions led to a poor snow pack in the normally very snowy Ottawa Valley, so Anderson will have to wait until next year to get full use out of his creation.
Over the summer, the Smart will be stored with its wheels on.
Aside from the one-off Nissan Rogue Warrior shown earlier this year at the Montreal International Auto Show, adding treads to a wheeled vehicle is mainly the stuff of private enthusiasts.
Tracked passenger vehicles were used by the German military to blitzkrieg across the muddy fields of the low countries, but don’t get much traction in the modern automotive landscape.
However, they used to be a common sight in the northern U.S. and Canada.
As early as 1910, enterprising individuals were ripping the front wheels off of Ford Model T touring cars and trucks and replacing them with skis.
Mail carriers, deliverymen, ranchers and regular citizens who had some money lying around could purchase a conversion kit for the Model T, turning it into an unstoppable, if primitive, snowmobile.
Before Bombardier and Arctic Cat made the dedicated snowmobile commonplace, this was the only way to push through drifts that didn’t involve horses or your feet. Snow plowing was something reserved for streetcar lines in cities, not rural roadways.
The Model T conversion kits included front skis, cantilevered leaf springs, an anti-slip tread for the doubled-up rear axle, heavy duty wheels and a beefier driveline.
Given the inherent ruggedness of the Model T and the vast number produced between 1908 and 1927 (15 million), a good number of survivors remain. Thanks to this, the Model T Ford Snowmobile Club is able to hold national meets each year in New England.
[Images: Smart Fortwo (Autobahn Tuning Inc./Facebook); Model T ( Smithsonian Institution/Flickr)]
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