By on December 29, 2017

Image: 2004 Smart RoadsterWhat has three cylinders, a removable roof, and is technically illegal to own in the United States? Why, it’s the Smart Roadster, of course.

Come have a look at all the illegal plastic you can get for twenty grand.

Image: 2004 Smart RoadsterLet’s have some background before we get to how illegal all of this is. The Smart brand has made three basic models throughout its history, with electric and specialty versions of each. North America received the Fortwo, while other locales received the Forfour and the Roadster you see here.

Image: 2004 Smart RoadsterAfter the initial success of their initial model, the Fortwo (then called City Coupe), owner Mercedes-Benz sought to increase the model offerings for the brand and decided a sporty coupe was the place to start. (The Mercedes badges are not original to the car.)

Image: 2004 Smart RoadsterShown first at the Paris Motor Show in 2000, the roadster sat on an extended-length version of the Fortwo’s platform. It shared the same engine as the Fortwo: A turbocharged 3-cylinder residing at the rear and producing 80 horsepower.

Image: 2004 Smart RoadsterThe Roadster received initial critical acclaim and sales success, and even won Top Gear’s Fun Car of the Year award in 2005.

Image: 2004 Smart RoadsterPlastic construction and a diminutive size kept the weight down (1,742 pounds) and made the Roadster tossable driving fun. Unfortunately that plastic construction wasn’t very good at keeping out things like water.

Image: 2004 Smart RoadsterWarranty claims skyrocketed due to the water leakage, and would often end in repairs costing thousands of dollars. This damaged both the Roadster’s reputation and the willingness of Smart to continue manufacturing the vehicle. By 2006, Smart was ready to call it quits on the Roadster. After four years of production, a little over 43,000 rolled off the line.

Image: 2004 Smart RoadsterThis Roadster for sale in Brooklyn is a 2004 model, and features the solid removable roof panel and optional paddle shifters on the wheel. Imported into California in 2009, it has about 5,000 miles and a clear Florida title. Additionally, the seller exclaims via all caps that it’s all stock and original, but also has a Sawyer tuning chip to bump the horsepower to 100. Along with that clear Florida title, the seller warns that the Roadster is “For off-road [sic] use only, but do what you want.” It’s not a vehicle you can legally title in America, and won’t be eligible for the 25-year rule for a long time. Someone has played some importation games here.

$20,000 is a lot of money for a Mercedes-Benz go-kart, but maybe it’s worth holding onto until… 2029.

If you need a laugh, you can read more in the hilariously biased, poorly written, and unprofessional Wikipedia article for the Roadster.

[Images via seller]

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31 Comments on “Rare Rides: There’s a 2004 Smart Roadster in Brooklyn but It’s Mostly Useless...”


  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Too bad it’s not a stick shift.

    Or road legal.

    Or waterproof.

    Or priced below crack pipe level.

    But I am curious how this thing drives. And all that talk of it drawing supercar crowds while being photographed next to a Ferrari and palm trees imbues it with a certain undeserved halo.

    • 0 avatar
      Thinkin...

      Sadly they never made these with proper, three-pedal, manual transmissions. The transmissions are almost interesting though, as they’re not automatics: You must initiate all upshifts manually (via paddle or lever), and there’s no auto mode. (So floor it in first, and it’ll race up to the redline in first gear, and then just stay there, waiting for your to shift – like a DCT in “manual” mode. It will downshift for you, to prevent stalling, but reluctantly; it wants you to shift, just no clutch pedal allowed. Not my cup of tea, but not an automatic.

      As to the driving experience, think old CRX, not Elise – but with no left-foot love.. It doesn’t ever feel particularly quick, but is plenty fun, and certainly looks the part. Lots of Brabus bits were available to kick it up a notch, as was a non-fastback/Kammback body as well – just imagine that rear black/glass portion missing, with just a flat trunk.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    0-60 in 12-13 seconds via a very slow-shifting automated manual, 30-35 mpg at best, leaks to interior and trunk with top up or down, not legal to drive, all at a price that is about 4 times the going rate in Europe where they are legal to drive. What’s not to like?

  • avatar
    JMII

    Hmmmm what engine could you swap in there? MR2? Fiero? If you put a firewall behind the driver and vented that rear hatch maybe something bigger like a Honda or Ford FWD turbo? Who cares about legal or leaks, you would have the ONLY one of these at track day. The 3 lug wheels on these things are a joke.

  • avatar
    I_like_stuff

    If you long for the days of 1984 Pontiac build quality….we have just the car for you!

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    It would be lots of fun for whatever the 2029 inflation adjusted equivalent of $5000. Just keep it out of the rain and the car wash.

  • avatar
    TMA1

    I have a feeling that Wikipedia article was written by someone at Smart.

    “At the 1998 Paris Motor Show… the Smart Fortwo was launched. This was the beginning of a new car brand… It was also the beginning of a difficult period for Smart.”

    LOL!

  • avatar
    John R

    …stick a Hayabusa in it…

  • avatar
    vww12

    I’ve seen these smart roadsters parked on city streets all over Europe.

    It could be because these cars are over a decade old, or because smart plastics are not shiny to begin with and get even duller with time, and especially because the matte plastic around the headlights does not age well, but the truth is, these cars don’t look racy nor special at all.

    Even if legal, I would not pay any more for this than for a similar-vintage regular smart ForTwo.

  • avatar
    NG5

    I saw one of these a few months ago while travelling outside the US. I think the one I saw didn’t have that hatch-like rear glass, where the cabin ended immediately behind the seats, making it look even more sawn up and strange than it already does.

  • avatar
    slap

    Reminds me of a kei car.

  • avatar
    ciscokidinsf

    OK Guys, here is the plan to repeal the 25 year old law:

    But you gotta be in Corey, the rest will need to put a little bit of money or a contact at Fox News

    1) Publish blog post blaming Obama for setting the rule
    2) Pay off someone to mention this in Fox News
    3) Trump will sign executive order striking down the law
    4) We finally import whatever we want

    Are we in?

  • avatar
    Maymar

    For $20k, I’d rather just buy roughly 10 ex-Car2Go fortwos and start my own spec racing league. Not a good idea, but at least more fun than a fragile car you can barely drive.

  • avatar
    ThomasSchiffer

    Many years ago I had the pleasure of being able to drive one of these. The car belonged to a friend who was selling it. I briefly flirted with the idea of purchasing it, but before that I would need to drive it.

    To my surprise this small car was quite fast and it could have been tremendously fun. The 3-cylinder engine is turbocharged and for the era it was quite responsive with very little noticeable turbo lag. Good steering feedback and a sportily-tuned suspension gave the car some real sporting pretensions.

    Unfortunately the transmission was absolutely terrible and this ruined any semblance of fun. While the shifts were quick, they were not smooth. Every gear change made a loud ‘thud’ sound. And with each ‘thud’ sound the transmission would vibrate. My friend stated this had always been the case ever since he bought the car.

    Needless to say the unrefined transmission scared me away and I ended up not buying a fun car for the weekends.

  • avatar
    Wunsch

    A Canadian could buy it, sit on it for a year, and then legally import it to Canada and drive it. That’s a bit of a stretch, but more useful than an American buying it.

    The Mercedes badges are a weird touch.

  • avatar

    Back when these were new, I traveled to the UK a lot, and I honestly thought they were pretty awesome… in a minimalist sort of way. Would be fun to own, and out just west of the middle of nowhere where I live, I could drive it all the time and never see a cop.

  • avatar
    CrystalEyes

    Couldn’t agree more about the Fortwo transmission. Overall the car felt pretty crude. The one I drove was a sort-of-convertible, and I’ve always loved little convertibles like the MG Midget or Bugeye Sprite. Not so much the Fortwo. The interior was not too dissimilar in terms of materials and quality from what you might find in a later MGB or Porsche 914; possibly more durable but not seeming any more upscale. The engine was unusual (a tiny diesel) but worked well enough. No joy there but not entirely terrible either. Steering was fairly imprecise and handling was terrible. I still would have enjoyed driving it if it weren’t for the transmission. Easily the worst of any automatic or standard on any car, truck or motorcycle I have ever driven. If you shifted it manually you could churn your way around town without drama, but let it shift itself and you would never be quite sure when it would decide to change gears, except that it wouldn’t be the right time, and when it did you had to feather the throttle just right to avoid a lurch that would definitely put some of your morning coffee in your lap, even when you knew it was coming. There was nothing you could do about the shift itself, but controlling it manually meant you could do it at appropriate times and it was easier to finesse the throttle. About 100km over a couple of days and I was done with this otherwise interesting car forever. The streets are lousy with them where I live (Victoria, BC), but there are surprisingly few on the used market at any one time. People must be hanging on to them but why I can’t imagine. I understand you can get a proper manual transmission in them now, but it would have to actually produce gasoline while it drove before I’d consider getting one.


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