Rare Rides: There's a 2004 Smart Roadster in Brooklyn but It's Mostly Useless
What 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.
Let’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.
After 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.)
Shown 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.
The Roadster received initial critical acclaim and sales success, and even won Top Gear’s Fun Car of the Year award in 2005.
Plastic 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.
Warranty 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.
This 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]
Chuck Goolsbee on Jan 01, 2018
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.
CrystalEyes on Feb 18, 2018
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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