Rare Rides: There's a 2004 Smart Roadster in Brooklyn but It's Mostly Useless

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

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]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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  • Chuck Goolsbee 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 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.

  • Dave M. The Outback alternates between decent design and goofy design every generation. 2005 was attractive, 2010 goofy. 2015 decent. 2020 good, but the ‘23 refresh hideous.Looking forward to the Outback hybrid in ‘26…..
  • Lorenzo Subaru had the ideal wagon - in 1995. The Legacy Outback was a straight two-box design with rear quarter and back windows you could see out of, and was available in brown with a 5-speed manual, as God and TTAC commenters intended. It's nice they're not raising prices, but when you've lost the plot, does it matter?
  • Bkojote Remember a month a go when Cleveland wanted to create a more walkable Cleveland and TTAC's 'BIG GOVERNMENT IS THE PROBLEM' dumbest and dullest all collectively crapped their diapers? Here's the thing- look on any American highway and it's littered with people who don't /want/ to be driving or shouldn't be. Look at every Becky on her phone during the morning commute in her Tucson, look at every Brad aggro driving his 84 month loan GMC. Hell look how many drivers nowadays can't even operate a headlight switch. You expect these people to understand a stoplight? In my neighborhood alone 4 people have been rear ended at lights from someone on their phone. Distracted driving over the past 10 years has spiked, and it's only going to get worse unless Becky has an alternative, because no judge is going to pull her license when 'she needs it to get to work!' but heaven forbid she not check fb/tiktok for 40 minutes a day.
  • Scott Shouldn't the The Italian Minister for Business be criticizing The Milano for being too ugly to be Italian?Better use of resources doing that....
  • Steve Biro Frankly, while I can do without Eyesight and automatic start-stop, there is generally less B-S with Subarus in terms of design, utility and off-road chops than with many other brands. I just hope that when they adopt Toyota’s hybrid system, they’ll also use Toyota’s eCVT.