Home » A Car Designer Decided To Turn Slow Smart Cars Into Sports Cars And The Results Are Bizarre

A Car Designer Decided To Turn Slow Smart Cars Into Sports Cars And The Results Are Bizarre

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If you’re an enthusiast looking for a pure sports car experience, chances are a Smart Fortwo is not on your list. There’s nothing wrong with the Fortwo, it’s just that the car was designed to be the best vehicle to park in a city, not an Autobahn stormer. Designer Bernd Michalak and his company Michalak Design sought to change that. The Michalak C7 kit turned a Smart Fortwo city car into a low-slung sports car complete with bizarre looks and even more power if you wanted. Amazingly, Michalak actually managed to sell a number of these strange little sports cars.

If you’ve never driven a Smart before, let me explain just how slow these cars get. In the mid-2000s, when the Michalak C7 was offered, the slowest Fortwo was the CDI. It’s a diesel making a ravenous 40 HP, good for a Sunday drive and it’ll eventually reach 60 mph in 20 seconds. If you had some cash in your bank account, you could have picked up the Smart Fortwo Brabus Ultimate 101, which got you to 60 mph in a brisk 11.2 seconds thanks to its 101 HP turbo three. Brabus was quite obsessed with the number 101 with that one, and it built just 101 examples.

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Vidframe Min Bottom

What I’m getting at here is that the old Smart Fortwo isn’t really a car you associate with speed or sport driving. You bought a Smart Fortwo because you wanted the diesel’s easy 70 mpg, the ease of parking, or the funky looks.

Smart Fortwo Brabus Ultimate 101 Edition 2005 Int 1
Smart/Brabus

If you wanted a more sporty drive, you bought the Smart Roadster, which managed to impress even the likes of Jeremy Clarkson with its lively handling. The incredible thing is that the Roadster is based on the Fortwo, so somewhere deep under those plastic panels is a platform that wants to be an old British roadster when it grows up.

Yet, the bizarre roadster you see on your screen today is not based on the Smart Roadster. Bernd Michalak specifically wanted to convert Smart Fortwos into roadsters. That’s just the first part that makes this kit bizarre. Don’t think about it much more because you’ll get confused just as I did.

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The Designer

The Michalak C7 was the work of German designer Bernd Michalak. Michalak says his long-time dream was to become a car designer and he finally achieved his goal when he opened Michalak Design & Co KG in 1979. Michalak, along with his wife Jutta, ran Michalak Design as a sort of concept design house and prototyping facility.

Michalak may not be a name you’re familiar with, but perhaps you’ve seen his work in concept cars. One of his early works was the Michalak Corsaspider. Presented in 1983, this car took the Opel Corsa family hatch and turned it into a two-seat roadster. Also unveiled during the 1983 auto show season was the Michalak Topino, an Opel Corsa turned into a beach car complete with a matching trailer for bicycles.

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Amazingly, Michalak did occasionally sell kits for these concept cars. He says 100 of the Corsaspider kits were sold. The Topino was a one-off design without any kits.

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Next came the Michalak Cilindro. Built in 1989, this sports car was a design study. It weighed 1,653 pounds and featured a 3.2-liter V8 rated for 255 HP. Michalak says it was built to show off the prototyping potential of his company. A few years later in 1993, Michalak would show off the Michalak Conciso. This aluminum-bodied sports car looked like an evolution of the Cilindro, but differed in one key area. This concept was based on a Ferrari 328 and Michalak went through the work to make it a road-legal vehicle.

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RM Sotheby’s

The Michalak Conciso is perhaps the most famous of Michalak’s designs and the car remains a wonder today, with auto publications still writing about it and Jay Leno even doing a review on it. To build the Conciso, Michalak found a low-mile used Ferrari 328, cut the vehicle down to just its original drivetrain, and then formed the aluminum body around it. Under the space wedge sat a 3.2-liter Ferrari V8, good for 270 HP.

In doing all of this, Michalak managed to build a car that weighed just 2,164 pounds, a reported 30 percent shave from the Ferrari’s weight. This meant an acceleration time of 62 mph in five seconds, an improvement of 0.5 seconds. The aerodynamic shape also allowed a higher top speed of 172 mph, as compared to the stock car’s 166 mph. The Conciso has been passed around to different collectors over the years and most recently sold for $122,325 to its current owner.

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RM Sotheby’s

After these hardcore concept cars, Michalak seemingly pulled back. His next effort was in 1996 with the Michalak Cocoon, which was a Dodge Viper with a roof and power windows. Michalak says he sold 50 of those.

Then, in 2000, Michalak got into the aftermarket parts industry. Specifically, he started developing parts for the then-new Smart City Coupe (later renamed the Fortwo). Michalak provided parts that Smart didn’t, such as Xenon headlights, carbon fiber parts, and custom leather interiors. He even designed some custom wheels for Smarts. Back in 2008 when I fell in love with Smarts, I remember forum posts and websites in the UK talking up these parts. If you’re lucky, you can still find Michalak Smart parts for sale today, including custom air intake vents, grilles, and wheels.

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Michalak’s fascination with the Fortwo didn’t end there.

The Michalak C7

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In 2004, Michalak embarked on a quest to turn the Smart Fortwo into something more. Michalak wanted to bring back the roadster of old, such as the Lotus Seven and the Shelby Cobra, but with the modern bones of the Fortwo. Buyers of this car would get a thrilling and pure driving experience, but still save money at the pump because the donor wouldn’t be a Ferrari or some other sports car, but a humble city car.

Right from the jump, I see a confusing problem here. In 2004, when development on the Michalak C7 was started, Smart was still selling its Roadster. Sure, the Roadster was a financial failure and warranty claim hog, but it was still being sold and in healthy numbers. Period reviews even compared the Roadster’s stellar handling with the old roadsters Michalak wanted to emulate.

Michalak C7 Small Series Kit Car

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I suppose the answer to my bewilderment comes from the advertised benefits of the C7 kit. The C7 was targeting existing Fortwo owners, not new car shoppers. Michalak offered then-current Fortwo owners to convert their cars into something more sporty. He also thought that his kit would save wrecked Smarts from meeting the scrapper.

Here’s how Michalak advertised the C7, roughly translated from German into English:

Did you feel wind in the hair today? Maybe as a biker. But as a car driver? Feel the speed, the freshness without helmet and leather clothing. You want more? More individuality? More feeling of success? More attention? More self-affirmation? More admiration? More vitality? Imagine driving your own, individuel roadster! Unique, disdinctive, eye-catching, nice, – Michalak C7. Fulfill a desire, which everyone has got a piece of. – Build your own car! Make it up to your imaginations, wishes and needs! Self built! Registered for all days use.

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Andrew Shipp

In other words, the Michalak C7 was supposed to appeal to the kind of person who wants to ride a motorcycle but doesn’t want to wear gear. The Michalak C7 was for the car enthusiast who wants to build their own car and own something special. Michalak advertised the car as capable of being built in 100 hours, or eight days for someone inexperienced in constructing a vehicle. Further, Michalak said that no special tools, hoists, or even a welder was required. He said, “If you can put together a bedroom dresser from a Swedish furniture store, you’ll have no problem assembling the C7.”

It’s possible he was telling the truth. When Michalak says the C7 is based on the Fortwo, you probably picture someone lowering this body onto the skeleton of the Smart. Instead, Michalak wanted you to gut your Fortwo of its powertrain, suspension, seats, computers, instruments, and wiring. You would then add those parts to the Michalak C7’s custom chassis. Michalak said the whole process involves bolting things down and snapping together other pieces. No fabrication was involved and you did not modify the factory Smart equipment. You just bolted it in place and snapped in the plastic body on top of everything.

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The car looked bizarre, but the neat part was that under the skin it was just a regular Smart. And since you provided the donor car, the powertrain was whatever you wanted it to be. Yep, you could have built a 70 mpg diesel roadster if you wanted to! Michalak also said that depending on the donor Smart, your 1,366-pound Michalak C7 could shave a few hundred pounds off of your original car. The design firm said that alone would make your Smart a little faster and the stretched-out platform would turn your car into a sports car.

However, if you wanted a little more oomph, Michalak and its distributors offered engine tunes. Back in those days, a regular Fortwo made about 60 HP from a 700cc turbocharged triple. With tuning, Michalak was able to get the engine to pump out 110 HP, more than the factory Brabus model. Michalak said that when applied to a C7, the car could hit 62 mph in 8.9 seconds and top out at 120 mph. Of course, this is still not that fast, but it was rapid for an old Smart. The Michalak C7, like the Conciso, didn’t really improve performance that much. Really, the end result is more supposed to be artsy with good handling.

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Andrew Shipp

Is this artsy? I’m not sure. But I can tell you it’s definitely one of, if not the weirdest variation of Smart Fortwo ever built. The kits sold for about $10,000, and that didn’t include the donor car or any costs incurred during the build. Michalak says he sold 33 kits and at least some of them were completed. Every once in a while, a C7 does show up for sale. Or, perhaps it’s the same C7.

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Perhaps the wildest part is that this was hardly the only Smart-based kit car out there during those times. There was also the Smart Europa, essentially a Smart Roadster with a body inspired by a Lotus Europa, the Zonta, a Smart-based exoskeleton kit car, and the Smabug, another exoskeleton kit car. However, of all of them, the Michalak C7 has to the most far out.

Sadly, the chances of you owning one of these is slim. As I said, only 33 were sold and it’s unclear how many were completed. There are some out there, but who knows how many. You’ll probably have better luck buying an actual Shelby Cobra. The kits also aren’t being made anymore. Michalak himself has moved on to doing car-based digital art, so we’ve probably seen the last of his wild designs. Still, I love this silly thing. It didn’t really solve any problems, but these weirdest possible Smart cars showed what was possible with a little creativity.

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Andrew Shipp

C7roady

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(Images: Michalak Design, unless otherwise noted.)

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Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
3 months ago

this would be such an instant Lemons Rally win-on-points contender that it’s not even funny

Maymar
Maymar
3 months ago

Were these 450 or 451 based? I feel like with the relative abundance of 451’s in North America (although I’m in a city that had Car2Go, so my perception is skewed), there’s potential for this idea again.

JDE
JDE
3 months ago

I have to say this 90’s Dodge show car styling is not good on the eyes. But I applaud the effort. I would still rather have a gray market roadster with a GSXR motorcycle engine swap. even if that requires loss of passenger seating.

Gordon Mitchell
Gordon Mitchell
4 months ago

Mercedes why are you holding back? We know you REEEEALLY love this silly little car and I think we need to get you one.

Groover
Groover
4 months ago

the one thing I keep thinking when I see custom cars like this is “grilles are actually pretty hard, huh?”

James Mason
James Mason
4 months ago

This thing looks like a child of an incestual relationship.

niceladybadjeep
niceladybadjeep
4 months ago

Massive work and effort with unattractive results

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
4 months ago

These are cool af. Nice find, Mercedes!

Amberturnsignalsarebetter
Amberturnsignalsarebetter
4 months ago

I wonder if the Michalak has more luggage space than the normal Smart – i reckon there should be enough room for a decent frunk there.

Inthemikelane
Inthemikelane
4 months ago

Love seeing unusual creations like this, thanks Mercedes!

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
4 months ago

Yikes.

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
4 months ago

Before any of you lot in the peasant’s gallery open your yaps, he and I are not the same.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
4 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Little defensive there, hm?
🙂

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
4 months ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

Just my usual snobbishness.

Taco Shackleford
Taco Shackleford
4 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

When I saw the front I thought Chrysler 300Prowler. When I saw the back I gufawed and thought I can’t wait to hear from you.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
4 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Paint them black and you two would be essentially indistinguishable

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
4 months ago

While we are in this category, Mercedes, could you direct your investigative journalism towards the Caterham Kei Super 7? I think they called it the 170. I’m weirdly obsessed with getting my hands on one someday. Would love to know a whole lot more about it.

Oh wait, please don’t. The attention might price me out.

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
4 months ago

The Suzuki engined one is specifically a Kei (iirc it uses the entire drivetrain including rear axle from a Jimny).

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
4 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

And it’s the only kei car with more than 64 horsepower! Lotus were fixing to downgrade the engine from the 80hp, and the Japanese registration authorities said not to worry about it. This limit still applies to the Japanese manufacturers, but somehow the Seven is exempt.

Mr. Asa
Mr. Asa
4 months ago

I wonder if the molds are still in existence? If so, it would be (kinda, but not really) simple to go through the work of making the underpinnings fit a space frame. Especially with today’s advances in 3D scanning.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
4 months ago

Good stuff Mercedes. I wish there were more decent kits out there to use on any number of cars.
These look like they would handle pretty well based on longer wheel base and wide track. (at least the photos appear to show a wider track.)

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
4 months ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

I don’t love the way they look, but I’m intrigued by the Smart Europas, well as intrigued as I can be, given the website does NOT play well with phones.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
4 months ago

And now I want a Smart ForTwo Europa kit, but I’m guessing they sold even less of those and none of them left Europe

Toecutter
Toecutter
4 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Damn I want one soooooo bad. All the aero advantages, without all of the maintenance headaches. Would make the great basis for an EV conversion or a small Smart diesel engine…

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
4 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

The Smart Europa looks to me like a Banks Europa with a smart powertrain and interior bits. I think that Banks can build a Europa using entirely new parts so maybe a Lotus donor is not involved, but I can’t tell from that page.

Toecutter
Toecutter
4 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Crawford

If they could do one on an NA/NB/NC Miata, that would be great.

I love that body shape. So delightfully narrow and low, while still being reasonably slippery. Cd is 0.29 for a Europa. The CdA value of a Europa is significantly less than a 1st gen Honda Insight. The Europa’s engine is highly inefficient, and it STILL manages 30-35 mpg. An LS1 swap in a Europa could probably yield 45+ mpg highway cruising 70 mph…

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
4 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

A LS Europa, yikes!

I recall someone put a Mazda rotary in one in the 70s and managed high 30s mpg

Last edited 4 months ago by Hugh Crawford
Toecutter
Toecutter
3 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Crawford

Another datapoint to support my theory. The Mazda rotary is a less efficient engine than an LS1, and if it gets high 30s mpg in a Europa, imagine what the more efficient LS1 will get…

…if you can keep your right foot disciplined, that is.

An LS1 Europa would be an awesome ride…

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