Over the past few years or so I’ve witnessed people in the off-roading world discovering the Smart Fortwo’s secret. These little cars, with their tiny footprint and lack of overhangs, make for surprisingly competent off-roaders. This has led to some wild builds with these little city cars getting jacked up and taken places their engineers probably never imagined. Perhaps the silliest of these builds I’ve seen yet is this Smart Fortwo Brabus for sale on Cars & Bids. It started life as a rare lowered limited edition sport model, now it’s the exact opposite.
A ton of people have been sending me this car over the past few days, some even asking if the car was one of mine or if I’m a bidder. Alright, our readers know what gets my heart pumping!
As I wrote last year, I first got into off-roading back in 2018 when I took my own 2012 Smart Fortwo off-roading. Back then, that car was largely stock save for tires that were two inches taller than stock. My little car got anywhere a 2×4 pickup did while also being small enough to guide a huge line of off-road prepped hoopties out of a forest mud pit from hell.
The Fortwo surprised many, including myself, with how competent it was so far from the cities it was designed to drive in.
Back in those days, off-road Smarts weren’t a new thing. Gotham Garage built a Smart with an exoskeleton for a winery. In 2018, that car ended up on Netflix show Car Masters: Rust to Riches. There were even Dakar efforts using Smart bodies. Though, the number of off-road builds wasn’t anything like what I’m seeing today.
Lift kits have existed for Smarts for many years, but from my experience moderating the largest Smart forums in the country, most of the time, the lift kits were used for better clearance in the snow or for dirt roads, not to get through mud pits or rough terrain. I’m not sure what made the idea of off-road Smarting explode in popularity, but I’m here for it.
Now, these things are everywhere and they’re so fun. Here’s the one from Car Masters: Rust to Riches:
Beneath The Builds
Most of these builds are based on the second-generation Smart Fortwo, known internally as the 451. This car came at a weird time for Smart. The company hit the market in 1997 with the City Coupé (renamed Fortwo in 2004) capturing both strong sales and the attention of many. Smarts sold well and the company even expanded into a four-door and a roadster, yet somehow managed to lose billions of dollars along the way.
When looking at the market in the States, Smart decided that an SUV was the way to go. The Formore was just weeks from production before Smart ran out of cash and found itself in liquidation in 2006. Smart would continue its entry into the United States but without the SUV.
What we got was the second-generation Fortwo. This car was a little wider, a little longer, and a little more powerful than its predecessor. While the first-generation 450 felt most at home in a city, the 451 had enough power and comfort to keep up on American highways. When Smart USA launched the new car I remember lots of people thinking that this was the second coming of the Geo Metro.
Smart USA arguably made errors of its own, thinking that buyers wanted a “one size fits all” engine that was faster than the 70 mpg diesel, but not as thirsty as a more powerful Brabus. We got a 999cc 70 HP triple made by Mitsubishi that required premium fuel for a highway rating of 41 mpg. Sales were great just a single year and after 11 years of trying, Smart pulled out of America after selling 98,800 cars.
In the roughly four years since these cars have gotten some interest in the used market. Every day, the forums I help moderate get new people who bought a used Smart. A lot of these people either missed the boat on buying a new one or just couldn’t afford it. Some of these people have big plans for their cars. I’ve seen Smarts get turned into Cozy Coupes, crafted into little track cars, and lately, off-roaders. Smarts find an afterlife as someone’s blank canvas.
The Smart off-roading scene has grown exponentially. One build even made an appearance at the 2022 SEMA Show. That one, done by Ryan Rutledge, is perhaps an off-road Smart built taken to its limits:
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This Smart Fortwo Brabus
This one on Cars & Bids is closer to the builds that I usually see. However, I’d say it’s even more silly because of the Smart that was chosen. It started life as a 2009 Smart Fortwo Brabus.
Brabus is the German tuning house of choice for Smart. A Brabus-tuned Smart generally gets more power, an aggressive body kit, big wheels, a lowered suspension, and a sporty interior. They also tend to be a bit more exclusive than a regular Smart. While the U.S. version of a Smart Brabus doesn’t have more power, it does have most of the other bits.
The 2009 Brabus is a special one in America. It was offered to just 1,700 people who had a deposit on a regular Fortwo in 2008. If those people coughed up $17,990 for a coupe or $20,990 for a convertible, they got a car that was draped in Brabus parts from bits in the interior to a body kit and special wheels. It also came with a tuned suspension that lowered the car by a tiny 10mm. If you were looking for a 2009 Smart, I’d say that one of these would be the one to get, if you could find one.
Alright, so what are you getting here? This Brabus rides on a three-inch suspension spacer lift. The seller then swapped out the Brabus wheels (which do come in the sale) for aftermarket 15-inch wheels fitted using billet aluminum hub adapters. Those wheels are wrapped with 215/75/15 Falken WildPeak all-terrains. Sadly, the plastic body panels had to get cut up to fit the new meats, but the end result is loads of ground clearance while maintaining some semblance of factory performance. Check out the spacer going in on top of the Brabus spring:
That’s what blows my mind about this car. Of the 98,800 Smarts out there in America to choose from, the YouTube channel that built this car, TLJ Garage, somehow got a Brabus. Some may be upset that a rare Brabus got cut up for this, but I’m amused. Brabus made this car to be a more athletic Smart, and this is almost a middle finger to that. It even still has its Brabus springs and shocks!
In my own off-road Smart experimentation, I learned that fitting tires that are too tall will rob too much of the car’s performance. I’ve seen plenty of Smarts with 33-inch mudders and similar and a lot of them had the problem of looking cool, but not actually having the go to back it up. Some of those cars had top speeds as low as 45 mph, which defeats the allure of a build like this. That Smart with the exoskeleton near the top? Foot to the floor, it does just 65 mph.
I talked to the seller of this one and they tell me that while it’s a little slower, it’ll still go top speed. Perfect, that means that you can drive to an off-road park, go wheeling, then drive home.
Additional bits coming in the sale of this car are a bullbar, extra sound deadening, a Smittybilt XRC 3.0 winch, and off-road lights. The car also comes with the factory parts that were removed like the side skirts, wheels, and the factory stereo. Inside, you’ll be commanding your luxury side-by-side from leather heated seats and pushing on brushed aluminum pedals. The Brabus exhaust also makes it over to the car, which has a nice grunt to it.
Overall, this seems like a sweet build and it should serve someone well when things get dirty. Don’t expect to do what 4x4s can do, but these little cars are better off-road than you’d expect. Bidding on this one is at a reasonable $9,250 with a day to go on Cars & Bids. No, I won’t be buying this one, but it does give me some motivation to actually finish my own off-road Smart.
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With those giant wheels, it’s going to be quite slow and maybe not have a gear low enough for (real) off roading.
And those CV shafts bent in a new and exciting direction aren’t going to last very long.
Also wheel bearings will be under a lot of stress with the tyres much farther out.
– But it looks cool 🙂
I’m just curious how much wheel articulation is actually available? ground clearance is much improved, sure, but i imagine there’s a lot of 2 wheeling going on with the opposite corners just spinning in the air.
Is there a way to change the final drive ratio on these? That seems like the limiting factor.
My weird AF Norman Bates type neighbor who lives down the street has a Brabus that has never moved that is just slowly melting into the driveway. I have considered going and knocking on the door several times to find out if they want to sell it, but I don’t want to spend the rest of my life as a lampshade in some creepy dudes living room. Choices.
Hmmm…If you can get his number I might be willing to spend the rest of my life as a lampshade.
There are less destructive ways to achieve illumination. 🙂
I didn’t get three cars because I didn’t ask or leave a note. All I had to do was ask and I could have had a dune buggy. All I had to do was leave a note and could have had a ’61 VW bus. The third one was similar, but I never did, so will never know. I have a vehicle that people ask about or leave a note asking if I want to sell. I understand, so I don’t get upset.
As soon I see a Smart on Cars & Bids or some random Facebook group, I am expecting Miss Mercedes to participate in the comments section with her knowledge. Never disappointed 🙂
So how long til Jason puts a lift on the Changli?
5th of Never?
Putting the Changli on a lift is way more likely!
Now the city car will be even better off-road than an off-roader is in the city 😀
Honestly the one to lift would be one of the last gens they sold in the US, either as a BEV or with the manual transmission.
I regret not buying one new when I had the chance.
Definite agree! I haven’t seen any of those turned into off-roaders yet. Seems the suspension might be just different enough that existing kits don’t work.