Something amazing has popped up on my YouTube recommendations, and it might just be one of my favorite DIY camper builds to date. Someone took a Smart Fortwo and transformed it into an off-roading tiny camper. And it’s not nearly as ridiculous as the premise sounds! I almost want to replicate this Smart car myself!
Back in 2018, I took my 2012 Smart Fortwo off-roading for the first time. Taking that little car off-road wasn’t just fun, but it legitimately changed my life for the better. At the time, it seemed like taking a Smart off-road was a rare concept. Sure, there was (and still is) a lift kit available for the Fortwo, and I’ve seen a number of lifted Smarts. But I’ve never really seen a Smart actually get dirty off-road. Most of the folks that I knew with the lift kit did it to get more clearance in the snow.
But times have changed, and it seems that more and more people are discovering that the little Fortwo is an off-road underdog. I can state with firsthand experience that the car’s practically non-existent front and rear overhangs means that you can clear all kinds of obstacles if you’re careful. Plus, the tiny footprint allows you to dodge things that you can’t get over. Of course, these cars are still just rear-wheel-drive, but in my experience, if you’re careful you can get a Smart almost anywhere a two-wheel-drive Ford Ranger will go. A good set of tires and a lift will only make it more fun.
I’ve even seen convertible Fortwos with doors removed like a Jeep Wrangler and even a convertible with chopped doors sort of resembling a modern interpretation of an old beach buggy. But what I’ve yet to see is an off-road Smart camper. Well, the folks of Silverline Tools changed that:
The host of the show, Max, opens with an explanation about why he thinks the Smart Fortwo is the greatest car ever built. As an owner of five of these things, Max has certainly found a way to warm my heart. He starts off by saying that the Fortwo is the first car with interchangeable plastic panels. That’s not necessarily true, as old Saturns have plastic body panels that could be changed out. And I’m sure there are other cars from the past like this.
However, the fact that you could change your car’s color effectively on the fly was a selling point for the Fortwo. And doing a whole color swap could take just 3 hours if you know what you’re doing.
The rest of what Max says hits the mark. I have on more than one occasion parked my Smarts perpendicular in a parallel space and the ability to do that still makes me laugh. Somehow, I haven’t gotten ticketed for it, either. And like Max, I still find it amazing that Mercedes-Benz managed to pack a whole real car into such a tiny space.
Max then gets a bit silly, and brews up an idea to turn his Fortwo into an off-roader. But more than that, he wanted to maintain the convertible top while also having a roof tent. Here’s how he did it.
Max starts by removing the Smart’s panels, and in doing so illustrates how easy it is to change a Smart’s color. Stripping down a Smart’s exterior requires just some basic tools and some patience. Though, you could break some clips if the car is old enough.
During this process, Max recalls a time when he and another Smart owner swapped car colors just for the fun of it. Similar things used to happen in the early days of Smart in the United States!
After the teardown, Max explains the process to install the lift kit. He doesn’t indicate what lift kit he’s using, but Max explains that the lift involves 2-inch spacers on top of the struts and more 2-inch spacers at the front crossmember. This lift seems very similar in design and installation as the Daystar kit that you can get here in America.
In the rear, the kit consists of 2-inch spacers for the rear springs and attachments for the shock mounts that move the shock mounting points up two inches. Once again, installation is the same as the Daystar kit, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the same kit.
Max next tackles fitting off-road wheels. However, his wheel choice is a different lug pattern. As a solution, he installs thick spacers. Now, this step is actually unnecessary, as you can get stock Smart wheels that will fit off-road tires just fine. But of course, they don’t look like the wheels Max installed.
Then came fender flares secured using roofing bolts and a custom-fabricated exoskeleton. Max and his fabricator, Matt, found a clever way to mount that exoskeleton. A Fortwo comes with four bolt threads meant for recovery and for factory accessories. Max and Matt used those bolts as the mounting points for the exoskeleton. With the front and rear points in place, they slid the rest of the parts of the exoskeleton together, secured with bolts. It looks like there are additional mounting points for this setup under the car, too.
The exoskeleton was added for one specific purpose, and it’s a roof tent. While you can get roof racks for a Fortwo that might hold a roof tent, none of them will work with a convertible. This, I think, will do the trick. Other additions include a 3,000-pound winch, D-rings for recoveries, traction boards, and off-road lighting.
I have just one concern about the exoskeleton. I’ve learned the hard way about how strong those recovery bolt threads are, and they’re really only good for recovering the car itself or for static loads.
I once tried to rescue a stuck Toyota Tacoma with my recovery points, and ended up pulling one of them out almost an inch. If this car hits a tree, rolls, or tries to recover anything but itself, I’m afraid that those threads would get absolutely trashed. But replacing them isn’t too hard, as you’ll just need to replace the crash bars.
Aside from that, I adore what Max achieved here. He even finishes off the camper build with a custom trunk camping box that includes a stove and a sink. In a tour video, Max shows off even more cool ideas, from repurposing the trunk storage area meant for the roof rails for a table set. And since the roof tent forms a bit of a porch over the car, he even has an outdoor shower.
Incredibly, it seems that Max actually created a usable camper out of a Smart. It has just about everything but a toilet, and he can still use both seats! I’d love to do something similar with my 2008 Fortwo, but maybe instead of the exoskeleton, I’d get a tow hitch and a motorcycle camper.
My first thought is that those recovery points were never intended to deal with shear loads, like what the rooftop tent will impose. They were intended for tension. Yes, they’re fairly beefy, but you’re subjecting the holes and whatever they are mounted within to stresses that they weren’t designed to handle. A bolt’s resistance to being pulled out of its hole doesn’t bear that much relation to its resistance to being snapped off at the head, plus the design of the cage puts some lever action on the holes. Will it hold up? Who knows? One thing I’ve learned about cars over the years is that for all their size, weight, and engineering, they are often surprisingly fragile in unexpected ways.
Also, what are roofing bolts? I work on roofs all day and have never heard of such a thing. Are you talking about those self-drilling screws with the gasketed washers that get used with corrugated metal roofing? I’m not sure how well those would hold up when screwing plastic to plastic, but then again I’ve seen OEMs do shoddier things with fastening plastic and they mostly manage to not fall apart, so maybe it’s fine. Those little buggers are sharp on the end though, so hopefully he either sheared them off on the backside or else there’s plenty of clearance between the tips and anything that can’t get damaged.
I know it’s mostly for fun / likes but this is legit less stupid than 75% of the overland 4×4 builds people do and would probably get you just as far for probably 1/10th of the money.
Plus if it gets stuck you can just pick it up and drag it.
Anything weird is cool (well almost anything) and I’ve only ever driven a smart a short distance. But I remember the transmission, and just how bad it was. I can’t imagine it would get better in low traction terrain and towing a trailer.
Took me a minute to remember where I knew the name ‘Silverline’ from, then I remembered. Ah yes, the manufacturer of tools which are more likely to send you to A&E, than finish a single job intact.
The perfect sponsor for this build!
While I enjoy the rigs all these clever people create, you are still sleeping in a tent, crapping in a shallow hole and being exposed to sundry and all biting, poisonous and hungry critters. If I wanted to still do that, I would’ve stayed in the army!
At least this version is about 50k cheaper than the usual overland rig build and no less silly.
He could have a toilet, if Torch ever gets round to producing the car-sette toilet from the Airstream Car design brief. Kickstarter maybe?
Very cool build.
That tent not so much! It’s the dodgiest thing ive seen in quite some time
Müller-Autodachzelt>/i> (Müller car roof tent) was one of very popular automotive accessories in East Germany as a cheap and quickest way of camping out. Just clamp the tent base to the rain gutters and stick the rubber plates to the roofs on Trabants and Wartburgs, and you’re golden! When you are ready for camping, just unfold the floor and ladder out then raise the tent with poles.
One downside of Autodachzelten on Trabants and Wartburgs is their soft suspension. The tents and cars tend to shake violently whenever the couples got so frisky inside the tents…
Sounds like a built-in vibrating bed to me. It’s a feature!
If only it was a second gen Smart Car.
Yeah I’d love too see it in the wild but never own it. This car only works in the UK where they expect slow moving caravans.
I would not confine myself to a motorcycle trailer.
You can probably tow a fair bit with the FourTwo as long as it has brakes and you are in no hurry.
As in all such endeavors the transmission is probably the weak link.
Talking about getting a Smart Car dirty.
This father and son duo in Kentucky turned a Smart car into a dune buggy last year. They have a three part series where they did the work, but here is a link to the finished product.
I dunno, seems pretty ridiculous. The ForTwo was never really terribly well suitable for long-distance travel (what 90% of overland is) in stock form. What will it be like with lots more weight, effectively taller gearing, and probably double the aero drag.
Probably not that much worse than an overloaded Tacoma bogged down by massive tires?
Not that the overlanding community would know what that’s like, mind you.
Definitely worse than an overloaded Tacoma. A thing that absolutely happens in the overland community but shouldn’t. My friend has a 2nd gen Tacoma on 33’s that was (until recently) on stock gears. When he takes his whole family of 5, it’s definitely at capacity if not more (the Tacoma doesn’t have a lot of payload) and even then he can still smoke my 80 Series land cruiser on the highway, uphill, anywhere really (I am regeared to be shorter than the same 33-inch tire requires). Plus the Tacoma has low-range gears for when you get to the tough stuff. Even if you never did use low range, it would still 100% be better than this.
Making some rough educated guesses for both:
Let’s be generous and say it’s only at GVWR of about 2200 lbs. That’s about 30 hp/lb. The hp required to overcome aero drag at 70 mph with this configuration I would guess between 30-35 hp. About half of the 74 you get.
If we overload my friend’s Tacoma to 6000 lbs and his RTT, it’s still only 25 lbs/hp and that’s with the old 236 hp 4.0. At 70 mph in this configuration, it’s about 60 hp required. About 25% of the 236
The trouble with lightweight, low-power cars modified for off-road duty is that it takes such small amounts of weight or drag to kill their performance.
Nah, this is an exercise is silliness. It’s fun and quirky and neat, but very rediculous.
Fair – internet hyperbole doesn’t always translate well.
Headline: “It’s not as ridiculous as it sounds!”
You are correct. Having seen the build and finished product, it is not as ridiculous as it sounds. It is more ridiculous than it sounds.
“I have created a tiny offroad camper. Half my total cargo capacity is devoted to a ladder.”
Absolutely. Bonkers. Ridiculous. Silly. But remarkably adorable. I have to say that after watching the conversion video and the follow-up camping video, I definitely do not hate it. Kudos to Max.