Back in 2008 when I was still a developing gearhead, I fell deeply in love with the Smart Fortwo. I loved the little car so much that I proudly proclaimed at my high school lunch table that a Smart was my dream car. I kept dreaming despite the laughs, and to this day the car at the tippy top of all of my lists is a Smart Crossblade. This car is an example of one of the few times that an automaker puts a concept car into production with few changes. The Crossblade is a rare car with no more than 2,000 built, and it’s even rarer here in America. But you can buy this 2002 Crossblade for sale on Cars & Bids and own one of the wildest cars ever put into production.
Smart was founded in 1994 as Micro Compact Car AG and launched in late 1997 with the City Coupé (later renamed Fortwo in 2004). However, it can be argued that its history goes back to the 1970s. Mercedes-Benz began experimentation with the concept of a two-seat economical compact car in 1972. Nothing reached production, but the automaker continued experimenting with the idea into the 1980s. A notable example is the 1981 Mercedes-Benz NAFA concept, which looks like what a Smart could have looked like in the 1980s.
During this same era in the 1980s, engineers in a completely different industry would work on their own innovation. Elmar Mock, Jacques Müller, and Ernst Thomke invented a stylish watch. Their company, Swatch, would fall under the umbrella of SMH, run by businessman Nicolas Hayek. Hayek loved what Swatch (a contraction of “second watch”) did for the watch world and thought that the automotive industry was sorely lacking a similar concept. Swatch watches weren’t just cheap, but they were stylish, trendy, and effortlessly customizable. Hayek got to work on making what would eventually be called the Swatchmobile, a customizable trendy car with a hybrid or electric drivetrain that would cost around 10,000 Swiss francs.
Today, we know that Smart is a subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz. And as of 2019, half of it is owned by Geely. But that wasn’t always the case. Hayek originally chose Volkswagen to bring his vehicle into reality. Unfortunately, when Ferdinand Piëch became CEO of Volkswagen in 1993, the Swatchmobile was dropped in favor of the Volkswagen Lupo 3L.
I used to wonder what a Volkswagen-built Smart would be like. Thanks to a 2001 piece by Brand eins Online, a German business magazine, we now know that Smart’s Swiss engineers weren’t fond of what Volkswagen was doing. Allegedly, Hayek’s Swiss team felt that the initial Volkswagen development was designing what sounds like a real snorefest:
While the Swiss engineers, above all Daniel Ryhiner and Marc Frehner, insisted on alternative concepts, the VW management backed the more traditional ideas of their employees from Wolfsburg. Who should make the decision? The VW people apparently had a car in mind “whose only innovation was to offer two seats instead of four,” says Frehner. “The thing was completely unsellable.”
Hayek shopped around and was denied by everyone from Fiat to General Motors before finding a new home at Daimler-Benz AG in 1994. Mercedes-Benz liked the concept of a trendy car inspired by the design of Swatch but changed a lot of the design.
The novel idea of a hybrid of electric powertrain would get cut, as did the Swatchmobile name. According to Brand eins Online, the Swiss development team said “Today’s petrol-powered Smart is a product from Daimler-Benz and has nothing in common with the plans of the former Swatch team.” As the quote notes, after Volkswagen kicked them to the curb Mercedes-Benz went its own way, the Swiss team broke off from the project.
Despite the development calamity, Mercedes-Benz managed a successful launch of the MCC City Coupé. By 2000, MCC’s factory in Hambach, France was running at capacity, producing around 100,000 vehicles a year. The little cars were a hit in Europe and the company looked for new ways to expand.
In 1999 and 2000, Smart rolled out a design study and then a concept car for what would become the Roadster. And in 2001, Smart arrived at the Geneva Auto Show with another stunner of a concept car. According to an archived press release, the Smart Crossblade concept was designed to show how Smart’s philosophy of “minimize to the max” could be applied to different vehicles.
The Crossblade concept started life as a City Cabrio. Then, Smart’s designers hacked off its windshield, retracting fabric roof system, and did away with weather protection. Smart’s signature Tridion Cell was given a special shape and roll bar for the Crossblade.
The car’s plastic panels were reshaped as well. It may have started life as a convertible, but Smart basically built a new car out of it. And despite the vehicle’s beginnings as a regular production Smart, a number of the Crossblade’s panels are bespoke.
Perhaps the best part about the Crossblade Concept is that Smart built it with the possibility of putting it into production. And based on public response, Smart decided to build 2,000 of them.
In another rare departure from the norm, the production Crossblade doesn’t look much different than the concept. Minor changes include some panel reshaping and the deletion of the concept’s LED taillights, but the production version looks awfully close to the concept.
Since this is an open-air vehicle without any kind of roof, Smart gave the Crossblade unique interior parts not found in other Smart vehicles. The seats are water-resistant and the gauges and interior equipment have weather seals. In addition, this is a car that you could actually hose out as the floor has water drains. Smart even kept the HVAC system but moved the vent under the dash.
Should you not desire to come back to your Smart Crossblade and sit in a wet seat, these cars had a cover that snapped in place that kept the interior dry.
Power comes from a 600cc Mercedes-Benz M160 Suprex turbocharged triple mounted under the trunk. Normally, these make 60 HP in other Smarts. For the Crossblade, Smart went to Mercedes-Benz tuner Brabus to give it an additional kick of 10 ponies and 79 lb-ft torque.
That power reaches the rear wheels through a six-speed automated manual transmission. Yes, the transmission that most of you probably don’t like. While the engine is moving just 1,600 pounds, it still takes well over 10 seconds to reach 60 mph. Top speed is about 84 mph, so you could take it on the highway if you wanted to. That said, since this is an earlier Smart, there is probably an issue that you should know about. The 600cc engines are notorious for requiring rebuilds long before 100,000 miles.
Thankfully, you shouldn’t have to worry about that with this one. It has just 950 miles on its odometer. In fact, this car has been driven so little that it still has its original tires from 2002. Clearly, this was more of a collector item than it was a vehicle.
Smart set out to build no more than 2,000 of these and this car is unit 1,232. At launch, they had a price of €21,000, or about double what a City Cabriolet Passion would cost. It’s unknown if Smart sold all 2,000 of them, but what is known is that none of them were officially sold in America. With this one showing up for sale, I know of at least seven of them in the United States.
And come 2027, you’ll be able to import one yourself without the headaches of dealing with import law. It’s unclear how this one got here. That said, it does come with a clean Florida title, so you could drive it if you wanted to.
If you’re getting a feeling of déjà vu, it’s because this is actually the second Crossblade to roll across the Cars & Bids block. The other one was sold for $37,000 by the Petersen Automotive Museum. Doug DeMuro reviewed that car, and it remains my favorite video from him. Bidding on this lower-mile example is already hot, with the price currently sitting at $25,222 with six days to go on Cars & Bids. If you want this, you’ll have to bid against Doug DeMuro, too, so I expect this one to be a spicy auction. Hey Doug, if you win, can I drive this thing?
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