Smart City Coupe – 1998

Officially it’s smart with a small ‘s’, which looks so strange that everyone else calls it a Smart car. The venture started with the boss of Swiss fashion watchmaker Swatch suggesting a tiny eco-car that would offer fun motoring to the young (or young at heart) whilst offering a helping hand to the choking planet. Nicolas Hayek’s first prospective partner was Volkswagen, but that venture came to nothing. He then jumped into bed with Daimler-Benz and a joint venture was formed using the MCC (Micro Compact Car) name.

The development phase at MCC’s new French factory produced a car that Hayek wasn’t happy with — it had a conventional engine rather than the electric or hybrid power plant he’d hoped for. Swatch pulled out, leaving Daimler-Benz to carry on alone. The first model was the City Coupe — a cube on wheels with a sloping front that made its debut in 1998. Initial sales were slow, but buyers soon began to appreciate the advantages.

Three tiny Smarts could park side by side, noses to the curb, in one conventional parking space. Fuel economy was excellent, as was safety — the Smart’s Tridion steel safety shell proved to be remarkably tough in impact tests. This also gave the City Coupe and accompanying City Cabrio cabriolet their distinctive look, as this rigid cage shows through the outside of the cars. It was infilled with panels that were easily changed, allowing owners to alter the colour of their Smart on a whim.

In 2002 only the open-topped Smart Crossblade appeared. The Smart Roadster of 2003-2005 had a completely different design, whilst the Smart Forfour was clearly a stretched version of the Smart Fortwo (as the City Coupe and Cabrio were renamed in 2004, becoming the only Smarts in production from 2007)

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:

Switzerland/Germany/France

FIRST MANUFACTURED:

1998

ENGINE:

799 cc Straight Three

PERFORMANCE:

Electronically limited top speed of 84 mph (135 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 15 secs

YOU SHOULD KNOW:

There’s nothing clever about the Smart name — it was a combination of the ‘S’ from Swatch, ‘m’ from Mercedes and ‘art’ for it’s avant  garde design. The use of smart with a small ‘s’ for marketing purposes was intended to underline the car’s miniscule size.

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