In 2004, Dodge rolled into the North American International Auto Show with a concept that sounded like a real winner. The Slingshot was a compact sports car with a retracting soft top. It was powered by a turbocharged engine planted in the rear, powering the rear wheels through a manual transmission. This promising car was the result of an unlikely pairing with none other than Smart.
I spend my nights scrolling through Smart forums helping owners out with their issues and seeing what’s new in the Smart world. Between threads of stereo system upgrades and complaints about the new Smart SUV I found a picture of a concept that I’m amazed that I hadn’t seen before. Set on a plinth in the Walter P. Chrysler museum was the Dodge Slingshot concept, a rear-engine sports car that could have been.
The DaimlerChrysler era was an awkward time for all of the manufacturers involved. The so-called “merger of equals” resulted in not just some sad cars but a few interesting collaborations between Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler. Even Smart got in on the action, lending Dodge a platform for its sports car concept.
The Dodge Slingshot and its alluring spec sheet was really just a rebodied Smart Roadster, a car that remains a forbidden fruit for Americans.
Unlike the Smart Fortwos that you sometimes see putting about, the Roadster was actually sporty.
Launched in 2003, the compact sports car was powered by the same 700cc M160 Suprex turbocharged three found in the Fortwo, but pumped up to 80 HP from the 50 it made in the city car. Brabus-tuned variants got that power bumped up further to 100 HP.
Those numbers don’t sound like a lot, but they moved a low-slung car that weighed 1,742 lb at its lightest. The engine was placed in the rear, powering the rear wheels through a six-speed single clutch automated-manual transmission.
The Roadster wasn’t very fast, accelerating to 60 mph in 10 seconds. But what it didn’t have in acceleration it made up in fun, with former Top Gear Presenter Jeremy Clarkson saying that it felt “so much more alive than any million horsepower, heavyweight BMW.”
The Dodge Slingshot concept would have changed little from the Roadster that it’s based on.
It has a sleek body that improves on the Smart, but it keeps traits like the Smart’s motorized canvas roof and funky interior.
I love the small changes like the speedometer and how the HVAC vents look like butterfly valves. But otherwise, it’s all Smart, even the central ignition switch.
The Slingshot was said to make 100 HP and Dodge also said it got up to 45 mpg.
The concept looked like it was pretty close to production-ready, with boring stuff that you don’t always see on concepts like side marker lights. The wheels even appear to be a version of the Brabus Monoblock A wheels available for the Fortwo and Roadster.
What happened to the Slingshot? DaimlerChrysler insiders informed UK car publication Autocar that production plans were shelved because Dodge apparently couldn’t make a business case, from Autocar:
‘The decision not to put the car into production was reached because we simply weren’t able to get a satisfactory business case together.’
The car could have competed with the then upcoming Pontiac Solstice, and future Solstice owners expected something coming from Dodge. Sadly, it didn’t see the light of day and even the Smart that it was based on ended production after 2005.
The concept survives as one of the reminders of how weird DaimlerChrysler sometimes got with its ideas. I wonder where the Slingshot is today, I need it in my fleet.