One of the biggest disappointments for a car enthusiast is when you see a tremendous concept that never reaches production. It’s frustrating to see such great cars never hit the road. Back in 2002, Smart — of all companies — did just the opposite. It took a popular concept, changed very little about it, then put it up for sale. This is the Smart Crossblade.
So, how does Smart end up putting a concept car into production? Back in 2001, Smart rolled into the Geneva Auto Show with the goal of showing visitors just how far the Smart concept could be taken. The company had been producing cars for a few years by that point, but all of them were the City Coupe (Fortwo) city car. According to an archived press release, Smart wanted to show how its philosophy of “minimize to the max” could be applied to different vehicles.
Introduced at the show was the Crossblade Concept. According to Smart, the concept started as a regular City Cabrio, but it does away with all of that car’s weather protection. Gone is the retracting roof, gone is the windshield and gone are the doors.
But this is more than just a Cabrio that’s had a Sawzall taken to it. Smart’s signature Tridion Cell was given a special shape and roll bar for the Crossblade. The car’s plastic panels were thinned out and reshaped as well. Check out the wheel wells and the bumpers.
No other Smart has that design. Even the fenders were reshaped, and a cover was added to the top of what would normally be the cargo area.
The public response to the Crossblade was incredible. People wanted to get their hands on their own Crossblade. And in a rare response from an automaker, Smart decided to put 2,000 of them into production. According to the press release, it was designed with the possibility of becoming a road car in mind, and it shows in the production model.
Smart returned to Geneva in 2002 with the production version of the Crossblade. It left its neat LED taillights back in 2001, instead adopting the tails and a couple of panels from the Cabrio. But otherwise the car was more or less the same vehicle people fell in love with a year before.
Smart took some great care in building the Crossblade. The interior was outfitted with water resistant seats, and the car’s instruments were given some seals to protect them from weather.
And unlike a Honda Element, you can hose out this interior because it actually has drains throughout to rid the interior of water. The HVAC system even remained but had its vents moved from the top of the dash to the bottom of the dash so they wouldn’t fill up with water.
And if you don’t want to sit in a wet seat after a day of work, these came with a tarp stored in back that you installed over the car.
In an advertisement that seems to have been lost to time, I remember seeing a Crossblade in a car wash to demonstrate just how good that water resistance is. I can’t find it today, so if you have a copy I’d love to see it!
Power in a Smart Crossblade comes from the same engine that powered the City Coupe and City Cabrio at the time. It’s a 600cc Mercedes-Benz M160 Suprex triple. Normally these make 60 HP but for the Crossblade, Smart went to Mercedes-Benz tuner Brabus to give it an additional kick of 10 ponies.
While the engine is moving just 1,600 pounds, it still takes well over 10 seconds to reach 60 mph. These engines are also known for wearing themselves out before 100,000 miles, necessitating a rebuild to keep going.
And yes, the engine is bolted to a six-speed automated-manual transmission that has very few fans, even today.
This wasn’t a cheap Smart. They were €21,000 at launch, or about double what a Smart City Cabriolet Passion would cost.
Still, those who bought a Crossblade absolutely love their cars. The experience of driving one is not unlike those roofless track cars or maybe a Polaris Slingshot, but pint-sized with a Smart badge.
You are more likely to see a Bugatti Veyron in America than you are one of these. Of the 2,000 allocated for production, it’s unclear how many were actually sold. Of however many sold, just a handful of them have made it to America. I know about about five or six of them, including the 2004 Crossblade that Doug DeMuro got to review.
Watch the video below, because it gives more insight into the build of the Crossblade than I’ve seen in years.
That Crossblade is also for sale by the Petersen Automotive Museum on Cars & Bids. I’ve seen these sell for as much as $45,000, so don’t expect it to be cheap. This car doesn’t currently have a title, but the museum notes that a couple of the few Crossblades in America have been registered for road use in some states.
I’m glad cars like this exist. While it fails hard on practicality and it’s quite expensive for a Smart, it’s a great example of what happens when an automaker follows through on a wild concept. Hopefully some automaker is watching and decides to put a popular concept into production.