“The Memorial Day off-roading wasn’t quite as extreme as the prior Fall run, but it involved deeper mud, higher speeds, and big ruts. The smart still held its own and provided many smiles for miles.”
These two rallies combined would be nothing compared to the challenge of taking my smart fortwo off-road in September in Tennessee. The Gambler 500 Tennessee changed me a bit. Prior to this rally, I’d baby the little smart through the woods. Sometime during the summer I started being less protective over the car. It even gained its own Gambler 500 livery!
Only moments after the morning driver’s meeting in September, I found myself blasting through Tennessee’s vast trail network like a rally driver. The car was hitting highway speeds on loose ground, sand, mud, rocks, you name it. The car even got sideways. I felt like a rally driver doing Group B.
And it didn’t stop there. Where I would normally tackle rough terrain with care, I now did at full throttle. I trusted the car was robust enough to hold its own in the rough stuff. And you know what? It did. Whether I was driving through “oil pan killer” minefields of rocks, slushy mud, or driving down (then back up a waterfall), the little smart did it all without complaint.
Hard and Fast Offroading Comes at a Cost
Of course, with my newfound confidence in fully sending the smart, I gained a few more issues. One of the rocks I hit made an existing oil pan leak a little worse. I also broke my front bumper effectively diving into a mud pit almost deep enough to swallow the car. During the several times I drove down the waterfall I ended up breaking some of the mounts to the factory belly pan.
And worse, after failing to rescue a severely stuck Toyota Tundra (he was holding the brakes when I was trying to pull him) I bent one of the smart’s recovery points.
All things considered, the damage was minor. My teammates, doing the same things, saw damage like mangled CV joints, destroyed driveshafts, and catastrophic water damage to transmissions and electronics. The smart? I zip-tied what I broke and was able to drive home.
Unfortunately a major part did finally fail on the smart. I let the car sit for about a month after the Tennessee Gambler 500 and apparently that was just enough for the alternator to seize. Of course, this led to a spectacular failure of the serpentine belt. When I investigated this I found the alternator covered in mud. Oops.
More Work to be Done
Not everyone is sold on the prowess of a smart fortwo off-road. I recently attended a local car meet, and despite my pictures and videos to back me up, others shot down my enthusiasm for off-roading smarts. “Too low to the ground” they said, “that piece of junk can’t go off road”, they said. Further comments were made about the smart fortwo’s alleged lack of articulation, lack of power, and lack of four wheel drive. But that’s the point of my experiments… clearly you don’t need a Jeep (or even a lifted AWD car) to be decent off road.
Once the little smart gets a new alternator it’ll be right back doing what it does best, shutting down haters and putting smiles on faces.
Should you ever find yourself at a Gambler 500, the more incapable the car you bring, the better! And remember, at the Gambler 500, the less money you spend, the more fun you’ll have!