The smart little lovebug

A cult has grown up around the Smart. Owners are now treating their cute micro-motors like beloved pets, says Tom Stewart
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Indy Lifestyle Online

The Beetle, Mini, 2CV and the Porsche 911 are four undisputed cult cars, but on the evidence of what I've recently witnessed, the Smart has surely joined their ranks. In 2000 the Smart Club organised its first London to Brighton run and 42 cars set off from Park Lane in London. I remember that event causing quite a stir - it even warranted a slot on London's television news programmes. But now, four years on, the event has grown to macro proportions.

The Beetle, Mini, 2CV and the Porsche 911 are four undisputed cult cars, but on the evidence of what I've recently witnessed, the Smart has surely joined their ranks. In 2000 the Smart Club organised its first London to Brighton run and 42 cars set off from Park Lane in London. I remember that event causing quite a stir - it even warranted a slot on London's television news programmes. But now, four years on, the event has grown to macro proportions.

Driving a rather swish "smart fortwo cabrio BRABUS" (to give it its precise nomenclature) I made my way to the departure venue at what I'd perceived as a pretty eager hour for a Sunday morning, but within a mile or two of the destination I'd joined a small convoy of other Smarts all heading the same way. By the time I'd reached the gates at least an hour and a half before the 10am departure there was an almost uninterrupted flow of Smarts arriving from all directions. Little wonder the start of the Smart L2B run has now shifted from the West End to the more commodious environs of Sandown Park, Surrey. But even that didn't prepare me for the sea of stationary Smarts I was about to join. At 10am there were still cars arriving as the first were leaving and, though this may not sound so dramatic, I can assure you that being right in there among the best part of 1,000 Smarts, is an experience I shan't forget for a while.

But why so many? What is it about this micro-motored midget-machine that causes a get-together of such proportion - this one the largest anywhere? Words can be found in dictionaries or thesauruses, but in this case I'm reading from the bold graphics on the bonnet of one Smart gathered in this sea: "Smart, adjective: 1=chic, elegant, fashionable, fine, modish, natty (informal), neat, snappy, spruce, stylish, trendy, (Brit informal), trim, well turned-out; 2= clever." The definitions continue in equal detail on the doors and include the words impertinent, saucy, witty, brisk, jaunty, lively, spirited, keen, throb and tingle among others.

No two owners have the same reasons for embracing their chosen cars with such enthusiasm, but there are a couple more definitions that aren't listed on that Smart's body panels and which all Smart fortwo owners are surely more than aware of: inexpensive and laughably easy to park. Though with the model I'm driving retailing at £14,620 otr, and the low-slung Brabus roadster-coup knocking out at £17k, not all Smarts can still be bought with change found down the back of the sofa.

Having arrived in good time I now have the opportunity to observe the kind of wacky customisation previously afforded only to the likes of Beetles and 2CVs. Those which catch my eye include one painted in such an intense lime green it almost pains to look at it. Then there's a pink and blue Eeyore, a blue twofour adorned with pink flying pigs, a pink and purple Polly Pocket, a black and green Winnie The Pooh, a sweet pea yellow with a liberal helping of green peas, a black twofour with multicoloured spots, its owners attired in matching furry jackets and caps, the daisy-festooned flower power also with matching owners, the striking red Smart with giant zip fastener graphics running every which way, as well as several finished in Fresian cow, zebra and tiger markings and other assorted psychedelia.

There are those which catch my ear too - tiny Smarts pumping out so much volume that I'm surprised there's sufficient power in a Smart to drive the necessary equipment. Pity, as ever, that those with brutal automotive hi-fis always appear so innocent of their abhorrent taste in music. And so to Brighton. There's not much to report on the journey itself save for the fact that Pease Pottage services was all but overrun with L2Bers, and that despite a choppy ride, 80-90mph cruising is a doddle in my high-performance, 75bhp Brabus fortwo. But approaching our Brighton racecourse destination the pace slows to a crawl as a near-endless column of Smarts advance like army ants on a slow march.

Now that about 1,570 of us have arrived it's time for a gander at the entrants in the various competition categories. I'm particularly taken by the Smart Lamborghini, not least because it's authentic pearl-orange paint could only have been ordered from an official Murcielago parts catalogue. I'm taken too by Vicky Rees' classy black and red A-Team interpretation, and by Laura Lowe's supremely zany Monsters Inc machine, swathed in lead character Sully's distinctive turquoise fur with purple spots. Unsurprisingly the latter two drove off with the trophies in their respective categories.

But at some point an intelligent human has to ponder: just what is this all about? Smart owners aren't the first, and nor will they be the last, to express themselves through their cars, but just what is it that motivates them to envelop their tiny runabout in synthetic fur? Not being a behavioural specialist I'm not qualified to answer, but neither do I care; they're having fun.

And even if I could explain the overt dedication and commitment, I'd still be stumped by twofour owners Jim and Paula McNicol. First prize to my mind for their boot-mounted, made-to-measure cage for two living, breathing members of the weasel family, with "Ferrets On Board" emblazoned in yellow on black across each door. There's nowt stranger than folk.

motoring@independent.co.uk

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