I Didn’t Get An iPad

smart car at Pacific City, photo by Nathan Pryor
photo by Nathan Pryor

It was almost exactly eight years and eleven months ago that Barbara and I went to Amsterdam (after the wedding in Ireland of our friends Annie and Eric) and saw our first smart car.

I’ve never been much of a car guy — Barbara knows more about the workings of an engine than I do, heck, I can barely get the hood open — but I’ve always been attracted to odd cars. I don’t know why, exactly, but I suspect that it has something to do with my folks. Dad says that he taught me to recognize Karmann Ghias at an early age; he had a Chevy Corvair when my brother and I were kids; my first car was a 1975 AMC Pacer that Dad had bought for work. So I didn’t really have much of an option but to be smitten when I saw a smart parked on the street during our trip to the Netherlands in the first days of May 2001.

It was to be a thwarted obsession for several years, though. I read about the smart online. I looked at the various models and used the online configuration tools (in German). I essentially stalked smart. Then I started seeing reports about people bringing them into the US, movie stars ordering them in Europe and having to wait for months for them to arrive, and worst of all, the godawful cost of these “gray-market” cars: upward of $30K for what was supposed to be an economical city car. Way out of my league.

I persisted, however. I was even interviewed by Tom and Ray of NPR’s “Car Talk”, asking about how to get one imported (although they cut me from the show; they didn’t really have any advice to offer). So it just remained an unscratched itch for years. (Meanwhile, on a trip to Germany, Dad had acquired his own hankering for a smart roadster).

According to the Department of Energy, on 2 April 2001, a gallon of regular gasoline on the West Coast was selling for an average of $1.54, which was half again what it had cost two years before. So to my mind, even back then, it seemed like a move to smaller vehicles might not be such a bad idea. Five years later, it cost a dollar more. In the summer of 2008, the price of a gallon of regular on the West Coast spent six weeks above the $4.20 mark, a 175% increase over what it had cost the month before we went to Amsterdam.

smart car's first day at home

But in early 2007, a notice went out to interested parties that there was finally going to be an official importation of smart fortwo models (the roadster had been discontinued) into the US. For a $99 refundable deposit, you could reserve a car. Later in the year, people who’d plopped down their hundred bucks got a chance to choose their options and order up their car. Of course, between the time I put down my deposit and the time I got to configure my smart, I’d been laid off from my job, but I didn’t let that deter me: obsession knows no recession. Red, with red interior and a cabrio top to make the most of the sunny days.

A smart dealership opened up in Portland in January 2008 and they started getting in about 30 or so cars a month. I got the call April, and I picked up the smart car two years ago today.

Barbara and Darrel on the road,