Car club is for ‘smart’ drivers


Auto collector invites one and all to get smart

Howard Singer is a discriminating car collector. His 18-vehicle collection is full of old models from 1903 to 1993. When he added a brand new 2008 smart fortwo passion cabriolet to his assortment of autos, there had to be something special about the car.

“I like vehicles that are different,” said Singer, whose smart is the first new car he’s purchased in 40 years. “I bought the smart because I like the look of it. I like the design.”

The La Jolla resident was so enthusiastic about the smart, he started a club for drivers and admirers.

“I decided before my car arrived that I would be the founder and president of a smart club,” Singer said. “It’s a labor of love.”

The smart Club of San Diego began meeting in March and has recruited approximately 20 members. Monthly events have included a road rally, culinary and culture days in Balboa Park, and smart convoys to various locations around town.

The club plans to hold two events in October. The Oct. 18 dinner meeting is open to members and guests, and Singer said the club will pay a portion of the cost for each person’s meal. On Oct. 29, participants are invited to the group’s first overnight trip, a stay at Warner Springs Ranch. Lifetime membership to the club is $20.

smart Primer

For those who haven’t seen one of the 471 smarts cruising San Diego’s highways and byways, here’s the long and short of it: smart fortwo offers three models, each of which measures 8.8 feet long, 5.1 feet tall and 5.1 feet wide. Prices range from $11,590 for the pure and $13,590 for the passion coupe to $16,590 for the passion cabriolet. Any of the cars can be upgraded with accessories and option packages for an additional $110 to $850.

Manufactured by Mercedes-Benz, smart vehicles have been available in more than 35 other countries for several years. The cars first became available in the U.S. in January 2008.

“Right now, the way it works is if you want to purchase a smart car, you go online, put down $99 and you’re on a waiting list,” said Ricardo Carrillo, a brand specialist at the smart center San Diego on Kearny Mesa Road, which is the only place in town to get a smart. “Currently we have over 1,300 reservations for the San Diego area.”

Many smart buyers were already familiar with the car, having seen it or driven it in Europe. Those drawn in by the novelty factor usually do their homework online before coming in to order one, Carrillo said.

The most commonly asked questions have to do with the car’s get-up-and-go factor, mileage, safety and spaciousness, Carrillo said.

The three-cylinder, one-liter engine is electronically programmed not to exceed 90 mph. All models average 33 miles to the gallon in the city and 41 on the highway. The vehicle’s tridion safety cell, four airbags and anti-lock brakes earned high ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

As for leg, head and cargo room, specs for the car claim it can accommodate someone up to 6-foot-8-inches and has 8 cubic feet of storage – enough for a set of golf clubs.

“People are usually pleasantly surprised once they’re in it,” Carrillo said. “It gives you a big car feel.”

What drivers love about their smarts

“Many people who are buying these cars aren’t buying them because they’re inexpensive; they’re buying them because they’re cute cars,” Singer said. “It’s flowing art that goes, that moves.”

Singer settled on the smart fortwo passion cabriolet in black and white. He said it looks like Shamu.

“It’s an ‘in’ kind of car,” said Singer, who personalized his license plate to read “SMART.”

Burke Crofton of UTC shares Singer’s passion for the beauty and the workmanship of the automobiles. After getting his sunshine yellow smart convertible in January, he joined the club to find camaraderie with other people passionate about smarts.

“It really is the look of the car, the quality of the car and the features it has,” Crofton said. “What made it unique was the engineering features that came standard on the car.”

Crofton said the novelty of the car is enough to jumpstart conversations with strangers, but the bright color of his smart seems doubly effective.

“In a small car, yellow is a very happy, very charming color,” Crofton said. “Any time you can put a smile on someone else’s face, that’s worth a lot.”

For information about the smart Club of San Diego, contact Howard Singer at (858) 454-2628.