Nfld. & Labrador

Drivers aren't sure what to call these offroad vehicles — but they know they're fun

A group of friends in central Newfoundland are hooked on their offroad-ready Smart cars.

Group of friends in N.L. hitting the trails in 1 part Smart car, 1 part snowmobile

Perry White, left, and Jeff Humphries stand next to a converted Smart Car near Indian Bay. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

It combines the thrill of the snowy trail with the comfort of the rear windshield wiper. 

You're going off the beaten path, but keeping your heated seats.

It turns heads, but it's not a model you're going to find in TV ads.

Meet the Smart car snowmobile — and the men who drive them.

Taking Smart Cars to a whole new level is Central Newfoundland… on snow. 2:15

"We get lots of attention," said Jeff Humphries. "Wherever we go, people taking pictures and wanting to go for rides."

Humphries converted a Smart car himself, after his friend Perry White brought a fully decked-out model to Newfoundland and Labrador from Alberta.

"It's about, I guess, three to four weeks's work to build those cars," he said. "But it's worth it. They're a great bit of fun."

Humphries figures that the pair, alongside a third friend from Valleyfield, own the only three vehicles of their kind in the province. However, Brian Pickett may soon be joining their ranks — he's eyeing one too, saying it would be great for his wife.

"It's comfortable," Pickett said.  

Brian Pickett hasn't bought a Smart car himself, but he's helped his friends convert vehicles they've bought for offroad use. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

"You're in out of the weather, she don't get her hair messed up with the helmet. You know how women is now — get in the cabin, 'I got to fix my hair now,'" he added, laughing.

"If you're on a Ski-Doo or a quad then you got to get dressed." 

'Same as driving a normal car'

Besides the obvious — you have to remove the wheels from the Smart car, and install skis and tracks — Humphries says the work required to convert a Smart Car is minimal. A few fuses need to be changed for traction control and anti-lock brakes to be disabled.

"We took off the rotors and calipers and made up some plates and some ski arms. It was all manufactured by ourselves," he said. "Made up some plates to screw our tracks on."

He says the process is fully reversible, too. He plans to put his wheels back on in the spring.

The interior of Humphries's Smart car is the same as it was when the vehicle rolled off the factory floor. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

And for the driver, it's even simpler. The steering wheel, pedals and gear stick are unchanged.

"Same as driving a normal car," Humphries said. "It is a normal Smart car inside."

"If the roads are rough, it's a little rough," added White. "But for the most part, you know, we have groomed trails and that's where I take it and it seems to ride pretty good."

Cabin ready

And there's a practical element to the vehicle, too. Unlike a snowmobile, the Smart car has a trunk that you can load up for a weekend trip to the cabin.

White said everybody's first question is how fast the cars can go; he limits his speed to about 30 to 35 km/h.

His first Smart car snowmobile was an import, but he's now got a second vehicle in his garage in Centreville that he's planning to work on himself.

CBC reporter Garrett Barry gives the offroad vehicle a twirl — and catches the attention of a snowmobiler. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

The tracks will run anywhere from $4,000 to $6,000, he said, and each of the two skis costs about $1,200.

But Pickett says the costs are well worth it — and he's even musing about importing some vehicles from Quebec, and reselling them inside the province.

White said he first bought his vehicle after seeing the concept on television, and figured it was a great ride for his wife.

"My wife, actually, is from the Philippines so she don't like the cold at all," he said.

To convert their Smart cars into offroad vehicles, Humphries and White replaced the rear wheels with tracks and the front wheels with skis. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

It's become a great conversation starter on the trail — even he's not quite sure what exactly to call this new rig.

"It's just something different, you know?" White said. "There's not too many of them around, and wherever we go there's always somebody that's asking questions or taking pictures."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Garrett Barry

Journalist

Garrett Barry is a CBC reporter based in Gander.

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