Vandals Flip Smart Cars Over in San Francisco

By Lisa Fernandez, Bryan Carmody and Christie Smith
|  Tuesday, Apr 8, 2014  |  Updated 12:37 PM PDT
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Someone's been vandalizing compact Smart cars in San Francisco, flipping the tiny vehicles on their front and rear ends in the city's streets. Terry McSweeney reports.

Someone's been vandalizing compact Smart cars in San Francisco, flipping the tiny vehicles on their front and rear ends in the city's streets. Terry McSweeney reports.

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Vandals Flip Smart Cars Over in San Francisco

Someone's been vandalizing compact Smart cars in San Francisco, flipping the tiny vehicles on their front and rear ends in the city's streets. Cheryl Hurd reports.
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Someone's been vandalizing compact Smart cars in San Francisco, flipping the tiny vehicles on their front and rear ends in the city's streets.

NBC Bay Area found four of the targeted Smart cars between Sunday night and Monday morning. Two were found in the Bernal Heights neighborhood on Anderson Street, and another was found a bit south on Sweeny and Bowdoin streets, closer to the Portola district. They were either sitting on their headlights, rear bumpers high in the air, or vice versa.

A fourth Smart car -- a small white one with a faded "Obama-Biden" bumper sticker -- was discovered Monday about 9 a.m. at Coso and Prospect avenues between the Mission District and Bernal Heights. Shelley Gallivan was babysitting her friend's Smart car after it was left to her by her late father, and was shocked to find it flipped on its right side.

"Whoever is doing this just has misdirected anger," Gallivan said.

San Francisco Police Officer Gordon Shyy said the suspects are still at large and will face felony vandalism charges if they are caught. Police do have an eye witness account to work from.

Brandon Michael was out having a cigarette about 1 a.m. Monday when he spotted about six to eight people wearing hooded sweatshirts flip over the cars.

"They looked like they were up to no good," Michael said. "And sure enough, they huddled around it and lifted it up."

And the vandalized cars? Michael said they reminded him of little dogs: "They look like they are dachshunds sitting up on their hind legs."

Smart car representatives did not respond immediately for comment.

Neighbors were puzzled at the odd sight. Smart cars are a mainstay for many in San Francisco, where parking is tight and drivers search for eco-friendly ways to get around.

"I think it's a bunch of pranks," Dan Gomez said. "I don't know, it sounds kind of weird. I don't know why you would want to do that."

Smart Automobile is headquartered in Boblingen, Germany, and has its primary assembly plant in Hambach, France.  The idea for the car was hatched in early 1990s when Nicholas Hayek, the inventor of the Swatch watch, approached Mercedes-Benz to realize his vision of an "ultra-urban" car, according to the company website. The first Smart car came to the United States - specifically Manhattan -  in 2008.

The cars start at about $13,000 and the company brands its cars with a lower case "s."

Tipping over large, heavy objects just for kicks is nothing new. High schoolers, football teams and fraternities have supposedly been tipping cows in pastures for years, and picking up VW bugs and moving them elsewhere was a minor fad back in the 1960s and 1970s.

The exact motives behind the vandalism are unclear. The diminutive cars are smaller and lighter than most vehicles. A Smart car weighs about 1,500 pounds; a Ford Focus S Sedan weighs close to 3,000 pounds, and a Hummer clocks in at 8,600 pounds -- definitely a heft that would pose a flipping challenge.

The VoiceofVancouver showed a video of people flipping over a Smart car in 2011 during a citywide riot, as did another YouTube user who showed people smashing the high-tech mini-car. In 2009, the Toronto Star wrote a piece, "Tipping Smart cars the latest prank trend," comparing the act of tipping over the pint-size vehicles as the modern-day equivalent of tipping over cows.

The Smart car website has a forum with frustrated car owners discussing the pricey prank.

And a parody Facebook page was set up called "Smart Car Tipping" by a creator who does not "practice, promote or condone Smart Car Tipping."

One website, however, seemed to be cheering on the tipping. TotalFratMove.com called the Smart car tippers "heroes" and described the cars as "teensy little wheeled boxes."


A Smart car flipped over on Anderson Street in San Francisco. April, 7, 2014.

NBC Bay Area's Cheryl Hurd contributed to this report.

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