Mercedes-Benz Nahverkehrsfahrzeug (NAFA)

Car of the Day #24: Mercedes-Benz NAFA

Mercedes-Benz Nahverkehrsfahrzeug (NAFA)
• period magazine scan; source unknown

Long name, short car.

Feast your eyes on the 1982 Mercedes-Benz Nahverkehrsfahrzeug, or NAFA (NAhverkehrsFAhrzeug)—the “short distance vehicle.”

For some unknown reason, it was actually the first microcar from Mercedes-Benz.

I say unknown because, while we think of the company as a luxury car manufacturer in North America, in the rest of the world (as many of you know!) it’s a full-line vehicle manufacturer, selling everything from Unimog off-road utility trucks to semi trucks to work vans to supercars. But you knew this. Why’d it take ’em just shy of 100 years to make a little bitty like this?

• via Mercedes-Benz

Where to start? Probably with the smart fortwo, actually. There are a few sources online that cite the NAFA as inspiration (or at least a starting point) for the concepts that became what we know as the fortwo, but I don’t draw a convincing line between them.

First, the NAFA was from 1981. Swatch and Mercedes-Benz hooked up in 1994, forming the basis for what would become the fortwo. This was first.

The first production, name-brand Mercedes-Benz city car, the A-Class, was seen in concept form in 1997. I wrote about this a while ago:

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Mercedes-Benz, for its part, says, “The NAFA study did not fall into oblivion. The insights it produced were incorporated into the design of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, the prototype of which made its debut in 1996.”

Do any of you think for a minute that photos of the NAFA graced cubicles for 13 years before someone thought to make something more of it?

In this case, yes: the vehicle was commissioned by engineer Johann Tomforde, who later ended up becoming one of the first three co-directors of MCC—Mercedes City Car, the venture that would evolve into smart.

• via Mercedes-Benz

And now you’ve seen the most bad-ass feature of the car, the forward-opening doors(!) Why isn’t that a thing these days? Now we know where Peugeot got the idea for the 1007. 

That said, I suppose these are suicide opening doors?

Its powertrain is similar to what eventually ended up in the smart fortwo. Powered by a tiny 40 horsepower, 1.0-litre, 3-cylinder engine with an automatic transmission and front wheel drive, the car was foremost designed to be easy to drive around in town.

Some sources online say it’s the first front wheel drive Mercedes-Benz concept, and after some digging I’m inclined to agree.

Four-wheel steering certainly helped with parking, but even compared to modern microcars it would’ve been top of its class. The Toyota/Scion iQ, for instance, has a turning circle of 7.8 metres or just less than 26 feet, whereas the NAFA does the trick in 5.7 meters, less than 19 feet! 

(These days, ever other electric SUV seems to be able to turn around in its own wheelbase, but back in the ’80s, this was impressive.)

My favourite feature of the car is its completely transparent rear section; it's not very practical but reminds me of the Quasar Unipower…which is not something I can say about any other Mercedes-Benz.

Does the Mercedes-Benz NAFA look good slammed? Ab-so-freakin-lutely • via digital artist on Instagram

VOLVO WEDGE - Aerodynamics be damned, design house Coggolia had proposed a number of alternative body styles for what would become the Volvo 850. via @banovskyon

THE MOVE - Lewis Hamilton will be a Ferrari driver from 2025. 🤯 I think it is a solid move, and definitely the exciting one for fans and speculators alike – especially if he gels with the team and is what Ferrari needs to earn its next World Driver’s & Constructors Championships.

READY AI DRIVER - While automakers and suppliers each scramble to write the code to power so-called full self-driving systems, Tesla has gone the alternate route: its latest FSD beta, version 12, is completely rewritten around an artificial intelligence model that surveys the best drivers, learns their driving traits, and replicates their behavior.

If you are going to watch one video, it is this one: quite fair, balanced, and featuring a direct comparison with an older version of FSD, I appreciate the perspective of a driver who has been testing Tesla’s software through multiple generations.

Which automaker will be next to throw away its (very expensive) codebase and follow Tesla with AI-based self-driving software?