Photo: KnowInsiders
Photo: KnowInsiders

Peel P50 - the smallest car in the world

The Peel P50 is a three-wheeled microcar originally made from 1962 to 1965 by the Peel Engineering Company on the Isle of Man, and then from 2011. It was listed in the 2010 Guinness World Records as the smallest production car ever made. The original model has no reverse gear, but a handle at the rear allows the very lightweight car to be maneuvered physically when required.

Designed as a city car, it was advertised in the 1960s as capable of seating "one adult and a shopping bag". The vehicle's only door was on its left side and equipment included a single windscreen wiper and one headlight. Standard colors were Daytona White, Dragon Red, and Dark Blue. The 1963 model retailed for £199 when new (about £6,600 in 2019, or US$8,500). The company produced 50 P50s, of which 27 are known to still exist, one of which was sold for a record US$176,000 at a Sotheby's auction in March 2016.

Photo: Wonderful Engineering
Photo: Wonderful Engineering

In 2010 Peel Engineering Ltd. in England reinstated manufacturing of the P50 and Trident models from its premises in Sutton-in-Ashfield, England. Externally this car is very similar to the original, with the same dimensions and curb weight as the original, but with mechanical differences in the suspension, steering, and drive-train, and a fully functioning reverse gear, ensuring they are road-legal under today's rules. Production included petrol models with a 49 cc four-stroke engine and electric models with an electric moped motor and gelled-electrolyte batteries. The top speed of both cars is about 28 mph (45 km/h).

At 54 in (137 cm) long and 39 in (99 cm) wide and with an unladen weight of 130 pounds (59 kg), as of 2021, the P50 holds the record as the smallest car ever to go into production. The Peel P50's diminutive size and width mean that it can quite easily fit through doorways and enter buildings, as demonstrated by Jeremy Clarkson during a sequence on a 2007 episode of Top Gear, where a blue P50 was driven through the BBC's Television Centre.

Statistic of the smallest car in the world


Photo: Flickr
Photo: Flickr

The original P50 used a 3 cu in (49.2 cc) DKW single-cylinder engine, which gave it a top speed of approximately 37 mph (60 km/h) and was equipped with a three-speed manual transmission that had no reverse gear. Consequently, turning in a confined area could be achieved only by pushing, or lifting the car using the handle on the rear and physically pulling it round. The makers and users claim fuel consumption of 100 mpg‑imp (2.8 L/100 km; 83 mpg‑US).

In 1963, as a publicity stunt, a Peel P50 was taken to the top of Blackpool Tower in the lift and driven around the observation balcony.

At least one prototype, the Peel P55 Saloon Scooter, has also survived. Unlike the production Peel P50 (along with all developments and replicas thereof), this prototype used the less stable layout of a single wheel at the front and two at the back.

Approximately 47 Peel P50s were sold at £299 each.

On 15 February 2013 at the Bruce Weiner RM Auction a genuine 1964 Peel P50 (Registration number ARX 37B) achieved in excess of US$120,000 (£80,000).

Since 2011

Photo: New Atlas
Photo: New Atlas

In 2011 businessmen Gary Hillman and Faizal Khan went to the Dragons' Den asking for £80,000. They got the investment and started a new company to put their revised models into production. Three replica models were available initially: Gas, Eco and Fun. The line was later reduced to two: the Petrol and Electric models. These are hand-built to order in Sutton-in-Ashfield by Micro Car Specialists for the domestic and export markets.

In 2018 it was reported that Peel Engineering sells around fifteen P50s annually, plus ten or so continuations of its bigger sister, the two-seat bubble car Peel Trident. The conventional piston-engined P50 is more requested in the UK, priced at £14,879 – whereas greater demand for the Peel comes from the US, where the electric model (at £13,679) helps owners to comply with emissions regulations.

The smallest car in the world: Pricing and availability

Back in 1962, the Peel P50 was extremely cheap, even cheaper than a motorcycle, the BBC reports. It retailed for the equivalent of $250, which is about $2130 in today’s money. That’s less than even a new Honda Grom.

But even with such a low price, the Peel P50 wasn’t particularly successful. 47 were made by the time production ended in 1965, and reportedly fewer than 30 still survive. However, in recent years the surviving microcars have risen in value.

In 2013, a restored Peel P50 sold for $120,750 at an RM Sotheby’s auction. Then in 2017, another went for $140,250 at another RM Sotheby’s auction. As of this writing, there’s a restored Canadian-market 1964 example listed on BaT for $35,000.

But, if a classic P50 is outside your budget, you can get a brand-new one.

Can I Buy the World's Smallest Car Today?

Believe it or not… Yes.

The original manufacturers, Peel Engineering Ltd., decided to resurrect the car in 2010. It was marketed alongside the Peel’s cousin, the Trident.

While the Trident and Peel P50 look the same, there are a few mechanical differences between the two, one of them being the Trident’s fully functioning reverse gear (you know, if you’re into that kind of thing).

Peel Engineering continues to manufacturer the Peel P50 today in Great Britain. And just like in the ’60s, it comes in five different colors and has a fiberglass monocoque chassis that makes the car light, yet tough.

So, if you ever find yourself on the other side of the pond and in need of a ride, the Peel P50 is as viable an option as any. Unless you plan on getting more than one bag of groceries. Then you’re screwed.

The man driving 870 miles in Peel P50

Alex Orchin, from Wivelsfield in East Sussex, expects to take to two to three weeks to complete the 870-mile (1,400km) trip in a Peel P50.

Mr Orchin set off on his journey from John O'Groats in Caithness on Saturday.

He has taken on the challenge to raise money for BBC Children in Need. It is believed to be the first time the drive has been done in a P50.

A keen bagpiper since he was 11 years old, Mr Orchin will be playing the pipes during his stops on the long way south.

Alex described the sensations of the experience to CBC, explaining “If you were to literally just sit on the floor right now and notice where your knees are, imagine you’ve got a steering wheel in between them and then your right foot is pointing up to the sky, trying to control the throttle. It gives you a good idea of what the driving position is like in this car.”

His back is pressed against the rear of the vehicle, and he only has a couple of inches of headroom. And he’ll be in this tiny environment for 896 miles (or 1400 km). But if he does it, Alex will be the first man to cross the country in a Peel P50. But as interesting as Alex’s adventure is sure to be, the story of the world’s smallest car is fascinating by itself.

Small is beautiful - Three more lovable microcars

Photo: Silodrome
Photo: Silodrome

► BRUTSCH MOPETTA - Appearing six years before the P50 and reversing the Peel’s layout to drive two rear wheels while steering with a single front, the open-topped Mopetta was produced by microcar designer Egon Brütsch in Stuttgart. Its charming styling and hen’s- teeth rarity have prompted several replicas, including a run by British microcar specialist Andy Carter.

Photo: Pinterest
Photo: Pinterest

► FMR TG500 - Precluded from making aircraft after World War II, Messerschmitt based its family of three-wheeled Kabinenrollers (‘cabin scooters’) on the Fend Flitzer invalid carriage. Inheriting much of the Kabinenrollers’ design (including the two-seat tandem layout), FMR’s sporty Tg500 four-wheeler was a 494cc, twin-pot monster making around 20bhp. One was auctioned in 2013 for $322,000.

Photo: Road&Track
Photo: Road&Track

► FUJI CABIN - Another child of post-war aviation industry bans, the Fuji Cabin was made in Tokyo between 1955 and 1958. Though similar to the P50for its construction, suspension, brakes and Cyclops headlight, the Fuji Cabin’s 122cc, 5.5bhp single-pot was rear-mounted, its two seats were staggered and its 115in length made it a long-wheelbase leviathan.

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