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The Glorious Return of the World's Smallest Street-Legal Car

How would you like to own a car so compact that you could pick it up and carry it into your apartment at night?

How would you like to own a car so compact that you could pick it up and carry it into your apartment at night?

That's not an exaggeration. The Peel P50 is buglike enough that you can practically juggle three of them. And about that owning part: Although the only automobile ever manufactured on the Isle of Man fell out of production in 1965, the company that now manages the Peel line is sending the microcars buzzing back to the streets of England, where we can only hope they will seek out their natural mate, the Roomba, and breed to create a race of trash-eating vehicles.

Although it still holds the Guinness record for the "World's Smallest Production Car," the 2012 P50 is a different critter from the one that debuted in 1962. Summoned into being by onetime-RAF engineer Cyril Cannell, the original ran on gasoline, weighed in at 130 pounds thanks to a fiberglass body and cost £199. Fewer than a hundred P50s were ever made; mourners at Cannell's 2008 funeral hoisted a surviving one into the air to pay tribute to the late inventor.

The new P50 has the option of running on electricity and costs £12,500, or nearly $20,000. Some things remain the same: The number of wheels (three), the cyclops-like uniheadlight and the single windshield wiper blade. It still measures a mere 54 inches long and 41 inches wide.

The auto has a fully enclosed chassis, making drivers appear as if they're scooting around inside TVs on wheels. Jeremy Clarkson of the TV show "Top Gear" took one for a spin and found that the 49cc moped motor, located right between the legs, gave off a possibly uncomfortable amount of heat. He also worried that his “knees are the crumple zones":

But it looks neat! And lovers of unconventional vehicles have even more reasons to rejoice this year, because Peel Engineering Co. is also planning a limited release of the Trident, the P50's bubblegum-machine-domed soul brother. At 72 inches long it's not quite as compact. But it keeps the cute Tuk Tuk design aesthetic. Both microcars can theoretically hit 40 m.p.h. and have a fuel economy of 118 m.p.g., although with a car that weighs less than the average adult human those numbers are dependent on the number of burgers the driver has consumed in life.

Peel notes that these zippy vehicles are street-legal in the U.K. and the U.S. as they qualify as mopeds. The company is only manufacturing 25 of each car, so place your orders today!

The Trident:

The P50:

Below, a P50 inside Ripley's Believe it or Not! museum in London:

All images courtesy of Peel Engineering.

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.