Usually, when you think ‘small car’, you think Smart. Of course, there are cars which can make the ForTwo seem rather large. For example, Japanese kei cars like the Autozam AZ-1 and Honda Beat are extremely small. And classic cars, without airbags or modern crash structures, could be smaller yet roomier than a Smart. ‘Roomy,’ though, doesn’t describe the world’s smallest car: the Peel P50.
What is the Peel P50?
The Peel P50, like the BMW Isetta, is a microcar, Hagerty explains, essentially a European version of the kei car. After WWII, both Europe and Japan needed cars that were very fuel-efficient and made of little raw material, Motor Trend explains. That’s why the classic Fiat 500 has a fabric sunroof, rather than a fully-metal one: steel was expensive.
The microcar, though, was frugality taken to the extreme. And the original Peel P50, made on the UK’s Isle of Man, is the extreme end of that. At 54” long, 47” tall, and 40” wide, it’s officially recognized as the smallest production car in the world, RM Sotheby’s reports.
Designed to hold one adult and their shopping bag, it’s extremely basic. It has 3 wheels, one door, one light, one seat, and one windshield wiper. All of this makes it extremely light. Without passengers, it weighs roughly 230 pounds.
The low weight is also thanks to its fiberglass body. Before making the P50, Peel Engineering made boats and motorcycle fairings. That bike connection also extends to the engine. The Peel P50 is powered by a 49cc single-cylinder 2-stroke scooter motor, rated at 4.2 hp, Bring a Trailer reports, giving a top speed of 38 mph. The engine is linked to a 3-speed manual, which doesn’t have reverse.
Luckily, there is a grab bar that addresses that shortcoming. That’s because the Peel P50 is so light, you can literally pick up the rear and roll it away.
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.
Getting a brand-new Peel P50
Although the original Peel P50 was made on the Isle of Man, the new P50 is made in London, Autocar reports. And while it’s still not exactly fast or spacious, the latest model has gotten a few upgrades.
For one, while the new Peel P50 is available with a 49cc 4-stroke engine, there’s also an electric version. And the E50 is actually faster; the gas version tops out at 28 mph, while the electric goes to 35 mph. Plus, the E50 has disc brakes, while the gas P50 has drums. It’s also less expensive; the latter starts at roughly $16.3k, the former at about $15.1k.
However, the new Peel Engineering isn’t only making the P50. It’s also making a modern version of the 2-seat Peel Trident, with the electric model claiming a 250-mile range. In addition, the London company offers the 125GT, with a 124cc engine, racing-spec disc brakes, and a 55-mph top speed. Plus, all these cars are US-legal and can be built as kits with buyer-provided engines.
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