You can look at the photos of it online, with people standing next to it. You can watch the Top Gear episode on it over and over again. But until you get up next to it, it’s hard to fathom how tiny the Peel P50, the world’s smallest road-legal production car, really is.
“You have to get your right knee all the way in there [to the other side of the car] or else you’ll never get in,” Tim Parker, general manager of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Niagara Falls tells me as I hunch over and fold myself inside.
“Hey, look! If you were two inches shorter, you’d fit perfectly!” My neck is kinked to my left, toward the door, since there’s really no space for my head. My knees and elbows are trying to negotiate who’ll go where, but at least I can reach the start key on my right and the singular throttle pedal on the floor.
(I’m just about five-foot-eleven, by the way, but Ripley’s Maggie Doucette said they’d had drivers as tall as six-foot-two in the car earlier that day.)
Our example is one of a dozen recently built just for Ripley’s by the manufacturer of the original P50, Peel, in the U.K., and unlike its predecessor, it’s electric, which is why the Canadian International Auto Show has no qualms with running it for hours on end in a closed room in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
The 24-volt propulsion system runs on four batteries, but Ripley’s has installed just two to limit speed to 15 km/h (10 mph) so no one takes it up its hypothetical 45 km/h (28 mph) top end and rolls it over.
As I switch it on and roll onto the throttle, the little fibreglass car silently but quickly takes off. I lift my foot and it slows immediately—ahh, good, no brakes required, then. The steering wheel, which resides well away from the dashboard, right where your stomach wants to be, turns my sharp left and right inputs into frightening zig-zagging. The round corners of the miniature oval track are better, though.
Four laps, five laps—it’s uncomfortable as all get-out but still an absolute blast. God, to try this thing out in traffic!
The use of batteries also means reverse gear is now available via toggle switch – the gasoline car famously had to be backed up by lifting up the 175-pound Peel via a handle on the rear and pushing it where you wanted it – so I park the thing to talk to Parker before I go back for more.
“The batteries last about three hours,” he explains, but they have pre-charged backups to keep the car moving throughout the day during the auto show. They swap into a wooden cradle just behind the driver’s seat.
This is the first time Ripley’s has tried doing something like this at such a large event – organizers are expecting 300,000 visitors to the CIAS this year – but if all goes well, they plan to come back next year with more weird cars. “It’s great, because not only do the cars in our collection have that believe-it-or-not weirdness about them,” Parker says, “but people get to drive them! Who wants to just stare at cars at a show?”
If you’re interested, one-lap Peel P50 test drives will be available throughout the entire auto show to licensed drivers. You’ll find the track on the 700 level of the South Hall of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The show lasts February 13 to 22; check out autoshow.ca for more information.