By: Denis Droppa
What is the world’s smallest car? You might be surprised to hear it’s not the Smart Fortwo.
Limited parking in traffic-congested cities has inspired the motor industry to bring out some pint-sized city cars over the years, some of them small enough to be fitted perpendicular in a parallel-parking bay - so you can fit two of them side by side.
There are micro-sized cars that have been specially built to break Guinness world records, and the smallest of them is a one-off car built by Austin Coulson of the US, which measures just 1.26 metres long. Not much bigger than a child’s pedal car, the vehicle is street-legal and licenced to be driven on public roads with a speed limit of 40 km/h. See a video of it below.
As for actual production cars, the two-seater Smart Fortwo is today’s most well-known micro car but it’s not the tiniest car ever made - not by a long shot. Though it seats just two people it conforms to modern safety standards by protecting passengers in a crash with crumple zones that make it a relatively sizeable 2.7 metres long.
That’s tiny compared to a 3.9 metre Volkswagen Polo, but a lot larger than the Isetta bubble car which stretched the tape at just 2.28 metres when it was produced in the 1950s and ‘60s. Besides its diminutive size and bubble shape, a notable feature of the two-seater BMW Isetta 300cc was that instead of side doors, the entire front end of the car, including the steering wheel and instrument panel, hinged outwards to allow entry. It was even smaller than another micro car of the same era, the 2.82m long Messerschmitt three-wheeled micro car (197 cc) with its cockpit design where a passenger sat behind the driver.
But the Isetta’s still not the tiniest series production car ever made.
That honour goes to the Peel P50, a three-wheeled micro car originally manufactured from 1962 to 1965 by the Peel Engineering Company on the Isle of Man, and recently revived by UK-based Peel Engineering. At just 1.37 metres long - about the same size as an average filing cabinet - it was listed in the 2010 Guinness Book of Records as the smallest production car ever made. It has no reverse gear but it’s so light that you can turn it around by simply lifting its rear end with a handle.
Capable of seating one adult and a shopping bag, it’s the very definition of motoring minimalism with its single headlight, single door and diminutive powerplant.
Despite its lack of crumple zones it’s road legal in the UK as it’s classified as a three-wheeled moped.