One of the smallest and most unusual production cars of the twentieth century is represented in the National Motor Museum collection. Designed as an economical urban runabout, the Peel P50 takes minimalist motoring to an entirely new level, offering motorists seating for just one in its diminutive fibreglass body.
Small is Beautiful
There is only one door and a single headlamp, while three tiny wheels hold the car off the ground. What looks like a long handbrake lever is in fact used for starting the 49cc two-stroke Sachs engine, which is located next to the driver’s right leg. This engine produces 4.2hp, which is sufficient to propel the P50 up to a dizzying 40mph. There may not be a reverse gear, but with a carrying handle mounted on the back, this lightweight car can simply be picked up and manoeuvred by hand.
The museum’s 1964 Peel P50 has been fascinating visitors for many years, but workshop engineer Mike Gillett reckoned that it deserved mechanical rejuvenation. “I just felt sorry for it,” confesses motorcycle enthusiast Mike, “so I decided to get it running again.” However, all was not well with the two-stroke engine.
“Once I’d stripped down the engine, I discovered that the piston rings were worn out,” explains Mike. “I eventually tracked down a set of new piston rings in Greece, which were shipped over and fitted.” Once the wayward ignition timing had been rectified, it was the turn of the carburettor to cause problems. “The carburettor was leaking like a sieve. Amazingly, replacement carburettors are still manufactured in China, so one of these was ordered and fitted.”
With the Peel back in working order, it was taken for a celebratory spin around the National Motor Museum grounds, but driving such a small vehicle posed certain challenges…
London to Brighton
Meanwhile, the 1903 and 1904 De Dion Boutons, along with the 1903 Daimler 22hp, were prepared in the workshop to take part in the Bonhams London to Brighton Veteran Car Run. This much-loved annual event follows a 60-mile route from Hyde Park in London to Madeira Drive in Brighton and is a stern reliability test for the pre-1905 cars taking part.
Lord Montagu and his brother Jonathan got behind the wheel for this historic event, as did Museum Manager and Chief Engineer Doug Hill and Senior Engineer Ian Stanfield. It was a foggy start to the day, but thousands of spectators turned out to see these beautiful vehicles attempt the route.