As It Happens

This Sussex man is driving the world's smallest car across the U.K. for charity

Alex Orchin is a fully grown man driving the world's smallest car across the U.K. At five feet 11 inches, the Sussex man has his knees crammed against his chest and his bottom practically touching the road, but the tiny Peel P50 captivates him.

Alex Orchin is driving the Peel P50 microcar some 1,400 kilometres

Alex Orchin is driving a tiny Peel P50 three-wheeled car from John O'Groats, Scotland south to Land's End in Cornwall, to raise money for a children's charity. (Submitted by Alex Orchin)

Alex Orchin is a fully-grown man who is cramming himself into the world's smallest car to drive the length of the U.K., a trip of some 1,400 kilometres.

At five feet 11 inches, the Sussex man has his knees squashed against his chest, and his bottom seated so low that he's practically touching the road when he's in the tiny Peel P50. Still, the diminutive car captivates him.

"I've had a lot of old and unusual cars over the years," Orchin told As It Happens host Carol Off. "When I got my hands on one of these, finally, it's by far the weirdest car I've ever bought. And I just wanted to undertake a large motoring challenge with it."

In 2007, the vintage vehicle enthusiast watched closely as Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson took a Peel P50 for a spin inside the BBC headquarters in London, driving through hallways and into an elevator. 

But that wasn't as long nor as uncomfortable a trip as Orchin's current journey from the village of John O'Groats in Scotland to Land's End in Cornwall. 

Orchin says that he has just a few inches between the top of his head and the ceiling of the car, and his back leans against the rear wall of the vehicle.

"If you were to literally just sit on the floor right now and notice where your knees are, imagine you've got a steering wheel in between them and then your right foot is pointing up to the sky, trying to control the throttle. It gives you a good idea of what the driving position is like in this car," he said.

The three-wheeled microcar was designed by the Peel Engineering Company on the Isle of Man and launched in 1962 as a city car. They advertised the car as able to seat "one adult and a shopping bag." It has one door on the left side, one windshield wiper and one headlight.

The car's tires are tiny, too — at just five inches, they hold the car quite low and can get very noisy on the road, Orchin said.

Orchin next to the sign for John O'Groats, a small village in northern Scotland and a popular starting point for end-to-end trips in the United Kingdom. (Submitted by Alex Orchin)

"I've owned the car for about three years and I'm one of the few people that can actually say I use it to go to work. I've used it to commute to the shops. It's not the only car I've got, but it's the one that I use quite extensively," he said.

Orchin knew that his tiny car was not built for long drives and that this trip would be a challenge, so he decided to raise money for the British charity Children in Need along the way.

"The lows are the endurance, the physical and mental endurance of driving this car long distance," he said.

Last weekend, he hit the road with just enough room to pack his navigation system and a bottle of water.

"We have a top speed of 23 miles [37 kilometres] per hour," Orchin explained. "You do stay in there for very prolonged periods of time so you've got to stay hydrated."

The world's smallest car in Dumfries, Scotland. The bridge in the background across the River Nith is one of the oldest bridges in Scotland, built in the 15th century. (Submitted by Alex Orchin)

His friend is driving a camper van beside him to help keep the trip moving without too many stops.

"It's cooking, toilet, shower. I've got my sleeping quarters [and] I've got my bagpipes," he said.

Other than cruising, his trip includes stops along the way to busk and mingle with locals.

"This is the highlight ... the people that I meet and the joy that this car brings because you don't have to be any particular age," he said. "You can see it in their faces and they're taking photographs, they're asking questions, so it just keeps me going."

"I love seeing the reaction that this car brings."

Written by Mehek Mazhar. Interview with Alex Orchin produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes.

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