Lately, I’ve been wondering what the point of modern supercars is even supposed to be. In an age when a big, heavy electric sedan or SUV is as quick in a drag race as a Ferrari or a Lamborghini, what’s the point of those cars besides telegraphing to the world that you’re about to get nailed for human trafficking? It’s getting hard to care about just straight speed anymore. Do you know what I’d rather watch than another supercar drag race? A battle between a bunch of old, slow, utilitarian microcars meant for postwar city commuting and/or the transportation of eggs from a farm. That would be interesting.
And it falls squarely into “The kind of shit we’d do here at The Autopian if we ever got some actual money.” Luckily, the cheerful and perhaps slightly deranged Brits at CarWow are on the same page as us. Check out their latest drag race for something really new and different.
Forget the supercars. This is a contest of speed—and I use that word in the loosest sense possible here—between five vintage microcars meant for city transportation, deliveries or pleasure. None of them are fast; all of them are impressive displays of engineering, but also probably abysmal and uncomfortable to drive. Five cars, 15 wheels—but only one can be a champion!
In this showdown, we have a Reliant Regal, which has an 848cc engine and throws down about 37 horsepower. The Regal is the predecessor to the vastly superior (?) and more high-tech (???) Reliant Robin, the star of arguably the most well-known Top Gear segment of all time.We have a BMW Isetta, which practically needs no introduction but is hardly bringing any M-car DNA here with just 12 HP from a 250cc engine. We have a tiny British Peel P50 (which Matt Farah fits into, by the way), which has 4.2 (four-point-two) HP, sadly not the 45 HP that they thought it had. Bummer.
Rounding out this race of tiny, slow, terrible champions are a four-stroke Tuk Tuk (which you might find in India), also with 4 HP, and an Italian Piaggio Ape Calessino convertible—a delightful little thing that looks at home at some Italian beach hotel and is weirdly a match for the Isetta at 12 HP.
Again, none of these cars were built for performance, unless you define “performance” as “Just being better than walking, or at least somewhat faster.” They’re all postwar European light commercial and commuter vehicles, built for a time when people didn’t have a ton of cash and fuel was extremely cost-prohibitive (then as now, I guess.) But they were remarkably effective—even stylish, in some cases—at getting people around and doing light work on the cheap.
So who’s the king of speed here? After a few runs, the Reliant emerges as the victor, pulling off the standing quarter mile in just 22 seconds. Honestly, I would’ve guessed even higher than that. The TukTuk and the BMW both come in after it, in that order, after about 33 seconds to the quarter-mile mark. The Ape was behind them at 41.6 seconds.
As for the Peel, it didn’t finish. The chain popped off after it was revved too hard.
But this was a delightful test, and frankly something I’d take any day over the other litany of supercar and hot hatch drag races. Who needs a Ferrari when you have a Reliant Regal?
If you tune them right, you can use a Robin to get really good drag times in Forza Horizon 5. I believe all my rivals records are in a Robin except S1 (COPA Camaro) and S2 (some Lambo I can’t remember right now.)
The Reliant, Ape, and Tuktuk aren’t microcars, they’re entirely practical delivery vehicles* for use in cities that were built before the motorcar (ie most cities outside of the Americas).
* Well, the Tuktuk is usually a taxi, but that’s just people-delivery basically.
As an American who has owned numerous – well 4 – Reliant (including one now residing at the Lane Museum)
I take issue with the knee jerk need to reference Top Gear’s rigged Robin video. I’ve never had one come even close to going unstable.
Not saying it can’t happen but they went to great length to make that one roll like a ball.
A few comments i seem to recall Top Gear doing a race such as this. Also doesnt Beau own an awesome microcar collection?
Beau come out to playay. (Warriors movie reference)
If a dipshit of Autopians ever is gathered driving a grin of microcars, then I want to be a part of it.
I legitimately want to see a decent road bicycle in that race, too
My custom-built electric velomobile/microcar would smoke all three of them in an 1/8th mile drag race.
It would probably fare well with the motor turned off and me simply pedaling it. With all of 4 horsepower, plus my pedaling, 0-30 mph in around 6 seconds is doable. It has a top end of 45-50 mph depending upon battery state of charge.
It’s currently being upgraded with a more aerodynamically slippery body, a roll cage, DOT rims, solar car tires, a larger/more powerful battery pack, will have 13 peak horsepower when done, and will probably end up able to do 0-60 mph faster than most cars while ending up with a top speed in the triple digits.
You might think the British were insane to allow Reliant Robins on their roads but any bozo with a welder can make himself a VW trike with Harley chopper “steering”.
To heck with drag races. I want to see laps on a road course. How many of these can even finish a lap faster than I can walk it?
“As for the Peel, it didn’t finish. The chain popped off after it was revved too hard.”
Normally that sort of thing happens when the chain has too much slack or is quite worn (or both). The sprockets may have been out of alignment as well.
On that TG segment, Clarkson said the P50 had a top speed of about 35mph, so if we assume the Peel goes immediately from 0 to top speed it would have finished the 1/4 mile in about 25.7 seconds, neatly demonstrating the problem with making assumptions.
Did the Peel keep throwing the chain because it was revved too hard or because the wheel/sprocket weren’t properly aligned?
Either way, I want to see them tackle a road course next.
“The Regal is the predecessor to the vastly superior (?) and more high-tech (???) Reliant Robin…”
They call it a Regal in the video but it’s pretty clearly a Robin Mk 1, which may help explain its superior performance.
The Peel, on the other hand, is a modern replica and not even a particularly authentic one, judging from, among other things, the steering rack and the closeups of the problematic chain drive.
It’s definitely a Robin cosplaying as a Regal. Del Boy’s van in Only Fools & Horses was a 1972 Regal Supervan III, which would have had a mighty 701cc engine making about 29bhp. Having driven a Robin but never a Regal, I can confidently say that it is marginally more high tech than a cardboard bathtub, with nominally superior performance over a quarter-mile.
The “Peel” looks like it’s most likely a Bamby P50.
On the subject of fast microcars, I’m intent on eventually building a sub-150 lb single-seater vehicle with velomobile aerodynamics, that using high-end ebike parts, has at LEAST 150 horsepower. When you put a driver and carry-on items in the vehicle, this would mean a power to weight ratio on par with the world’s fastest hypercars. And with a hub motor in each wheel, it would have AWD.
It also wouldn’t cost much to build. A few thousand dollars, well below the 5-figures, for parts. If it can’t get high production volume to get the cost down, then the performance alone could justify a high price tag. But if it can be mass produced, the cost would be comparable to a scooter or moped, but offer the user hypercar performance in an enclosed vehicle protected from the elements, with some modicum of collision safety with larger vehicles.
Such a thing would only need about 0.020 kWh/mile to hold 70 mph on the highway if it ended up with double the overall mass/drag of a Milan SL velomobile. This in turn keeps the battery pack small, and there are batteries with power densities more than capable of putting out the peak power seen at the motors, continuously. A 4-5 kWh pack is really all such a vehicle needs for competitive range, and by virtue of the pack being small, every 110V outlet is the equivalent of Level II charging for a larger car, and a 240V outlet would be the equivalent of a Tesla Supercharger, both outlets of which are ubiquitous. There are prototype ebike hub motors that can do 50 horsepower peak in a 7lb package, and off the shelf I can buy today controllers for around $500 that can output that power in a 1 lb package.
It would be given a battery voltage and wheel size appropriate for topping out at whatever speed it can go without risk of lifting off the ground or losing straight-line stability, with a body given as little drag as possible. This might mean a top speed around 120-ish mph, given the weight. So if geared to top out at 120 mph, with 150 horses, assuming a 400 lb laden weight, this vehicle could be running 9s in the 1/4 mile. All for the cost of a moped or scooter, if mass produced.
Where the hell are you finding 70hp hub motors
They’re not for sale, but AMZ Technologies more than a decade ago showcased a 7 lb hubmotor that can do 50 horsepower peak and 300 lb-ft of torque.
They were used to power a custom-built electric car to allow 0-60 mph in 1.8 seconds, the car built by ETH Zurich and Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts.
For my application, the best I can currently buy off the shelf is a cheap Chinese Leafbike hubmotor. It weighs 17 lbs and is rated to 2 horsepower continuous at 48V, but in reality when running a higher voltage will allow 13 horsepower peak after adding a hubsink and installing Ferrofluid, and will still likely deliver 4-5 horsepower continuous in that configuration. I’ll be lucky to run 15s in the 1/4 mile with that configuration, but that would still be quite fast for a “bicycle” as it would hold its own with modern 4-cylinder cars. And I could still build a microcar with one in each wheel, which for what will be a sub-150-lb vehicle, having 40 horsepower without any driveline losses would be still quite ridiculous.
The availability of high-end motors is lacking, and that is the current bottleneck for what I want to do. Everything else, such as the batteries, controllers, computers, is all there to build this vehicle, available as one-off items on the hobbyist market at affordable prices. The motor tech exists, you just can’t buy it off the shelf for hobbyist projects yet. When that changes, the vehicle I want to build becomes a lot more possible. As it is today, the only way I could do that is to custom design my own motors.
Although, if you want a 70 horsepower hub motor(or more than that), the HubMonsters used to be sold. They’re no longer available, and are much too heavy for my application. But they did 95% efficiency peak, and a single one used to power a 200-lb ebike allowed for 11 second 1/4 mile drag times. That bike is owned by Luke Workman.
The reason I’m not hunting one down for my velomobile project is that I want mine to be operable with the motor disabled via pedals. I’ve imposed a 100 lb vehicle weight limit to allow for that, and a single Hubmonster would take almost half that weight budget by itself. The Hubmonster also cannot fit a cluster of bicycle gears on it with my limited dropout width. Among other compromises entailed that go against what I’m tryin to do.
Now I am still trying to find a Hubmonster, for a different project, my friend’s custom build called “The Minion”:
But Hubmonsters are no longer being produced. So any serial production of vehicles will not have them available for use.
Hmmm. You may be able to sweet talk the Lane into doing some stuff like this… I’m sure Torch has a late ’80s vintage camcorder in his basement somewhere.
What can we drag race against the Hoffman?
Maybe something with a Tullock’s spike to compete with how terrifying it is to drive the Hoffman at any speed above walking pace?