Entertainment

The ultimate low-rider

A car that's 19-inches tall only makes sense if you're chasing a Guinness Book World Record.

So Perry Watkins is not afraid to admit he was going for the gold when he built the world's lowest street legal car, or "Flatmobile," now on display at the Food Lion AutoFair.

It's also what he had in mind when he built the world's smallest road legal car (4 feet long, 4 feet tall), and the world's fastest furniture, a Queen Anne dining room suite (including place settings and candelabra) that goes 113 mph and shoots exhaust through the spouts of the coffee and tea pots.

The obvious question is....

Well, come to think of it, there are a lot of obvious questions, so you might as well start with the Flatmobile.

Why?

"Because the tallest car would have fallen over. The longest car wouldn't go around corners," Watkins says, matter-of-factly. "And I got bored."

That apparently happens a lot.

A salesman for a shoe-repair company, Watkins builds eccentric automobiles in his home garage back in Buckinghamshire, England. Some he sells. Others go on display around the world, like the Flatmobile, which is in the U.S. for the first time at the Food Lion AutoFair.

Reactions during the unloading at Charlotte Motor Speedway ranged from "What the hell?" to "You gotta be kidding!" Then there was the security guard at the infield tunnel, who asked if the Flatmobile had been run over by a truck on the speedway grounds.

The car stands knee high, has a 4-cylinder engine, goes up to 80 mph, and looks like a flattened version of Batmobile from the '60s TV series. Among its peculiarities: a steering wheel measuring 6 inches in diameter and ground clearance of 2 inches, which will just about allow a golf ball to roll beneath the car without interruption.

As for the ride, 49-year-old Watkins is pretty much lying down behind the wheel, and there's no windshield.

"It's pretty horrendous," he admits. "You are always scanning the road for Coke cans, large stones, and if you come across a speed bump, you turn around."

Angie Watkins, his wife, is largely OK with all this, having long ago realized her husband of 26 years can't resist a challenge.

In fact, the Flatmobile is his third try at building the world's lowest car. The two previous cars were bested in a good-natured rivalry with another car enthusiast, who kept building lower and lower rides. When the other guy built a 21-inch-tall car, Perry Watkins hit bottom with a 19-inch-tall retort.

At least that's what he hopes.

"I don't think they can go any lower, otherwise this would drag on and drive me nuts," his wife says.

Coincidentally, she says the inspiration for all this odd engineering comes from their local pub back in England, where his drinking buddies offer suggestions, or rather, challenges.

Example: It was after one too many cold ones that someone suggested Perry could not successfully build a drivable dining room table and chairs.

Voila.

"I keep telling people in pubs not to give him ideas," says Angie. "The more they drink, the sillier the ideas get, and he can't resist a challenge. I think now people give him ideas just to annoy me."

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