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RAC Editorial

Pimped Out Rebels of the Road

16 Apr 2010 at 14:25

For an elite group of drivers, the available vehicle options do not go far enough leading to some odd creations and unique collaborations - some successful, others considerably less so.

With so many types of vehicles on sale across the world today, even the pickiest individual should be able to find one that suits their needs.

From a 50cc moped to a seven-litre super car via off-roaders, people carriers and convertibles, there ought to be something to meet all tastes and to perform any task.

However, for an elite group, the available options do not go far enough leading to some odd creations and unique collaborations - some successful, others considerably less so.

A super lorry

One of those most doomed to failure was Dick Denby's super-lorry, which made headlines in 2009 for its owner's audacity.

74-year-old trucker, Denby, chairman of Denby Transport based near Lincoln, made the mistake of publicising his attempts to create a gargantuan truck in a bid to reduce road congestion and pollution.

At 82-feet long, roughly 26-feet longer than a standard lorry, the twin trailer set-up was longer than a cricket pitch and, with the potential to weigh 60-tonnes if fully loaded, heavier than a Challenger II tank.

Clearly, this was in breach of road regulations and when Denby attempted to drive the vehicle out of the depot he was immediately collared by a waiting police officer and questioned by an official from the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency.

Denby argued that such massive trucks could be used to carry a larger load of lightweight goods, cutting the number of trucks on the road. VOSA is not currently of the same opinion.

It is not only maverick haulage firm entrepreneurs that fall foul of UK vehicle size regulations however. The same fate has caused embarrassment for Humberside and South Yorkshire fire services who between them purchased five gigantic Combined Aerial Rescue Pump (CARP) fire engines, costing more than half a million pounds each, before discovering they were too heavy to be used on the road.

By the end of 2009, all five units had spent nearly two years sat in the garage while the services paid for modification to make them road legal, with South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue spending a whopping £700,000 on the alterations.

They aren't the only ones making a few changes to their vehicle of choice, however.

Broomfield's Rover

When Rover fan, engineer, car nut and Practical Performance Car magazine contributor Charlie Broomfield decided to modify his 1982 Rover SD1 he wasn't thinking small.

The aim was to achieve 200mph and the means was using a 27-litre Rolls-Royce Merlin V12 engine sourced from a Centurion tank and of the same variety that powered the WW2 Spitfire fighter plane.

Broomfield spent more than ten years on the project and it remains a work in progress but with the stock engine producing 650bhp and 1550lb/ft of torque, enough to shred the transmission and tyres of any normal vehicle, the focus shifted from fitting the engine (which encroaches into the passenger cabin and leaves no room for a windscreen) to modifying the bodywork to enable a 200mph dash without lifting off.

Reliant Robin shuttle

The BBC Top Gear duo of Richard Hammond and James May had exactly the opposite problem when they embarked on the challenge of turning a Robin Reliant three-wheeler into a miniature orbital landing craft.

Opting for the much-mocked Reliant because of its compact size, lightweight fibre-glass body, 'pointy' shape and no doubt also for some comedy effect, the mission was to launch Reliant shuttle skyward before triggering it to detach from the main rocket body and glide back to earth using remote control.

The resulting launch was the largest non-commercial rocket to have ever left the ground in Europe, requiring six rocket boosters with a combined eight metric tons of thrust. Unfortunately the radio controlled Reliant shuttle failed to detach from the fuel tank, crashing into the military test facility grounds still attached to the enormous external fuel tank.

View Space Robin video (on Top Gear website)

A movie inspiration

As unsuitable vehicle usage goes, attempting to send a Reliant Robin into space is run fairly close by undertaking a long distance road trip on a ride-on lawn mower.

American Alvin Ray Straight did just that in 1994 when, at the age of 73, he set off to visit his ailing brother. Unable to drive a car owing to poor eyesight and dependence on walking sticks, Alvin climbed on board a 1966 John Deere lawn mower with a top speed of 5mph

It took Alvin six weeks to complete the 240-mile journey from Laurens, Iowa to Mount Zion, Wisconsin. The trip inspired the 1999 Oscar-nominated movie 'Straight Story'.

...and an alternative driving style

Indian cabbie Harpreet Devi had more than Hollywood in mind when he set out to reverse all the way to Pakistan in his taxi. He was hoping to bring peace to the two nations through improper use of a vehicle.

Devi's unusual approach to driving began in 2002 when his Fiat Padmini taxi suffered a gearbox failure that meant it could only be driven in reverse. Forced to travel everywhere backwards Devi quickly became a skilled reverser and a local celebrity, even being issued with a licence to drive in reverse across the state of Punjab.

Devi eventually modified his taxi's gearbox to boast four reverse ratios and one forward, allowing him to achieve 50mph in reverse gear, and a siren to warn unsuspecting drivers and pedestrians.

While Devi proved to be adept at driving in reverse, his attempts to put the skill to good use were less successful. He was unable to break Brit John Smith's Guinness World Record for driving in reverse as he could not provide video footage of an entire journey and the attempt to reverse from Rajasthan to Lahore ended in failure after Devi was refused permission to cross the border into Pakistan.

As a warning to drivers looking to emulate Harpreet Devi's dramatic approach at the wheel, he has suffered severe back and neck pain from being contorted in the driver's seat for hours at a time.

"It's difficult not to smile when hearing about some of the great lengths drivers and vehicle owners go to get around problems or maximise the potential of their vehicles - sometimes successfully and other times less so," said Adrian Tink, RAC's Motoring Strategist.

"However, driving, vehicle ownership and vehicle usage are among the most tightly regulated practices across the world for good reason. Improper use of a vehicle can prove to be very dangerous for the driver, occupants, other road users and even the environment."


Space Robin video on Top Gear -

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