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My sitting vroom

 

By ROBERT HARDMAN - More by this author » Last updated at 23:41pm on 2nd February 2007

hardmansofaDM020207_228x209.jpgThe 90mph sofa

 

 

 

Reach beneath the cushions of the average armchair or sofa and you might find a few coins - or even the missing remote control for the television.

Reach beneath the cushions of this sofa, though, and you might lose your hand. This thing actually growls.

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Sat nav road to ruin

 

But on the other hand, there be no finer perch for the incurable couch potato. Run out of beer? Run out of pizza? Can’t even be bothered to walk to the takeaway? No problem.

In fact, no need to get off this leopardskin sofa. You just drive it down to the shops. Indeed, its 87mph top speed has earned it a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the fastest piece of furniture on the planet.

But, odd though this sofa is, it is not unique. Its speed record is about be smashed by a precocious new arrival in the bizarre world of motorised upholstery. The same eccentric British inventor who holds the current record has just created a sofa monster. With light cream covers and deep cushions, this is the three-piece suite’s answer to Concorde.

Its creator, Edward China, 35 - known as Edd - has a simple target. He plans to send a piece of furniture through the 100mph barrier for the first time. What’s more, anyone can apply to be the record-breaking driver. The seat is up for grabs in a charity auction.

So I have come to Marlow, Buckinghamshire, to testdrive this extraordinary contraption while its creator makes the final touches to his latest wheeze. Codenamed The Chaise Lunge, it is awesome.

I feel like a parody of Richard Hammond waiting to happen. At least the Top Gear presenter came a cropper in pursuit of a serious record. When Hammond nearly killed himself last September, he was trying to break the British land speed record in a jet-powered Vampire car. But if I hurt myself crashing this thing, everyone will just laugh. And I really can’t blame them.

After all, what would you do if you heard that someone had pranged a sofa in pursuit of the furniture speed record? The obituaries would be hilarious: "... killed by a cream-covered settee ..."

I nearly fall off in shock when I turn the engine on. Beneath the cream upholstery lurks a 220 horsepower Rover V8 engine, the same workhorse that drives a Range Rover. It sounds like an aeroplane. So it is probably just as well that we have hired a runway at Hampshire’s Blackbushe Airport to try it out.

I feel as vulnerable as, well, a bloke on a sofa. A small steering wheel protrudes from a coffee table bolted on to the front, along with three pedals. I rev up the engine to make it appear as if I know what I’m doing and then drop the thing into gear.

It’s actually a rather smooth ride as it gathers speed but, as we approach the 60 mph mark, I am only in third gear. I feel this is quite fast enough. I appear to be going faster than a plane on a neighbouring runway. The Chaise Lunge could go a lot faster but I am very happy to let someone else smash the record.

I cruise back to the start and ask Edd to show me how it’s done. "Just sit back and put your feet up," he says, doing just that. He revs the thing up and tears off down the runway like a man possessed.

A small plane, taxiing nearby, grinds to a halt so that the open-mouthed occupants can watch. Edd comfortably breaks the 70mph barrier but eases back because he thinks the engine needs a little more tuning. A few specks of oil have been coming out of the back and he doesn’t want to ruin the upholstery.

We return the new machine to Edd’s workshop to make some adjustments. This place is every schoolboy’s dream, a treasure chest of nutty inventions. In one corner sits a two-seat alien spacecraft on wheels. Outside, a garden shed appears to have wheels underneath it. Edd has driven it round France.

And what is that thing that looks like a bathroom suite? A fully roadworthy lavatory with a bath and shower as sidecar plus a basin and laundry basket on the front. It has a full MoT and tax disc -although you will need a motorcycle licence to go on the loo, as it were.

"We do get some very strange looks when we go out in some of his inventions," says his long-suffering wife, Imogen, "but they really do make people smile." He has become something of a celebrity on cable TV car shows.

Like many young boys, Edd adored building things as a child. "I’ve always wanted to be a cross between Da Vinci and Heath Robinson," he says.

His mother was a nurse and his late father was a senior boffin at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, at Farnborough. "He was actually a rocket scientist," Edd explains. "Perhaps that’s where I get it from."

At King Edward’s School in Witley, Surrey, he spent much of his time in the technology department, where he built his own land yacht. Having studied engineering and product design at London’s South Bank University, where he lived in a converted double decker bus, he had landed a job with a motor racing team when he decided to build a motorised sofa for fun.

Using whatever parts he could find, it took him six weeks and £300 to construct a roadworthy, leopardskin sofa with a 1300cc Mini engine and some ingenious touches. "I didn’t want to build a car that looked like a sofa. I wanted to build a proper sofa that had an engine in it," he explains. "A sofa is all about being lazy, so it had to be very easy to drive."

It certainly is. Christened the Casual Lofa, it is an automatic with the brake controlled by an old beer can attached to the arm rest. Pull the can backwards and the sofa stops. The steering wheel is a real medium-crust pizza pan from the pizzeria where Edd used to work.

The accelerator is simply a knob jutting out at knee level. Squeeze the knob with your leg and you go faster. The front is protected by a coffee table which supports a fully-functional TV, two pot plants (which, fitted with lights, act as indicators) and an old clock housing the speedometer.

Having got the thing licensed, Edd took it for a spin around London, where he was stopped by a marketing man who paid him to drive around with an advertising hoarding. Other commissions soon followed. A bread company wanted a motorised loaf. Edd produced it. A juice company wanted a van covered in grass.

In the end, he decided to set up his own business, Cummfy Banana, and the barmy ideas kept on coming. He rents some of them out. His fourposter bed, The Street Sleeper, with an 1800cc VW engine, is very popular at weddings.

In 1998, during a demonstration at a motor racing circuit, Edd pushed the Casual Lofa to the limit and was officially clocked at 87mph. The time was authenticated by Guinness World Records and entered the record books for the world’s fastest furniture.

He has since acquired two further records — one for the world’s fastest office (a 1400cc desk with four chairs, a computer and a watercooler which also reached 87 mph) and another for the world’s largest motorised shopping trolley (it’s 12 feet tall).

Equally impressive is the fact that he has managed to steer his inventions past the joyless gaze of the health and safety brigade. They are all legal, insured and roadworthy.

"Sometimes the police are suspicious. I have been stopped 19 times in a week," he says. "When we drove the bed through France one summer, the police stopped us all the way. But all they wanted was a photo for their mates and then they sent us on our way."

He says the biggest danger is overtaking horses in the sofa. "Some of them freak out when they see the covering," he says. "I think they are genetically hardwired to be terrified of leopards."

I want to test public reactions so we set off in a peculiar convoy through Marlow with Edd driving the bathroom suite, myself driving the bed and Imogen bringing up the rear with the office.

Passers-by wave, applaud and, in many cases, crack up. Trundling up and down past Sir Steve Redgrave’s home town in a four-poster bed, I am finding it very hard to keep a straight face myself. I can’t recall the last time I had so much fun. It’s a freezing day but I can’t feel the cold. I’m driving underneath a duvet, for heaven’s sake!

Last year, while driving his sofa along the A3, Edd had another stroke of luck when he overtook a car containing a couple of entrepreneurs. They turned out to be the founders of a company which makes the real thing - sofa.com.

Having tracked Edd down, they commissioned him to create a new record-breaking sofa for the company and the Chaise Lunge was born. All it needs now is a driver for the record attempt.

"I’d like to set a new record myself but I’m in the Book of Records already so we thought we would raise some money for charity instead," Edd explains.

A record-breaking run will be conducted in the presence of Guinness officials in the near future. The driver will be the highest bidder to sofa.com’s online auction in aid of the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths.

Worthy stuff, if frightfully fast. Meanwhile, I have another go in the comfy old thing which holds the existing world record. After all, that’s a challenge I can take lying down. . .

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This reminds me of a race which was on one of Clarkson's old yearly videos back in 1999 I think, when there was a race around Thruxton with wacky vehicles (Sofa/Skip/Shed & something else). I think it was also the video when a Posche Boxster beat a R1 around the same track.

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