As a young child in the early ’70s I’d go along with Jen to many of her doctors’ appointments.
We’d get picked up from home by an old ambulance – converted into a sort of minibus – which would do the rounds collecting mostly elderly and some disabled patients on the way to the hospital.
There was lots of hanging around while Jen saw the doctors. I got to know the outpatient departments well – disinfectant smell inside, a couple of strange blue cars outside in the car park.
Unlike those Post-war British motoring icons Morris Oxford and the Austin Cambridge, these odd blue vehicles hailing from the Essex town of Thundersley have all but disappeared. I’d forgotten all about them until my teens, when I spotted one in the most unlikely of places, a car museum on a school visit to Germany.
Say hello to the Thundersley Invacar.
These small three-wheelers had room only for the driver. The side door slid open to the front for easy access – a neat bit of design. Other features were quirky to say the least – the ‘bonnet’ was shaped like the lid of a toilet seat (and opening it actually revealed the boot – the heavy engine was in the back, so to help steering in windy conditions, owners had to search for anything heavy to weigh the boot down). As for the steering wheel, well there wasn’t one. Instead an odd steering bar, which made me imagine a Spitfire’s cockpit from the movies. For all I knew, several Battle of Britain veterans may have been driving the things.
Leased to disabled drivers by the DHSS, they gave a different spin on the Henry Ford maxim: you can have any colour you want, as long as it was turquoise.
I’m afraid the DVLA doesn’t publish records on how many are left, as the car was banned from our roads in the early 2000s. I don’t know how long it took to get from 0-60 miles per hour, but I do know that they could reverse as speedily as driving forward – now there’s a scary thought!
If anything, the Thundersley Invacar is a symbol of how far Disability rights have come in the last 50 years. Today the whole idea of marking out disabled drivers to other road users like this is bordering on bizarre. And marketing an adapted car as Invacar (short for ‘Invalid Carriage’) would be shot down at the first focus group.