Parked up on the perimeter track between the pitch and the stands, the Thundersley Invacar was once ubiquitous at any football game, and the little pale blue three-wheeler often graced the screen during The Big Match.
The Invacar had to be carefully driven through one of the ground corner gaps, between two adjacent stands, and park up pitchside prior to kickoff. From there, disabled fans had the best vantage point, with only the linesman and refreshment seller’s mobile trolley (“Sweeeeets! Hot drinks! Cold drinkssss”) to obscure the action on the pitch. They could even drive round the track to swap sides at half time!
The original Invacar was invented in 1948, when Bert Greeves adapted a motorbike with the help of his paralysed cousin, Derry Preston-Cobb, in order to help Derry get about. Due to the high number of debilitated former servicemen in the post-war period they spotted a commercial opportunity and approached the UK government for support, which lead to the creation of Invacar Ltd.
Invacar was not the only company contracted by the Ministry of Health to produce three-wheeled vehicles for disabled drivers. Others included Harding, Dingwall & Son, AC Cars, Barrett, Tippen & Son, the titular Thundersley and Coventry Climax (steady on!).
All Invacars were owned by the government and leased to disabled drivers as part of their disability benefit. With a 500cc engine capable of a reputed top speed of 82 mph (dubious, as they were usually doing no more than 5mph whenever I saw one), the fibreglass shelled and pale-blue coloured Invacar was produced in the tens of thousands until the final DHSS contract came to an end in 1977.
Sir Bert Massie, a governor for the modern day accessible car scheme Motability, explains that those in charge didn’t think of it as a service that gave you independence through motor vehicle ownership:
“The government didn’t see these as cars… they saw them as a prosthetic. There was a strange logic to their thinking. They saw the role of the NHS as being there to get you mobile. If you were not disabled, you’d be doing that with your legs. So, if you were disabled, and couldn’t do that, they gave you a one-person invalid carriage as a leg replacement to get you from A to B.”
Prone to blowing over in moderate winds, and catching fire, both necessitating swift rescue of the occupant by passing good Samaritan drivers; Invacars were banned from British roads in 2003 on safety grounds. Usage had declined anyway, as the nascent Motability scheme offering disabled drivers a conventional car with modified options was a far better deal. The Invacar would never again be seen at the match.
Calls to make a Subbuteo model Invacar have so far gone unheeded.
As an aside, early 90s brit-rap grebo combo Collapsed Lung, of ‘Eat My Goal’ fame, released a single called ‘Thundersley Invacar’ in “tribute” to the vehicle.
- Disabled fear losing cars in rule changes (welfaretales.wordpress.com)