Curator’s Choice – The Invacar

Posted: 5th May 2021

Humber Museums Partnership - Curator’s Choice – The Invacar

Hull Museums large object stores house a variety of cars, trucks, buses and various other transport items that we are now trying to make more publicly accessible through digital media. One of the vehicles, although definitely not the largest, is a form of transport that would be well remembered in the 1960s and 70s, but has now completely disappeared from our streets. The Invacar was a three-wheeled motor vehicle issued to people with a physical disability by the Ministry of Health & Social Security from just after World War Two up until 1981. It was originally designed in 1946 with a lawnmower engine, by engineer Bert Greeves for his cousin Derry Preston-Cobb who was born paralysed from the waist down, although the initial reason for the eventual government scheme was to supply them at no cost to ex-servicemen through their war pensions.

Derry Preston-Cobb was involved with the Invacar business from the start and his car was used to promote not only ‘Invacar Ltd’, but also the second company ‘Greeves Motorcycles’ from 1953, where he was the Sales Director, travelling thousands of miles worldwide each year selling motorbikes. His promotional Invacar was fitted with a powerful 250cc racing engine that could easily overtake other cars on the road with a top speed of 80mph, and he had to be rescued on several occasions after over-enthusiastically turning it over, but always recovering with a great sense of humour and urge for more speed.

The Invacar at Hull Museums dates from about 1970, and like all free government issued disability cars of this period, is blue with tiller steering, which means it has no steering wheel but a long bar to assist anyone with poor upper mobility. This car was acquired by the last owner in 1970 and given the name ‘Love Lingers On’, which is written on a sticker in the back window. It came with a map of the UK showing that it had travelled thousands of miles on an epic journey around the country. Over fourteen days in April 1974 it covered 1,334 miles, which for a small car that is easily toppled over in a strong wind and with a maximum speed of 40mph, is pretty good going!

The car was acquired by the museums in 1976, saving it from the scrapyard. Unfortunately, the Invacar didn’t always have such a good reputation, and was criticised for several reasons: being impractical when only one person could use it rather than a family; being so distinctive in the street that it identified the owner as someone with a disability; and in some cases it was downright dangerous, with reports of cars overturning and even setting on fire. The government ended the scheme in 1981 and eventually banned the vehicle from the roads in 2003 on the grounds of safety.

‘Love Lingers On’ and other similar vehicles have now been replaced by the Motobility Scheme to lease less conspicuous and much safer adapted vehicles to drivers, but the Invacar did offer the opportunity of greater mobility, not only to the shops and around the local community, but also into the nearby countryside and sometimes further afield.

Written by Collections Manager Caroline Rhodes

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