Whatever happened to the Invacar?

For many of the cars featured in this section of PetrolBlog, the spiral into oblivion has been a long and drawn out process. A story of rust and mellow uselessness as the body becomes tatty and the engine grows tired. Not so for this week’s entry. This little car, (and it was a little car), had to endure an ending rivalled only by a second-rate horror movie.

On the 30th March 2003, the car could be seen roaming the streets of the UK, bounding happily along, whistling and seemingly without a care in the world. But on the stroke of midnight, it became the government’s most wanted criminal and would become hunted down like a helpless animal until no more existed. The recency of 2003 ensures that the car in question is likely to be one of the most ‘modern’ motors to grace the ‘what ever happened to‘ section. The car is of course, the Invacar.

AC Invacar

The Invacar was one of series of disability cars that were leased to disabled people as part of their disability package. The duck-egg blue paintwork and distinctive styling means that it is also the most well known and remembered disability cars of all time. I myself used to see two on my short walk to school each morning. And my walk was very short, so I had a sense that these things were everywhere. On the contrary, there were rumoured to be around 1,300 of the cars in the UK. Most of these seemed to be permanently sat on the touchline of football grounds up and down the country. Indeed, a lasting memory of watching 80s football on the television is seeing these just behind the corner flag at each ground. I was always slightly impressed when the rain was pouring down and the owner of the car would be sat blissfully eating a football pie whilst the single wiper cleared the screen. A forerunner to the modern day corporate box perhaps? Without the prawn sandwiches.

AC Invacar

Bert Greeves designed the Invacar for his cousin Derry Preston-Cobb. Greeves ran a successful competition motorcycle company. In its final form, the Invacar was built by Thundersley and AC Cars. Yes, the very same company that gave the world the iconic Cobra. But unlike the famous ‘widow maker’, Mr Shelby hasn’t quite got round to creating a version of the Invacar. Each car was painted in Ice Blue and powered by a 500cc or 600cc Steyr-Puch engine which propelled the car to an unlikely 82 mph. Yep, you read that right – 82 mph. Eighty-flipping-two mph. Incredible. But then in a fibreglass body and absolutely nothing in the way of creature comforts it must have had a power-to-weight ratio to rival a BMW M5. Whether anybody would be mad enough to attempt the top speed is anyone’s guess. If they did, I’m doubtful they’d have lived to tell the tale, as handling and braking would hardly have been a strong point.

Production actually ceased in 1977, but they remained in use until the 31st March 2003. The UK government deemed the Invacar to be unsafe and ordered a total destruction of all remaining examples. Some 50 cars a week were being crushed as it became illegal to drive an Invacar on any public road. A handful of Invacars actually slipped through the net, some of which are said to have V5 documents. I’ve managed to track down this ‘barn find’ in Scotland which is available to buy should you wish to attempt that claimed 82 mph top speed. http://www.carandclassic.co.uk/car/C154817/ Offers over £500 will secure a piece of 3-wheel history.

AC Invacar

As you can imagine, moving footage of the car is in short supply. There were no glossy TV ads for the car. There are, however, a number of videos on YouTube that manage to highlight just how blimmin’ quick these things are off the line. By all accounts, they also have an unlikely amount of cornering ability.

Will I be rushing out to buy one? No. Would I buy a pint for anyone who has achieved 82 mph in one? Absolutely.

Thanks to the seller of the Invacar for the use of the images and to 3wheelers.com and Peter Rogers for the information.

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

36 comments

  1. May 20, 2010
    Ali Ball

    Part of me wants to salute the people behind the car because I think it’s absolutely fantastic that anyone, able bodied or not got a chance to dirve.
    The other part of me wants to squash them all (except 1) because let’s face it the cars were hideous and they could have made them better looking. Just because the poor person who needs to drive them is disabled, doesn’t mean you need to have a disabled design. Get Alfa to design the next one.
    The one that didn’t get crushed should be preserved in a museum so we learn not to make that same mistake again.

    Reply
    • May 21, 2010
      MajorGav

      Agree totally. Suggest better still, they actually ask young talented car designers to come up with the design for the new one. Everyone wins – the designers get a live brief to work on, the users get a better car to drive in and we all get something pleasing to look at. What’s not to like about this idea?!

      Reply
    • November 12, 2017
      alan peryer

      When the Invacar was a common sight, I used to race motor cycles. derry preston-cobb was sales manager for greaves and one would see him regularly in his wheelchair in the Silverstone paddock. Greaves made a 250cc sports and scrambler engine, used in 250cc racing, and it was rumoured that mr. preston=cobb had one fitted to his invacar. I believe it was possible to enter an invacar whilst remaining in a wheelchair, and drive it from the chair.

      Reply
  2. May 21, 2010
    Darren Leslie

    Am I the only one who when seeing this for the first time thought ‘Hyabusa’……

    Reply
    • May 21, 2010
      MajorGav

      Brilliant! I doubt you’re the only one, but I like the way your thinking is heading…add a Viper stripe for maximum effect of course!

      Reply
  3. October 13, 2010
    World’s fastest mobility scooter: it can hit 69mph – Rossendale Online

    […] […]

    Reply
  4. April 5, 2011
    Daw

    God Help Us!!! I thought these bloody things had been all destroyed. Drop a Busa lump in it…INTERESTING IDEA 🙂

    Reply
    • April 6, 2011
      MajorGav

      Has to be done! Surprised the Top Gear boys haven’t thought about it…

      Reply
  5. May 5, 2011
    mikeygtv

    Scary as it might be i remember going to college in warrington in the 80’s and there was a scrap yard full of invacars just down the road.

    God awful cars, dare i say it you have to compare them with the Robin Reliant…….

    Reply
    • May 5, 2011
      MajorGav

      A surprising number seemed to slip through the net. They were all supposed to be crushed!

      Reply
    • May 5, 2011
      Daw

      Same here, there used to be a Ford dealer which did Motability or whatever it was called back in the 1970’s/80’s. There must have been between 70-80 of them round the back, the newest being P reg (1975-76) and we nicked one and got done by the Rozzers when I was an impressionable 15 year old 🙂

      Reply
      • May 5, 2011
        MajorGav

        Ha! There aren’t many people who can honestly say they stole an Invacar and got caught by the police! I’ll look out for you on Police Camera Action!

        Reply
  6. June 24, 2011
    adrian

    On the Tamar there was an Invicar garage, well I didnt know they were called invicars, we only knew them by a name that today isnt ‘pc’ but ended in chariots. Anyway while bobbing up and down the river there were dozens of those things, now in the space occupied by the saling club, many of them stacked on their tailight. As to where they all went, I thinlk on a double eclipse, full moon, low pressure, spring tide they all got swept off to sea. I hope so. Otherwise one or two may reappear. Begs the question……why o why didnt the owners paint the darn things some other colour? Where was their imagination?

    Reply
    • June 24, 2011
      MajorGav

      Ha! So you mean to tell me there are dozens of these things on the sea bed around Plymouth!? That’s awesome. I feel a diving expedition coming on!

      Reply
  7. July 4, 2011
    CarSpy

    On reflection it seems seriously unfair that these were mandated off the road. How can these be any less safe than a vintage motorbike?

    I too remember one which always seemed to be round the local playing fields. Weird.

    Reply
    • July 4, 2011
      MajorGav

      Good point.

      I’m thinking they should bring them back as some kind of probationary vehicle for learner drivers. Better still, use it as a deterrent for reckless driving for young hooligans! Mess up and this’ll be your punishment! 😉

      Reply
  8. April 15, 2012
    Chris Goodfellow

    The cars were not leased to the disabled , they were free , hence built as cheaply as possible by the Government .

    Steering & brakes were excellent , Girling brakes and Mini wheels & tyres .

    No problems with speed , exceptionally stable , the problem with was the three wheels , get a wheel jammed against the kerb and they tried to turn full circle and tipped over .

    The main difficulty was the drivers , not given proper training , got a car licence , your OK , of you go . despite having severe handicaps and not having driven for years .

    What the cars did do was get a lot of people out of their houses who , at one time could not.

    Reply
    • May 31, 2012
      Peter Wonnacott

      They were great fun machines to drive,quite nippy and very maneuverable, the main downside was driving them in a high cross wind as the front end was very light, one front wheel and hollow front nose section meant an unexpected gust of wind would catch the side like a giant hand shoving you across the road, somewhat hairy when it caught you by surprise for an able bodied driver, hate to think what a nightmare it could have been for a disabled driver.

      Best model was the standard model which was handlebar control design, meaning it had the steering response of a motor cycle and sidecar.

      Reply
  9. May 5, 2012
    Steve Jones (@squaregoldfish)

    No official sources for this story, but:

    I used to work with a couple of ex- freelance photographers. Apparently one of their number was disabled and qualified for one of these, and regularly took it on motorways doing 70-odd mph. He was regularly stopped by the police because they assumed anyone mad enough to drive one of those things that fast had probably nicked it….

    Reply
    • May 6, 2012
      MajorGav

      Regardless of the lack of official sources, I want to believe this is true.

      Great story.

      Reply
    • May 31, 2012
      Peter Wonnacott

      You may possibly find the fellow was regularly stopped by the cops because even back then it was an offence to drive an invalid carriage on a motorway,i was possibly one of a minority that as an official tester of these machines allowed me one time to travel a distance legally up a motorway using trade plates which entitled a person to do so, indeed more than once i was passed by the police who recognized this fact and never hassled me throughout the journey.

      Reply
  10. July 17, 2012
    bashshinycap44

    I’ve never heard of the Invacar, but it is fascinating. Too bad not much is known of it. 🙁

    Reply
  11. August 28, 2012
    Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

    One for sale on Car & Classic (28th August 2012): http://www.carandclassic.co.uk/car/C327943

    Reply
  12. December 3, 2012
    SneakyElephant

    When I was a young calf roaming the streets of west London, therer was a famous character in Hounslow known as Jimmy the Sp*z, who was about 4’6″ tall and walked with 2 sticks. He would drive his Inva to the Bell at opening time, and work his way down the High Street, visiting every pub along the way. By last orders he would usually be in the Duke of Cambridge, violently drunk and picking fights with the biggest yobs he could find. I was once attacked by him…he flew at me in a whirl of sticks and whisky breath, and I was laughing so much he cracked me over the trunk a few times before hobbling out of the pub ranting and hollering. He would end up getting into his little blue box and tearing back up the road, weaving from one side to the other and mounting both pavements. The local cops nicked him several times but never actually prosecuted him out of sympathy for his condition. One night however, he rolled the thing outside McDonalds and that was his lot…he was nicked and banned. Poor old bugger, he didn’t last long once his wheels were gone, and he died some time around 1983.

    Reply
  13. January 1, 2013
    Julianthompson

    These cars really are an experience, I recently bought one woo 848s it’s great , what a car it is , you really do have to drive one . Mine has the tiller and really if you can drive one then you. Really can drive anything , I had 55mph out of it the other day and dam nerar shit myself , if anyone else has one they want to sell then call me 07811798408 julian

    Reply
  14. January 3, 2013
    pfh666

    When I was a kid, there was an Invacar garage in Portsmouth. I used to walk past it a lot. I moved away before 2003, but I did notice the building is now derelict last time I went past. Shame. The garage seemed to always be busy.

    Reply
    • January 7, 2013
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Wonder if the Invacar is still there?!

      Reply
  15. March 16, 2013
    Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

    March 16th 2013: Invacar for sale:
    http://www.carandclassic.co.uk/car/C348807

    Reply
  16. April 3, 2015
    DaveF

    About 50 years ago i can remember my dad having a invacar reg OO272 blue and white, in my younger days i would borrow it to have a ride around even in winter if you put the one wheel drive in the gutter where the grit was you could get any where, good fun and times.

    Reply
    • April 3, 2015
      Gavin Big-Surname

      Love it!

      Managed to track down the video that was originally included in this feature. Check out the off-the-line pace and cornering ability!

      It’s like a fun-size Tesla. Of sorts.

      Reply
  17. May 28, 2015
    S. Wright

    I’m looking for a nice gwo invacar in blue cash waiting for the right one must have V5 as I am disabled now ,a lovely man I knew had one as I was his paper boy lol . I remembered how much I loved his invacar ,I so much would like to own one not just for me but the memories to. Please get in touch if you could help
    07787408681 text or call

    Many thanks .

    Reply
    • June 17, 2015
      Gavin Big-Surname

      Good luck.

      They occasionally come up for sale on eBay and Car & Classic. http://www.carandclassic.co.uk

      I’ve also seen a couple for sale at classic car auctions. Will keep my eyes open for you.

      Reply
  18. September 12, 2015
    David Milloy

    The loss of the Invacar contract seems to have been one of the factors that caused AC to quit the car business in the early 80s. Even allowing for the hideous (to a small company) costs involved in getting the 3000 ME past type approval and into production, AC was a profit-making concern until shortly after Invacar production ceased. Alas, they made a loss in both 1979 and 1980 and the rest is, well, history.

    Reply
  19. December 2, 2015
    Rob Johnson

    My dad had one of these, and its even worse predecessor. It was all he was allowed to drive as he was disabled. Shocking things. Incredibly unstable round corners. He turned it over once. A couple of guys came over and flipped it back onto its wheels and my dad drove it home. This thing could make you disabled twice over.

    Reply
  20. March 21, 2016
    John Stephenson

    My Mum got one, it must have been 1964 or 5. She drove it once with the instructor then parked in the “off site” garage we rented.

    I drove it up and down the “10 foot” and once or twice on the road (I was 15). “Was it push to got left or was that right!?”
    I then went to the RAF, next I remember she had a Ford Z car automatic, hand controls and vacuum air breaks….

    Reply
  21. August 24, 2016
    Bob

    Did Invacar ever produce a 4-wheeled version? A pity such cars and UK microcars in general were restricted to 3-wheels that in some cases did not even feature a reverse gear!

    Reply

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