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 30 March 2003, the car could be seen roaming the streets of the UK, bounding 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 ‘Whatever happened to?’ section of PetrolBlog.
The car is, of course, the Invacar.
The Invacar was one of number 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 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 football in the 1980s 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.
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 82mph.
Yep, you read that right – 82 mph. Eighty-flipping-two mph. Incredible. In a car with 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 31 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 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 82mph top speed. Offers over £500 will secure a piece of three-wheel history.
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 82mph in one? Absolutely.
Thanks to the seller of the Invacar for the use of the images. Also to 3wheelers.com and Peter Rogers for the information.