Simon McKeown remembers, as a small child, curling up in the footwell of his Grandfather’s car for an illicit ride. Above him, a sign read ‘The carrying of passengers is forbidden’. “I think it would have been taken off him if he’d been caught,” he reflects.
The sign was because the car was an Invacar, specially issued to the disabled, and designed for a single occupant.
Happily, his Grandfather retained his vehicle, and today, Simon collects similar vehicles. He hopes one day to make them available to the public. In the meantime, he has applied for funding to create a digital experience of riding in one.
Invacars were distinctive aqua blue invalid carriages, made in various models, from the 1950s until the 1970s.
They were replaced by Motability, a scheme in which standard production cars are adapted for disabled users. The modern cars are much safer – and, with their ability to carry passengers – more sociable than the old Invacars.
It wasn’t that Invacars were badly made. When they were introduced, they were innovative, with supermodern lightweight fibreglass bodies.
The idea that they were unsocialble, because they only carried one passenger, wasn’t deliberately designed to segregate disabled people. Most people didn’t expect to have a car: the invalid cars were well-intentioned, to help people who couldn’t walk to the bus like everyone else did.
Simon reflects, “The question, can we have a normal car? only became an issue in the 1970s. We forget that in the 1950s and 60s, whole communities didn’t have cars. The fact that at that time, the Government was providing disabled people – who were often on low incomes, or unemployed – with a motorised vehicle, was tremendously good.”
Today, Simon collects Invacars and other antique invalid carriages. Many are rare – he says that the majority of Invacars were recalled by the Government and scrapped after they were deemed unsafe, after safety began to be designed into modern production cars. Others in Simon’s collection are experimental models, or just very old.
“I have a 1930s model that’s battery-powered,” he comments. Others were manufactured by companies that also made sports cars, or motorbikes. Simon has examples made by AC, who made also made sports cars including the famous Cobra.
Simon, a digital artist, hopes to digitise his collection and create a virtual reality experience of using the machines.
He also hopes, one day, to find a partner who can help him put his collection on display to the public. They deserve it because, he says, “These vehicles were manufactured across Britain, repaired across Britain. For its duration, it was a unique welfare provision.”
Read more about Simon’s collection in Dalesman Magazine, February 2018 issue
Contact Simon at https://invalidcarriageregister.wordpress.com/