Three wheels on my wagon and I'm getting ready to roll!


Me posing with my AC Acedes Mk10 in 1964

Picture of Noddy and Big Ears driving in a little yellow and red toy car.

I've had a mobility impairment for most of my life, so getting from A to B has always been challenging. As a result, wheelchairs or anything with four wheels and an engine has always appealed to me. I took charge of my first "car" when I was sixteen. Oddly it only had three wheels and was aptly named an "invalid" tricycle with the emphasis on the word "invalid". We came to call them "Noddys", not sure why but presumably linked in some way to Enid Blyton's books about Noddy, who drove a little yellow car. Noddys were supplied by the then Ministry of Pensions to allow severely disabled people to get to work.

For the technically minded

The first of many invalid "carriages" or "tricycles" I drove was the aptly named Tippen Delta. And it arrived in 1961. (I found out pretty quickly what "Tippen" meant). 

Picture of the driving controls in an invalid carriage
Driving Controls

It was light blue and a convertible. I couldn't believe it had a fold-down roof like an expensive 1960s sports car. Made of fibreglass, it weighed in at about five hundredweight and was powered by a two-stroke air-cooled Villiers 197cc engine initially developed for motorcycles. (0-60 mph in about a week with a following wind). The controls were simple to operate. A horizontal (Tiller) bar fitted with an accelerator twist grip and a clutch lever on one end. It also housed the brake fluid reservoir, which hovered just above the driver's trousers or skirt. Steering was uncomplicated; you pushed the bar away to turn right or pulled it towards you to go left. You pressed the bar down towards the floor to brake. On the right-hand side of the single seat was a gear lever with four forward gears; this moved forwards and backwards to select the gears. To go backwards you had to switch the ignition off and then turn the key anti-clockwise to start the engine in reverse; this meant you could, if you were brave enough, go as fast backwards as you could forwards. The petrol tank was in front of the driver, a great safety feature (!), and there was no spare wheel very convenient if you had a puncture. 

Noddys were small, light, underpowered, unstable, unreliable, cold, noisy and only had one seat. You could have any colour you liked so long as it was a shade of blue. 

British racing driver Graham Hill drove one and declared they were so unsafe they shouldn't be allowed on the road. Despite all these shortcomings, I loved mine, as did most of my disabled friends. These odd little vehicles gave us freedom, independence, adventures, near-death experiences and a lifetime of memories for those of us who managed to survive the journey. 

My first outing

After my Noddy was delivered, I was told to wait for a day or two, and someone would visit to explain the controls and show me how to drive. So there it sat right outside my kitchen window. 

Tippen Delta 1967

Temptation got the better of me, and I decided to take it for a quick spin around my housing estate. It couldn't be that difficult to drive, could it? After several stalled attempts, I managed to get moving and very gingerly kangarooed around the estate. I didn't want to tempt fate, so I decided to park after completing a couple of circuits. As I manoeuvred into my parking space, it suddenly dawned on me that I didn't know how to stop. I panicked, and instead of slowing down, accelerated and careered over the kerb, crossed the narrow rose garden outside our flat and hit a solid brick wall. The Noddy's lights fell out, and the fibreglass front end was holed and splintered. Taking a few moments to calm my nerves and to check that my body was still intact, I realised that I didn't know how to reverse the thing. I hadn't learned the trick of turning the ignition key anticlockwise. So the bruised and battered Noddy sat embedded in the wall with me inside. As you might imagine, this amused passersby and our neighbours. My mother returning from work, surveyed the scene and was furious. Not so much because of the damage done to the Noddy but more to do with the destruction of several of the council's rose bushes.  

Having to report the sorry episode to the Ministry of Pensions filled me with dread. I was convinced they would confiscate the Noddy and ban me from driving forever. As it turned out, all I got was a good telling-off and a warning. The broken Noddy was then unceremoniously pulled out of the bushes and loaded onto a breakdown truck to be taken off to specialist repairers M&B Motors based in Garrett Lane Wandsworth. I didn't know it then, but I was destined to waste many hours sitting on their premises waiting for my Noddys to be serviced or repaired.

I drove several models of Noddys over ten years, and looking back, they were some of the most exhilarating motoring experiences of my life. Crashing them, tuning them, breaking down in them, courting in them, and turning them over were all part of the fun. I'll share more in my next blog post.

Picture of a light blue invacar
Invacar 1973

A picture of a blue Ac Accedes invalid carriage
AC Acedes 1966


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