Crash, Bang, Wallop!

Invalid carriage strapped on a trailer about to be towed away for repair
Invacar on a trailer.

In the last blog, I told you about my first attempt at driving a Tippen Delta 2 invalid carriage (Noddy) before I’d had any instruction. As you may recall, it didn’t end well. A rose bed was trampled, and a brick wall used as a brake.

Driving Lesson

Once I’d got the Noddy back from the repairers, I had my first driving lesson. As it turned out, it was my only driving lesson, and it took place on the estate where I lived. After explaining the basic controls, the instructor sat beside me on the floor and asked me to drive around the estate. The fact that carrying a passenger was illegal didn’t seem to bother him.

The instructor then got out and explained that he wanted to test my ability to make an emergency stop. He explained that he would go and hide behind some parked cars. I should drive around, and when he jumped out and lowered his right arm, I had to perform the emergency stop. Given my driving skills and limited experience, this was an extraordinarily brave or foolhardy thing for him to do. As it turned out, I managed not to kill him, and he lived to fight another day. After about an hour of driving around, he seemed satisfied that I understood the basics and had rudimentary control over the vehicle. With that done and with my provisional driving license in my back pocket, he left me to it.

Not for the faint-hearted

Driving a Noddy was not for the faint-hearted; the dangers were many and varied. The fact that it only had three wheels meant it was extremely unstable. The engine was underpowered and only drove one rear wheel; the brakes only operated on the rear wheels, so stopping was a bit hit-and-miss; more of this later.

The Noddy’s light weight meant that whenever it overtook a large vehicle or passed a street with a side wind, it tended to jump sideways, frightening the life out of any motorist trying to overtake. I recall coming down Kingston Hill at around fifty miles an hour (pretty quick for a Noddy) when I noticed that the horizon was changing and that I had lost the steering. My speed had lifted the front wheel off the ground; the Noddy was slowly becoming a glider.

Noisy, cold, unreliable, passengers forbidden and stigmatising they certainly were, but I loved mine. For the first time in my life, I moved at the speed I wanted to, and I could go anywhere, and at whatever time I chose. So exciting and so liberating. Freedom.

Tippen Delta 2 with a beige folding roof
Tippen Delta 2 with a folding roof.

Crashes, Bangs and Wallops

They say freedom comes at a price. In my case, the price involved the indignity of being labelled when driving, plus scratched paint, holes in the fibreglass and injured pride.

As an immature and somewhat irresponsible seventeen-year-old, my thirst for adventure mixed with an inherently unsafe vehicle led to several unwanted dramatic motoring calamities. I discovered that I had a natural talent for crashing into things. Let me share some of the more memorable moments.

As I mentioned earlier, passengers were not allowed in Noddys. So with a flagrant disregard for the rules, I took my best friend, Phil Churchill, out for a spin. My Noddy had a sliding door on the left-hand side, and Phil sat on the floor next to me, and we headed for the Richmond Ice Rink a few miles away. As we approached the venue, we noticed two attractive young women walking along the pavement on the other side of the road. After spending a few seconds looking at them, I looked back at the road.

My attention was drawn to a Mini that was reversing out of a driveway right in front of me. I swerved, but a bit too late; my door inserted itself into the Mini’s rear bumper and was completely torn off, exposing Phil to the elements. The door remained neatly wedged upright in the Mini’s bumper while a woman climbed out of the car holding a yappy dog. She very understandably questioned our parentage and told us what we could with ourselves while her dog struggled to get close enough to Phil to tear chunks out of him.

When things calmed down, we managed to extricate the door from the Mini and stowed it in the Noddy. We headed home with Phil hanging on to the loose door while also hanging on for dear life whenever we went around a right-hand bend or corner.

A scrap yard with five invalid carriages waiting to be scrapped
Noddys in the scrapyard

Phil Churchill played a part in the next moment of stupidity. We both lived on the same estate, and I’d picked him up to go the estate shops which it has to be said were only a short walk away. I was obsessed with driving, so I needed no excuse. It was a lovely sunny day, and I’d folded the convertible roof, an extraordinary innovation for an invalid carriage.

I slid the door open to allow Phil to sit next to me on the floor, but he decided it would be more fun standing on the side as he finished his can of Coke. We caused quite a stir as we drove around the estate; Phil waved and smiled at people as we rapidly approached a right-hand bend. Phil’s weight plus our speed, only having three wheels and the laws of physics meant only one thing. The Noddy slowly tipped and then turned over onto its left-hand side and slid gracefully but very noisily up a house driveway, the owner of which was carefully polishing his very new and very shiny Ford Cortina. Luckily I came to a halt a foot or two from his prized possession.

I was trapped inside the Noddy because it had landed on its only door. Once the shock had abated somewhat, a couple of people lifted the Noddy back onto its wheels. I was then subjected to some choice language followed by a lecture on road safety and threats to call the police. Fortunately, that particular threat was not carried out.

But what of Phil? He was nowhere to be seen. I drove round to his flat and found him sitting on the roadside, still finishing his can of Coke. He explained that as the Noddy turned over, he was thrown clear and landed in some thick shrubbery; when he saw the commotion going on he stayed hidden and then unseen, extricated himself and went home to wait for me.

Picture showing roads and light traffic and the Empire Theatre in 1966
Empire Theatre Leicester Square c 1966

Leicester Square

Perhaps my most spectacular crash, and for once it was not my fault, took place in Leicester Square in London.

I was waiting at some traffic lights at a busy intersection leading to Leicester Square. The lights changed, and I set off; out of the corner of my right eye, I noticed a large bread van coming from the right having jumped the lights. I yanked on the “tiller bar”, the steering control, to avoid a collision. The Noddy did what it was so good at; it turned over and slid not so gracefully on its right side into the Square. I was now sitting on the side window sliding along the road, somewhat bemused but fortunately uninjured. I remember having visions of the bread van smashing into me or the bus which had been following me going over the top of me. Mercifully neither occurred.

Once all the scraping and banging had stopped and I’d come to a halt, I reached up to slide the door open, which was now where my roof should have been. I managed to pull myself up and stuck my head out to take stock. I remember thinking as I did so that I was a Spitfire pilot opening the plane’s canopy after a successful dog fight over Kent coast! Strange what shock will do. People just stood staring in amazement or disbelief but quickly went about their business. Fortunately, a couple of people came across to check on me and lifted the Noddy back onto its wheels. An ambulance and the police were called, but I reassured the ambulance crew that I was okay. I spent more time with the police, and after hearing my story supported by the bus driver who had seen the whole thing, I was allowed to go on my way. Once again, I had the indignity of reporting yet another accident to the insurance company and the Ministry of Pensions.

Looking back, I have no idea how many prangs I had over the ten years I drove a Noddy, but there were plenty. Thankfully most were minor, and more often than not, they were my fault.

Next time

How many people can you fit in a Noddy, and is it possible to drive one to Scotland, Newcastle and Widdecombe in the Moor?

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