Return to Appendix One Index


Private Motoring
Motorbikes, Scooters and Cars


Major contributions to this section have been made by Ian Mackay, Rob Batten and Ian Franz, all of whom know far more about this subject than I do. I am particularly endebted to Dave Plowman (a regular on the uk.rec.cars.classic newsgroup) who noted several errors in my own research and provided corrections.

The growth of private motoring since about 1900 has seen rapid and dramatic changes as the technologies have evolved. As a result the number and type of private motor vehicles on the layout can help provide a sense of time and place. The Locomotive Act of 1863 restricted the speed of all powered vehicles to 2mph in town and 4mph in the country, it also required all motor vehicles to have a man walking ahead of them carrying a red flag (by day) or a red lantern (by night). This limited the speed of machines and that in turn reduced their interest to the general public, or at least the wealthier sections of society who could afford to buy one. In 1878 the rules on the red flag were relaxed although the speed limits still applied. In 1896 the red flag was officially abandoned (the London to Brighton rally commemorates this change in the law) and the speed limit was raised to 14 mph in the country but remained at 2mph in town. Later that year the first speeding ticked was issued. Motor insurance began in 1901 (a private motorist came to an agreement with Lloyds).

In 1903 the first windscreens appeared on motor cars (using deadly plate glass), number plates appeared on road vehicles and the speed limit was raised to 20 mph. In 1906 the rear view mirror was invented but it remained a rarity on road vehicles for many years. The following year the AA was set up and began operating bicycle patrols, their main task was to spot policemen enforcing the speed limit and to warn AA members of their location.

The vinyl roof, a roof covering made of a contrasting material, first appeared in the 1930s, the Riley's of that era had something like a vinyl roof, although this was actually cloth coated with a waterproofing agent, usually black but sometimes with a reddish tint. In the early 1970s the true 'vinyl roof' became a popular decorative feature for cars, however it was not easy to fit (the front windscreen had to be removed to tuck in the front edge or it tended to peel back in service). They were offered pre-fitted by some manufacturers and were available as an after market add-on. As a cheaper alternative in the early 1970s a spray on 'flock' coating was developed, giving a finish similar to velvet. However the flock stained quickly, the colours tended to fade and it came off nearly as easily as it went on, so it had gone my the later 1970s.

Early motor cars were coach painted, often including lining out in a contrasting colour. Apparently Mr Ford never said 'Any colour they want as long as it's black', the Manchester built Model T Fords were only supplied in blue (in America they were originally produced in white, red and green). As the mass market developed plain black predominated, often this was actually a baked on enamel rather than a paint finish as this was much harder wearing. By the 1920s the Ford Model T was only available in plain black (although those used for delivery work were often repainted in a bright livery as part of their function was to advertise the business), this change was probably due to the paints available. Paint for use on metal is a science in its own right, the surface has to be prepared, usually using a slight etch to give a key for the paint to hold. As a result colours used on motor cars were generally fairly drab throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Commercial vehicles were often more brightly coloured however.

Following the Second World War black remained the standard colour for private vehicles and many commercial vehicles as well. By the end of the 1950s, as the country recovered from the war and post war restrictions were lifted, the range of colours began to increase. Rob Batten, who has worked in the motor industry for many years, was able to advise . . .
Colours were more restricted in range and metallics were usually reserved for top of the range cars. In the 60's 70's &80's black was generally not popular and was offered by most manufacturers as a cost option. It never ceased to amaze me what dreadful colours some manufacturers offered. Austin-Rover brought out a colour called "citron" which was a total nightmare of a lime/green and as salesmen we were all given our demo's in that colour because they got stuck in the compounds and no self respecting punter would be seen dead in a car in that colour. They were practically unsaleable, unless one offered a deal too good to refuse! Then there was Harvest Gold with Ochre trim, it had to be seen to be believed.

Motorcycles

The motorcycle came into existence in France in about 1870, this was a bicycle with a small steam engine added to it and it was not a commercial success (earlier British attempts at steam powered three-wheelers had also proved unsuccessful). In the 1880's another French attempt at motorising the bike was based on a five cylinder paraffin vapour engine built into the front wheel of a tricycle. In the 1890's Daimler built the first petrol engined motorbike using a wooden bicycle frame but it did not go into series production and later makes such as the Dion-Bouton gasoline engined tricycle failed to fire the public imagination. Once the Red Flag law was repealed in 1896 several firms tried their hand at producing small motor vehicles, many using three wheeled designs. It was only in the early years of the 20th Century with the German development of a motorbike with a petrol engine mounted in the frame that the machine became popular. Engines at the time were not terribly powerful, or reliable, and most machines required what the makers called 'light pedal assistance' when going up hill.

Early two-wheeled motorbikes such as the British Stephens of 1897 or the Werner of 1900 can be modelled using a pedal bicycle such as those available from P. D. Marsh as a basis. The engines of most were comparatively small and can be represented easily with some scraps of card and a little 'filler'.

Fig ___ Early motorbikes.

Very early motorbikes

In 1907 the first Tourist Trophy or 'TT' race was held in the Isle of Man and by this time the engines were larger and many of the motorbikes on the roads were recognisably different from power-assisted pedal cycles. They were not terribly advanced designs, the rider had to remember to pump the lubricating oil by hand at intervals or the engine could actually glow red hot before seizing solid but the TT races provoked a number of improvements including electric ignition, twist-grip controls and kick-starters. Brakes were a generally something of a problem, the simple caliper type (as seen on bicycles) was the norm at this time. Gear levers were generally mounted on the petrol tank, the clutch being controlled by a lever on the left hand handle-bar. By the time of the First World War machines were available which could reach upwards of fifty miles per hour and the sidecar (a frame with a wheel on the outside bolted to the side of the motorbike) had appeared.

Early motorbikes (and trikes) were single person machines, however they often had a 'luggage carrier rack' mounted behind the seat and this was often used to carry a passenger. By 1900 motor cars were becoming available (discussed below), however these were very expensive machines and as a cheaper option the Mills and Fulford trailer appeared, a two-wheeled contraption carrying a single wicker seat (mounted on springs) and attached to the seat pillar of the bike by a universal joint. As the roads were not tarred the passenger tended to get covered in dust in summer and mud in winter, not to mention the horse droppings that accumulated on all roads at the time. Perhaps predictably this device failed to catch on but there were other attempts at producing a proper passenger carrying machine, notably the Quadricycle four wheelers. These had a tubular metal frame, manufactured in the same way as a bicycle frame, with a coach-built wooden seat at the front and a cycle type seat for the driver behind. The engine was mounted either under the front passenger seat or under the driver (steering was by handlebars). All these early machines also had standard bicycle pedals so that the driver could provide 'light pedal assistance' when going up hill. I gather that the stretch experienced on the associated chains suggest that the word 'light' was perhaps optimistic. The examples below date from about the time of World War One, they are taken from an advertisment for Wolf Motors (part of the Wearwell Motor Carriage Company of Wolverhampton), the machine on the left has a front mounted 'chair'.

Fig ___ Bike with front mounted 'chair'

passenger carrying  motorbike

These were essentially the same machine as sold to traders with the front mounted carrying box replaced by the passenger seat. The sidecar allowed the driver and passenger to communicate (speeds were low in those days) and the sidecar could be removed when commuting to work and simply bolted on for the weekends excursion. This may have been why the 'sidecar combination' became so popular as a family runabout in spite of the added difficuties of driving such a machine. Various small engines for mounting on bicycles appeared after this war but the idea did not catch on at the time.

One side effect of the First World War was to promote the motorbike, thousands of which had been bought new and second-hand by the War Department for dispatch rider work at the front. After the war many were resold to the general public and a lot of men had been trained to ride and maintain them. The riding position on these machines was usually sitting bolt upright, the handlebars extended a long way back as i the example below. The illustration below shows a 1916 Royal Ruby motorcycle, photographed at the Manchester Science Museum and a sketch showing the riding position on such a machine, note how the driver is almost leaning backwards with his feet toward the front.

Fig ___ 1916 Royal Ruby motorcycle and riding position.

1916 Royal Ruby motorcycle and sketch showing riding position

Royal Ruby were a Manchester firm, based at various times in Ancoats, Altrincham and Oldham they ceased producing motor bikes in 1932. Note the dear change mounted on the side of the petrol tank, linked to a separate gear box mounted just behind the engine. The machine has an acetylene front light but no rear light, the silver cylinder beside the lamp is the gas generator inside which water was dripped onto calcium carbide to produce the acetylene gas. The riding position, leaning back with the feet forward, made controlling the machine difficult and in the 1930s flat handlebars came in with the rider leaning forwards, giving much better control of the machine.

The JAP v-twin engine used in the Ruby machine shown above was a popular choice for motor cycles. JAP was the trade name of the engineering firm of John Alfred Prestwich (founded in 1896) and this engine was used in a number of motorcycles and light cars (notably the pre-World War Two Morgan three wheeler sports cars and Reliant three wheelers). JAP produced a small range of motorcycles under their own name in the years before the First Word War, having developed the first British overhead valve engine. This firm also produced a number of engines which were used in light aircraft in the 1920s and 1930s as well as being involved in other areas of engineering such as cinema projectors and equipment. After the war the firm continued to produce engines which found favour on speedway and 'dirk bike' racing machines and provided components for other firms (they built the cylinder heads for the engine in the Lotus Cortina)

The side car appeared quite early on, there were a number of three wheeler machines with passenger seats or cargo carriers at the front, these were easier to drive than a motorcycle and sidecar but as noted above the side car was removable. Hence although for delivery work the three wheeler machine was generally favoured for a working man the sidecar meant he could use the machine 'solo' to go to and from work but take his family out using the 'chair' at weekends.

The basic side car consisted of a frame bolted to the motorbike with a wheel on the outside, this frame could be used to carry either a passenger carrying box or a lockable tool box for a tradesman. Many if not most early passenger carrying side cars were made of wickerwork to keep the weight to a minimum. Driving a machine with a 'chair' (as they are known) requires a degree of skill, going round a corner with the sidecar on the outside is not a problem, doing it with the chair on the inside is a lot more tricky. Basically the rider had to 'drive round' the side car or there is a danger it will lift and topple the machine over.

By the outbreak of the First World War the side-car had been developed as both a load-carrier for commercial use and a practical passenger carrier in which the more prosperous working men could take their entire family on holiday. A motorcycle combination was cheaper to buy and run than the smallest motor car and as a delivery vehicle it could be driven by a youth with only a motorcycle licence. Even so a motorbike represented a substantial investment and workers on lower pay scales still only had their bicycles as an alternative to public transport. The example shown below is a military combination, hence the robust sidecar. One point to note is that the wheel rims and headlamp casings were usually black 'stove enamel' on both military and civilian machines as chrome plating was both difficult and very expensive, the headlight on this machine is a casting in light grey metal. Chromed wheel rims only became the norm in the 1950s.

Fig ___ Early (about 1917) motorcycle combination.

1916 motorbike and sidecar

During the war quite a number of Army motorbikes had been fitted with a large sidecar for use as ambulances. The sidecar was almost as long as the bike itself and could carry two stretcher cases, one above the other. After the war these proved popular as the basis for motorcycle taxi services with seats fitted in place of the stretcher racks. Side-car taxi services were operated in several towns (but not in London where Scotland Yard had outlawed them - See also Appendix One - Set Dressing - Public Service Vehicles - Buses, Trams and Taxis).

By the 1920's the motorbike and the bike and side-car combination had gained in popularity whilst proper sprung pillion seats had started to appear so lady pillion passengers were no longer riding side-saddle on a cushion strapped to the rear carrier frame.

Motorbikes originally had no suspension other than the air in the tyres, by the time of the First World War 'girder forks' had been developed, providing suspension by making the front forks in the form of a parallelogram and connecting two corners with a spring. The motorcycle combination shown above dates from 1916 and has this design of front fork. This combination was actually built for export to Russia but the order was cancelled because of the revolution, it is preserved at the Manchester Science Museum.

The example below is a fairly generic machine from the later 1920s or early 1930s. Note that the petrol tank is under-slung from the frame cross bar, this has sections at the front sculpted to allow clearance for the girder forks. This sculpted tank is unusual, most were very plain affairs. The engine has a separate oil tank (mounted below the saddle), the gear box is by Sturmey Archer and the gear change lever is mounted on the side of the petrol tank. This kind of machine was produced in large numbers to serve as a working man's machine, built for regular duty rather than for having fun. The machine has 'girder forks' providing suspension at the front but no suspension at all at the rear (other than some fairly hefty springs under the saddle).

Fig ___ Generic later 20's or early 30's motorcycle.

Photo of a Generic later 20's or early 30's motorcycle



The bike shown below is a typical 1930s machine, the rectangular petrol tank was standard until the later 1930s when steel-pressing became practical, bringing with it the more familiar ovoid shaped tank. The engine is a three and a half horsepower model. The silver cylinder near the front of the seat is the gas generator for the acetylene lighting, granules of calcium carbide in a screw-in cap in the base have water dripped on them from the upper section. This releases acetylene gas which is passed through rubber hoses to the front and rear lights. The bike has girder front forks and no rear suspension typical of the period. I am not sure of the make, the blue tank was a feature of the Douglas motorbikes but this is not a Douglas machine.

Fig ___ Typical 1930s motorcycle.

Typical 1930s motorcycle

In the mid 1930s BMW developed the tubular telescopic forks seen today but the idea took a while to catch on. In Britain Norton, Matchless and Ariel all introduced tubular front forks in about 1939. The lower part of these was usually plain dull metal and they are visibly different from girder forks. From the 1920s to the later 1930s the brakes used were 'caliper' brakes pressing on the rim of the wheel (similar to those on bicycles), an example of this can be seen on the motorcycle combination shown above. By the later 1930s hub mounted brakes were in use (these were painted black to help dissipate heat) and in the 1950s and 60s 'performance bikes' favoured large hub mounted brakes. Disc brakes became the norm in the 1970s, initially on the front wheel only, later front and rear, these have a rather visible silver disk.

To pull a side car it was found that a very powerful machine was required with different engine characteristics to a 'solo' bike. The 'Long Stroke Panther' (produced by P&M, later Panther Motorcycles) was developed specifically to pull the 'chair', note the length of the cylinder on this machine, the cylinder was so long they used it as a part of the frame (there is no front diagonal frame on this machine). This very distinctive machine was reputed to give 'one 'thump' every second lamp post', the example shown is either a Model 100 (1946-63, 598cc) or a slightly larger but less reliable Model 120 (1959-65, 646cc). Production of the Panther range of machines ceased in 1967 as sidecars became less popular and more modern, and faster, Japanese machines gained in popularity.

Fig ___ Long stroke Panther with sidecar
Long stroke Panther with sidecar



The Norton 500cc single cylinder machine shown below is a typical bike of the post war era, the former side-valve engine was replaced for this 1955 model by a top-valve engine (the silver push-rods on the side of the engine taper, on the side valve they were parallel). The 500cc single cylinder Norton was pretty much their standard machine, pre war examples had the rigid rear, girder forks and a side valve engine. Other points to note are the large hub brake on the front wheel and telescopic forks (girder forks were still in production in the immediate post war era and examples were seen well into the 1970s). This machine had Girling rear suspension, earlier machines had no rear suspension (the last rigid-rear Norton was produced in 1955), it was produced in large numbers from 1955 through into the mid 1960s. Selling for a little more than £ 200 they sold well and were something of a workhorse in the period.

Fig ___ 1955 Norton 500cc.
1955 Norton 500cc

Norton had a silver petrol tank right up until the early 1960s when, as various companies amalgamated, machines were badged as Norton AJP or whatever but were all made from the same limited set of parts.

Prior to the 1950s the motorcycle was much cheaper than any car so most young men started out on a motorbike or scooter and low income families would be unlikely to afford a car. In the later 1950s cheap cars arrived on the market and the perception of the motorbike as a working class machine began to effect sales in Britain. One of the factors that worked against this trend was the number of famous and essentially classless individuals such as T. E. Lawrence (better known as Lawrence of Arabia) and the actor Sir John Gielgud who were known to favour the motorbike. This gave the motorbike a social status separate from the strict rules of social hierarchy in British society.

Fig ___ The Gentleman's Steed - 1955 AJS.
The Gentleman's Steed - 1955 AJS 500cc

In 1975 the front number plate on motorcycles and scooters was abolished, these had been normally mounted on top of the mudguard and had proved lethal in accidents. The securing points are visible on the mudguard of the AJS shown above. The styling of the motorcycle then followed the trends in motor cars, with 'sealed beam' headlights moulded to conform to the shape of the cowling. The design of the wheels changed in the later 1990s with many thin metal spokes being replaced by three or four much thicker spokes, John Mullen allowed me to take the photo below showing a typical bike of the early 21st century.

Fig ___ 2005 Honda motorbike.
2005 Honda motorbike




Cyclemotors, Autocycles and mopeds

These machines all essentially add a small motor to a bicycle. There were many problems to solve when adding a motor to a bike, in the era before the First World War there was much debate about the most suitable form of propulsion. The technological problems of developing reliable chain drive and drive shafts were a major stubling block. The 'clip-on' propellor system shown below was trialed in about 1915, the illustration is from a book published during the First World War. The dangers of having a heavy wooden propellor belting round at 1000 rpm plus meant this method of propulsion was ill suited to the British road.

Fig ___ Prop drive for a push bike

Sketch of a Prop drive for a push bike

The rather more practical and successful cyclemotor was (typically) a clip-on motor driving the bike via a friction roller on one of the wheels or via an add-on drive belt. These appeared in the 1890s and occasional examples were seen over the years (at any given time there were a couple on the market) but they only became popular in the immediate post Second World War two era (initially using an Italian design, licence built by Trojan in Croydon). The illustration below, courtesy of Tim Pryce, is from an advert for a Trojan Mini-Motor dating from the 1940s.

Fig ___ Typical cyclemotor

Trojan Mini-Motor on a bicycle

The detachable motors were simple, cheap and reliable and remained moderately popular up to the mid 1950's but soon disappeared as the moped (described below), motor bike, motor scooter and motor car became more affordable. Unless you have a particular model in mind adding a small blob of Milliput to a model bike, just above either the front or rear wheel, serves well enough for these machines. The well known Cyclemaster used a complete replacement wheel with the motor built-in, introduced in the early 1950s they remained in production until the early 1960s.

The autocycle is a purpose built machine, a 'pedal assisted motorcycle' is a fair description. These appeared in the 1920s (although early motorbikes were little different) and production in Britain continued into the 1950s. The example shown below left is a Frances Barnet Powerbike from the 1950s but the design of these machines had changed little over the years.

Fig ___ Typical autocycles

Typical autocycles and Honda 50 moped

The 'moped' appeared as a development of and replacement for the cyclemotor and the autocycle, intended as a simple commuting vehicle this was a purpose built machine with a small two-stroke engine and pedals (used to get the thing up to speed to start the engine and to assist the engine up hills). The engine had (by law) to be less that 50cc, the popular Honda 50 was in fact 49cc. The low cost and reliable Honda 50 shown below right was a very successful machine, in production from 1958 until the early 1980s it offered a simple automatic step-through gearbox, a top speed of about 40mph and managed something in the order of 120 miles per gallon. The white part was actually some kind of rubbery material and extended sideways to provide some leg protection from spray and small stones. The example shown below right is a 1978 British Norton Villiers Triumph 'Easy Rider' machine, with an Italian 2-stroke engine. NVT was the last remnant of the British motorcycle industry, established to supply parts to Triumph which had been established as a workers co-operative building the 750 Bonneville bike.

Fig ___ Honda 50 moped and NVT Easy Rider.

Honda 50 moped and NVT Easy Rider

Although well suited to their intended job the moped had a limited speed, poor acceleration and they could (practically) only carry a single person. By the early 1980s they were the preserve of students and as traffic density and speeds have increased they have fallen from favour on the grounds of safety.




Scooters

Motor scooters were made in limited numbers before the Second World War but in the 1950's they became extremely popular in Italy and soon spread to the rest of Europe. By the late 1950s they were increasingly common in Britain, mainly used as a commuting machine, they then became popular with young men as an economical option for basic motoring and by the early 1960s the 'Mods' (see below) had adopted the machine as their own.

Fig ___ Typical Italian designed scooter from the 1950s.

Early scooter from 50s

As well as the Italian makes (which dominated the market) there were a few others on offer, the DKR range, built in Wolverhampton and favouring the Villiers two stroke engines, were in production from the later 1950s through to the later 1960s, the example shown dates from 1962

Fig ___ British built DKR scooter

British built DKR scooter of the 1960s

The popularity of the scooter waned in the later 1970's and by the early 1980's these older designs were comparatively rare. In the later 1970s the scooter was revamped, primarily on the banks of the Mediterranean sea where they had remained popular, developing a much sleeker styling. This revised basic styling arrived in Britain in the early 1980s and has remained the norm into the early twenty first century. These new machines have proved moderately successful as commuting vehicles although they were more expensive than the basic mopeds they replaced. By the early 21st century they had gained in popularity in the UK, notably amongst youngsters, as a low cost transport option.


Fig ___ Typical post 1970s scooter design.

Typical post 1970s scooter design.




Crash Helmets

In the early years, certainly into the 1930s, although goggles were standard kit helmets were rare, most motorcyclists were men and they wore 'flat caps' (often reversed with the peak at the rear when driving fast). In the later 1930s a simple dome shaped helmet with leather over the ears and around the back of the head was introduced for military dispatch riders and was adopted by some riders. After the Second World War helmets were not a legal requirement but were increasingly worn.

One anecdote gives a feel for the speeds involved, in the 1950s the actor Sir John Gielgood mentioned that he used to smoke his pipe when riding until a youngster pointed out that in an accident the pipe would damage his throat, after which he stopped smoking when riding.

In the mid 1960s a crash helmet was introduced that resembled a deer-stalker cap. No motorcyclist would be seen dead in such a thing but they proved popular with the fashion conscious scooter riders. The full-face helmets appeared in the later 1960s, initially for racing riders but gained popularity with motorcyclists in the 1970s. The full face visor type of helmet has a problem with rain (no wiper is fitted) and one odd idea that was born and died in the 1970s was a rotating clear plastic disk on the front of the helmet. The idea was that as the rider rode at speed the disk would spin and throw off the rain. I believe these were eventually banned as they might catch and twist the riders neck in an accident.

There was much debate regarding the potential benefits of wearing helmets, I understand that no definite result came from the debate but an MP by the name of Mrs Chalker was charged with implementing legislation and decided to ignore the debate and in 1973 a law was passed requiring helmets to be worn. The illustration below shows the basic cloth cap and goggles typical from the early days through to the 1940s. The dome topped crash helmet appeared in the later 1930s, usually worn by racing riders, the version with the peak was favoured by police forces in the 1950s and 60s. The helmet with detachable peak and protection for the ears dates from the 1960s, the full head helmet is from the 1970s and the elaborate design on the right is from 2005.

Fig ___ Typical motorcycle headgear.

Typical motorcycle headgear.




Mods and Rockers

Prior to the 1950s motorcyclist and scooters tended to be seen in ones and twos but following the Second World War young men started to form groups and travel in packs. Mods and Rockers were two groups of young men who formed in the later 1950s and early 1960s. The Mods favoured fashionable suits and rode motor scooters (mainly the Lambretta GT 200 or a Vespa GS 160). When out riding they wore a long grey anorak, usually with fur trim on the hood and if they wore a helmet at all it was likely to be the deer stalker type. The rockers were motorcyclists who wore black leather jackets, blue jeans and boots, they favoured the more powerful motorbikes of the time from Triumph, BSA and Norton. Motorcyclists were more inclined to wear helmets and goggles than scooter riders, but they did travel at higher speeds. Both groups decorated their jackets, the mods with paint and marker pens, the rockers with paint and silver metal studs. These two groups would go on 'runs' in a large group and as they did not get on there were often fights when two opposing groups met on the road. In the mid 1960s there were major battles at the holiday resorts on the south coast but recently evidence has come to light that the press were actually paying individuals to cause trouble.

The rockers bikes were not particularly distinctive but the mods liked to customise their scooters, often adding several rear view mirrors and other chromed accessories as well as 'leopard skin' print seat covers and the like.

A group of young men hanging about near a cafe, with a row of bikes or scooters parked by the road side was a very characteristic sight in this period. Langley offer both groups in their OO range but not as yet in their N scale range.




Steam Cars, Electric Cars and Motor Cars
For illustrations of company-specific vehicles, offering more examples of the changes in styling over time see App 1 Notable Motor Manufacturers in Britain

The application of steam power to personal transportation was inevitable, the first 'motorist was a frenchman by the name of Nicholas Cugnot tried a steam vehicle in 1769 (see also Appendix One - Road Traffic - Steam and Motor Commercial Vehicles). Steam cars used existing and well understood technology, making them reliable by the standards of the time, one of the first people to drive from Lands End to John O'Groats used a steam car. Steam cars were as reliable, often more so, than motor cars until the early years of the 20th century, the first car to break the 100mph barrier was powered by steam, but the convenience of the petrol engine meant they died out quite quickly. The two examples shown below are typical of the breed, the one on the left is an older type with 'tiller' steering in place of a steering wheel. The one on the right is more modern and could be mistaken for a (rather quiet) motor vehicle. They were photographed at a steam rally in 2007 and both are right hand drive but beyond that I know nothing about either machine (as a guess I would suggest the older type dates from early in the first decade of the twentieth century, the more recent model being from about the time of the First World War).


Fig___ Steam Cars

Steam Cars

The use of electrically powered vehicles has been constrained by battery design, prior to the early years of the 21st century this meant they had to be heavy and slow moving, well suited to delivery work but less suited to personal transport. In about 1902 the American firm of Babcock took the chassis from a standard small car, added batteries where the engine used to be with more under the seat and produced a small car aimed at women. At the time the single cylinder petrol engines in use had a habit of back-firing when being hand cranked and were liable to break the drivers arm when starting. Steam vehicles required a degree of technical understanding rare amongst the women able to afford a vehicle. The example shown is a replica Babcock Electric, built to the original plans, this was probably the first design to be sold specifically as the 'second car' and aimed directly at women, this probably restricted its market rather a lot (although there were actually five model on offer from this firm at the time). The controls consisted of a steering wheel, foot pedal accelerator and a side mounted hand brake lever. The potential customers were invited to take their friends on a 'thrilling ride' to the shops, although given the modest top speed this probably had more to do with the equally modest brakes.

Fig___ Babcock Electric of 1903

Babcock Electric of 1903


The British were slow to take an interest in the motor car, the first firm to set up shop in the UK was the German Daimler company in 1889. British firms soon appeared but for the first decade or so most parts were imported from Germany and France and assembled in Britain. In 1895 the first Motor Show was held in Tunbridge Wells, at the time it was called the International Horseless Carriage Exhibition.


Fig___ 1901 Motor Car

Helios car of 1901

The sketch shows a Helios (French) machine from 1901, note the tiller steering and the rearward facing passenger seats at the front, obstructing the drivers view.

As with the motor cycle there was a lot of debate about the most suitable method of propulsion, the liquid fuel internal combustion engine provided a light weight power supply but coupling this to the wheels reliably proved problematic. One alternative that was quite widely experimented with was the use of an aerial propellor, the example shown below is an American machine from just before the First World War. The wide open spaces of the American mid-west meant that the dangers of a propellor drive were less acute and the simplicity of the transmission made these an attractive option (to the owner if not to everyone else) quite a few of these 'buzz-cars' were sold at the time.

Fig___ American Buzz-Car

American Buzz-Car

Many British motor car firms began life in the bicycle industry, names such as Humber, Riley, Royal Enfield, Singer and Rover. Lorry builders such as Guy, Leyland and British Ensign turned out cars on occasion but there were soon a number of totally new companies in the market, established from scratch to meet the demand for motor cars. By the time of the First World War there were over a hundred firms producing motor cars in Britain and cars were regularly imported from other countries. The example shown below is an American car, about which I know nothing other than it represents a typical design from the early 20th century. Cars of similar appearance remained a regular sight on British roads up to about the time of the First World War.

Fig___ Early 20th Century Motor Car

1905 Rolls Royce Motor Car

Cars at this time were built using what is called the trestle system, the car was built in one place with workers bringing the parts to it. In 1901 Ransome Olds (maker of the Oldsmobile) introduced mass production and the assembly line (systems of production originally developed by the British Admiralty for the production of ships biscuits and tackle blocks for sailing ships about a hundred years before).

Fig___ 1905 Rolls Royce Motor Car

1905 Rolls Royce Motor Car


In 1909 Ford decided to make only one type of car, the Model T, to make the greatest advantage of mass production. This proved extremely successful and most motor manufacturers reduced their ranges to only one or two models. Ford Model T cars proved popular, not least because the mass production techniques used in their construction reduced the unit cost considerably. The British examples were shipped over from America in kit form and assembled in a small factory in Manchester. I believe that from about 1912 to about 1920 the Model T was the single most common car on British roads, there were more British made cars on the roads but from a wide range of manufacturers.

Fig___ Model T Ford car

Sketch of Model T Ford


The Model T was known as the Tin Lizzy because Ford used thin sheet steel to make the body work in place of the older method of having a wooden frame and either wooden paneling based on traditional horse drawn coach building or painted canvas (common on the smaller lighter cars). Wooden frames were used for motor cars into the 1930s and were still used for some makes of hand built cars into the 1950s. It was common practice in Britain up the 1960s for the chassis to be built in one factory and the body in another, in some cases the two were owned by separate companies (by the 1940s most larger firms made both the chassis and body). Even today there are specialist motor car body manufacturers who still call themselves 'coach builders'.

At this time the technology was still being developed and there were problems with three and four wheeled vehicles (the differential gear for the axle was a major source of power loss, and indeed still is). One option was to run a two wheeled car, using gyroscopes to hold it upright. By using two gyros, spinning in opposite directions and mechanically linked together it was possible to avoid the problems of 'precession' when turning and the Schilowsky car shown below was perhaps the most successful attempt at such a vehicle. The illustration is taken from a book published during the First World War.

Fig___ Schilowsky 'mono-rail' car

Photo of a Schilowsky 'mono-rail' car

There was also a gyro-anti-skid device (developed in Britain but never applied to a production vehicle) which harnessed the precession of the gyroscope to prevent the car turning sideways when in motion. The main drawback with these gyro-stabilised machines is the amount of energy in the spinning gyroscope which might be released in the event of an accident, having said which the Swiss have successfully employed busses which use a gyro to store energy when going down hill for use when going up hill and in Britain the Parry People Mover light rail vehicle uses the gyroscope to good effect in a similar manner.

In 1910 Road Fund Tax was introduced, bringing with it the 'tax disc' on road vehicles, these were white disks three inches in diameter with the date printed across the centre and were displayed in a circular metal frame bolted to the left hand side of the vehicle. Windscreen mounted tax disk holders appeared in the 1940s I believe and up to the 1960s the disks were plain white with black text across the centre. At least one Rolls Royce in London pottered about with a Guinness label (steamed from a bottle) on display for several years, subsequently colours were introduced and Guinness labels could no longer be passed off as a tax disk. In 1911 the American firm Cadillac introduced electric starter motors and dynamo lighting on their cars. At this time cars were still rare, in photographs of the period you will seldom see more than one or two even in relatively affluent areas. The example shown below, the photo was taken at the Manchester Museum of Science and Technology, shows a typical motor of 1912, made by Belsize it still has no electric starter and retains the oil lamps.

Fig___ 1912 Motor Car

1912 Motor Car


In 1913 Henry Ford took the conveyor belt from the Royal Navy biscuit factory, added the power drive from the Chicago meat packing industry, mated these with the production line idea in use at Oldsmobile and introduced the conveyor belt motor car assembly line (he had tried them out on the assembly of dynamo's first). In Britain however most manufactures continued using the trestle system (even today cars such as the Rolls Royce, MG, Aston Martin and Reliant three wheelers are built this way although this does make them more expensive than mass produced types). In 1915 the government introduced a 33% tax on imported cars to protect British manufacturers (this caused the American General Motors Corporation to buy Vauxhall in 1925).
During the First World War there was a demand for motor transport and a large number of motor vehicles of all types were pressed into military service, as a result when the war ended there were large number of war surplus machine available and large numbers of trained mechanics and drivers. The example shown below is a restored 1917 Model T (although I doubt the War Department would have used the sucker-mounted rear view mirror, and I am not at all sure side light would have been fitted on the wings). Note the tins of petrol carried on the side running boards, this was common practice on civilian vehicles into the 1920s.

Fig___ Model T Ford serving as a machine gun carrier

Photo from the 2007 Tatton show of a restored Model T Ford serving as a machine gun carrier

Following the First World War there was an upsurge in motor car production and in photographs you will often see two or three cars in a village street. A number of firms were set up to build small, light weight and often three wheeled 'cycle cars'. Most of these little vehicles proved flimsy and unreliable and they largely died out in the 1920's but the more substantially built three wheelers such as the sports cars made by Morgan remained in limited production up to the Second World War. The owner of a three wheeler paid less in road tax and could drive one with only a motorcycle licence.

Fig___ Early three wheelers

1912 cycle car and a 1920s machine

By the early 1920's the British car industry comprised over ninety firms who between them were building over twenty thousand cars a year. By the end of the decade there were only about forty firms still in business and just three, Morris Motors (incorporated 1917, but Mr Morris had been building cars since 1901), Austin (founded 1905) and Singer (a former bicycle maker) made over three quarters of all British cars sold. Motor car firms at this time were often also involved in aircraft design and manufacture. Austin made several of the aircraft used in World War One whilst Singer helped build the engines for the R34 airship which made the first non-stop round trip across the Atlantic in 1919.

The vehicle below is the Harper runabout of 1923, the idea of a very small, lightweight, one-person vehicle has cropped up on several occasions. This little 2.5hp machine is typical of the type, the very small machines have often been three wheelers.

Fig___ 1923 Harper runabout

Photo of 1923 Harper 2.5hp runabout


Most cars prior to the 1950s were very small by modern standards, the picture shows an Austin Seven, a popular car of it time, introduced in 1922 they remained in production until 1939 (and examples were seen still in everyday use into the 1960s). The chap standing next to the car is six feet two inches tall, even by the standards of the 1920s they were a small car and were often referred to as the 'Baby Austin'.

Fig___ Austin Seven

Austin seven photographed at a rally

Up to the late 1920's most cars were open (usually with a fold-down canvass top) as this made them cheaper, lighter and hence faster than covered 'saloon' cars. Up to the 1930's the solid roof had been the province of professionals who had to travel in all weathers and they were generally referred to as 'doctors' cars. The change to covered cars was rather sudden and by 1931 over ninety percent of new motor cars had a solid roof although 'sports cars' retained the fold down canvas type as it was much lighter.

1930 Morris 6
Photos of a 1930 Morris 6 saloon


By the mid 1930s the three wheelers were metal skinned and most had two wheels at the front (a more stable arrangement). Several manufacturers began building three wheelers with water cooled engines, so the front end resembled the motor cars of their day. BSA and Morgan were two well known names in the field, both of whom built water cooled machines around this time. This was in practice not such a good idea, the air cooled motorcycle engine (such as the JAP engine used on earlier Morgan cars) offered a much higher power to weight ratio and hence better performance. The JAP engined Morgan had a very low centre of gravity and coupled with its independent front suspension it was claimed (by Morgan at least) to offer superior road holding to the four wheelers of the time. Returning to the water cooled type however something similar can be modelled using the front end of a motor car kit with a rear shaped from Milliput. These three wheelers were fairly common into the early 1960s, although by the end of that decade they were the preserve of enthusiasts.

Fig___ Morgan F4 of 1937

Morgan F4 three wheeler sports car

Note the GB sticker on the rear of the Morgan, this type replaced a solid metal plate similar to the motoring club badges (but always mounted on the rear of the car) in the 1970s. The earlier type I remember from the 1950s were a black oval plate with GB in white on them, this changed to a thin white metal plate with black GB in the 1960s and the stick-on type appeared in the 1970s. See also Road Traffic - Introduction, Licensing, Wheels, Suspension, Brakes and Gearboxes for the historical background.

Three wheelers, although popular, were outnumbered by more conventional four wheeled cars. The example below is typical of the early 1930s designs. Note that the rear comprises a seat for two passengers, known as a 'rumble seat' (an American expression). Note that the fold-up canvas roof does not cover this area, only the two front seats. The rear of the seat is hinged at the bottom and forms the lid of the 'boot' (a term taken from the rear seat on a horse drawn coach). Even when the rear compartment was not fitted with seats the bottom hinge remained common practice and the term 'boot' remained the British norm. In practice these rear compartments were not ideal for carrying luggage, it was common practice to add a carrier frame to the lid of the 'boot' on to which the luggage could be strapped. This exposed the luggage to the elements and trunks (heavy rectangular cases) were more suited to this environment, and cheaper, than suitcases. In America this lead to the use of the term 'trunk' for the rear compartment itself.

Fig___ Jowett 'Flying Fox' of 1933

1933 Jowett 'Flying Fox'


In 1938 'monocoque' construction of motor car bodies appeared in Britain on the Vauxhall 10 but most British firms continued to use a wooden frame with metal panelling nailed on for several years. By the 1930's car crime was a problem and in 1934 when thieves made off with a car belonging to a German industrialist by the name of Abram Neiman he designed the first anti-theft device (which still bears his name).

By the end of the nineteen thirties Singer had failed (although the 'brand' was purchased and remained in use), Austin and Morris were going strong and two new British firms had risen to prominence, Standard and Rootes (the latter had purchased the Hillman and Humber companies, both former bicycle firms based in Coventry). The Americans were firmly established with Fords trading under their own name and General Motors trading through a wholly owned subsidiary called Vauxhall (purchased outright in 1925). The Morris 8 Series E of 1938 is typical of the era with its semi-streamlined body (notably around the radiator) and pressed steel wheels in place of the earlier spoked type. First produced in 1938 production was discontinued during the war but manufacture resumed after the war from '46-'48. The example shown is a pre-war type, after the war the headlights were altered to a more upright design allowing the use of standard headlamp bulbs. Mike G was able to advise -
Quite advanced for it's day in not having running boards. Plus it had a hydraulic brake system, which was not that common at the time. Still had suicide doors (hinged at the rear) though. :-)



Fig___ Later 1930s car styling

Photos of a Morris 8 Series E of 1938

The Morris Minor, introduced in 1948 (the commercial 'van' version and the wooden framed 'Traveller' appeared two years later), was one of the most successful British designs in the post war era. The 'moggie minor' is very characteristic of the period but they continued in production right up to 1970 and they remained a common sight into the late 1980s. Note the split windscreen on the example below left, this had gone by the time the Traveller was introduced. Both the examples shown are later version, prior to about 1950 the headlights were mounted low down on the front to either side of the radiator, the trim around the grille being designed to enclose them. Note the timber framing on the rear of the Traveller is not mere decoration, it actually forms part of the structure of the car (see also Appendix One - General Information - British motor manufacturers).

Fig___ Morris Minor 1000
Early model Morris Minor 100, note split windscreen, and later model Morris Traveller

In the period following the Second World War motor cars were a major British export, however many 'brand names' were actually part of large merged corporations by this time. The trend toward take-over and merger continued, in the early 1960's Leyland (originally a commercial vehicle maker) had purchased a number of other firms including Standard-Triumph, they changed their name to Leyland Motor Corporation in 1963 and then merged with British Motor Corporation (founded on a merger of Austin and Morris in 1952) to form British Leyland in 1968.

For interest there are brief notes on the more significant motor car firms with factories in Britain and the complex web of take-over's included in Appendix One - General Information - British motor manufacturers. By the 1950s there were about 2 million private motor cars on British roads, by the early 1960s there were 10 million or so and by 2005 there were roughly 25 million cars, so layouts set in this era will require an increasing number of private motor cars visible.

One exception to the trend for amalgamation was the small three wheeler market, in the post war era two firms Reliant and Bond dominated this market in the UK. At the time there was a lot of concern about the cost of fuel so economy was an important consideration and both firms produced low fuel consumption vehicles. Three wheelers were cheaper than conventional motor cars and offered fairly 'sporty' performance, they can be driven with only a motorcycle licence so up to the 1970s it was common practice for young men to graduate from a pedal cycle to a motor bike, then to a three wheeler before going on to a four wheeled motor car. Bond and Reliant cars and vans filled a niche and were popular amongst their owners, although having the single wheel at the front made the vehicles road handling somewhat exciting. Bond produced their two seater Minicar which apparently had superior handling compared to the Reliant designs although it had a kick start on its Villiers motorcycle engine, accessed by lifting the bonnet. The front wheel could turn fully sideways so it could turn in its own length but had no reverse gear (the engine could be started in reverse if necessary). Only the rear wheels were braked, there was no rear springing, and the single windscreen wiper was operated by hand. Further development resulted in the Mark B, this looked the same as the Mark A but had improved steering and added rear suspension. A De Luxe version of the Mark B was offered with a larger 197cc engine. The Mark B was also available in two commercial versions a MiniTruck and a MiniVan both sold under the Sharps name. Bond were purchased by Reliant in 1969 (the Bond name was used for the last three wheeler sports car, the Bond Bug introduced in 1970, see below). The last genuine Bond car, the 875, was introduced in 1964. The 875 had a Hillman Imp motor car engine, which fitted to a light weight three wheeler gave the 875 remarkable acceleration (often embarrassing the proud owners of a Mini Cooper or Lotus Cortina).

Reliant was set up in the mid 1930s to sell a light delivery van type machine using the front end from a motorbike with two rear wheels driven by an Austin 7 engine. See Appendix One - Set Dressing - Road Vehicles - Commercial Vehicles for further information on these). In 1954 they produced an aluminium bodied car on a steel chassis, later changing to a fibreglass body on an Ash chassis. The original aluminium bodied Reliant car was typical of the post war era but the later fibreglass bodied designs remained very stable for many years and only an expert can reliably tell the subtle variations apart.

Fig___ Reliant and Bond three wheeler cars

Aluminium bodied Reliant of 1954 and Bond Minicar

I believe Reliant no longer exist, as I understand it the firm closed down in the first years of the 21st Century. The main problem was the cost, as the vehicles were effectively hand built they cost a lot more then the equivalent mass produced 'jelly mould' motor cars and as engine efficiencies improved and driving standards decreased they lost the advantage of economy and were increasingly considered dangerous to drive on roads full of badly driven 4x4 shopping vehicles.

In post war Germany the former aircraft manufacturers such as Heinkel and Messerschmit turned their plant over to car production producing a range of small three wheelers (commonly known as 'bubble cars') powered by an air cooled motorcycle engine. These were economical and proved popular in post war Europe, even BMW produced some under the Issetta brand. There were two basic designs of bubble car, one had tandem seating, the passenger sitting behind the driver and the top hinged open to the side like an aircraft cockpit, this type was favoured by Messerschmit.

Fig___ Messerschmit bubble cars
Messerschmit bubble car, fore and aft seating and a BMW Isetta with side by side seating
The alternative favoured side by side seating, the whole front of the vehicle opening to form the door, both Heinkel and BMW favoured this approach. There were 'convertible' versions of both types with a retractable canvass roof.

Fig___ BMW Issetta bubble car
BMW bubble car
Bubble cars were sold as private motor cars, their small size largely precluding their use for light delivery work (for details of which see Road Vehicles - Commercial Vehicles). I believe either the AA or the RAC bought a couple to evaluate as patrol vehicles and Manchester Airport tried them out for moving personnel about the place in the 1950s.

Heinkel sold their rights to a door-fronted machine to Dundalk Engineering in Northern Ireland in the late 1950s. In 1959 this company in turn licensed some production to the English firm Trojan (a commercial vehicle manufacturer who had a tradition of making a success of unconventional designs). I believe Trojan bubble car production finally ceased in the mid 1960s, the Trojan company folded in 1964.

Fig___ 1959 Heinkel (Trojan built)
Trojan bubble car, built to a Heinkel design

These economical little three wheelers were moderately popular in the 1950s but fell from favour in the 1960s when faced with competition from the likes of the Mini (discussed below). I understand that although lightweight and simple in design the small air-cooled engines in the bubble cars were their achillies heel and problems with reliability earned them a bad reputation, they were rare by the early 1970s.

Modelling these small machines is not that easy, however the enclosed bubble car types could be scratch built using a suitably sized glass bead as the core with Milliput used for the bulges around the front wheels and rear engine compartment.
There is now a Bubble Car Museum, at Byards Leap in Lincolnshire. These days they are referred to as 'micro-cars' however I would doubt they would pass today's safety standards, the example shown is virtually all glass on the front rear and sides and has a roll-back cloth sun roof as well.

A post war British classic was of course the Landrover, introduced in the later 1940s and an instant success. One of these would be a likely sight on any country scene and in the streets of more rural towns. The Landrover Mark One was a distinctive machine, designed more as an agricultural tractor than a car, the headlights were mounted between the wings and covered with a wire mesh screen to protect them. The flat sided body sat on an 88 inch wheelbase chassis (the prototype was built on an old Jeep chassis, although the Jeep was originally a design by the pre-war American subsidiary of Austin, hence the chassis could be regarded as in some sense 'British'). The Landrover had numerous options for power take-off, allowing it to be used with a wide range of portable farm machinery, which allows the modeller to add a bit of interest to a farmyard or field scene. The photo below shows the original Mk 1 type, the very early examples were a light green (see also Appendix One - General Information - British motor manufacturers) but this soon changed to standard Army 'broze green with dull aluminium trim around the windows and a dull metal grille on the front covering the radiator (and on early examples the headlights as well).

Fig___ Original Landrover (Series One)
Original Landrover (Series One)

The windows in the doors were in two parts, the rear half could slide forward to allow hand signals, the windscreen could hinge down to lie on the bonnet in which position it could be moved to the side and removed completely. The doors, when opened fully forward, could be lifted off to provide easier access and a simple drop-down tail-gate was fitted, supported by chains when open to form a platform. The Series II was introduced in 1958, followed by the IIa in 1961, these models had a moulded curve to the upper body side but retained the headlights on the radiator panel. In 1968 Series II Landrovers for export had the headlights moved to the wings, this carried over to domestic models in 1969. The Series IIa continued in production until 1971 when it was replaced by the Series Three.

Fig___ Series III Landrover
Series Three landrover

The Army made extensive use of the Landrover but found it was not heavy enough for some tasks so Landrover built the '1 ton Forward Control' model, with the driving position moved right to the front and a large cargo bay behind. First seen in 1961 the original design had a rather curved shape to the cab but was not a success. The later models, introduced from 1966 (based on a Series IIb 109" long wheelbase chassis lengthened to give a 110" wheelbase) had a more angular cab and proved a very handy machine widely used by the military but was unsuccessful in the civilian market.

The basic design of the motor car had altered little during the wartime era, the boot was still often hinged at the bottom and doors were still sometimes hinged at the rear, but the 'running boards' along the side of the car had gone by the 1950s (other than on some 'sporting' models where they were retained as a design feature, although I gather these were not strong enough to stand on).


Fig___ Typical late 1940s car styling

Typical late 1940s car styling

The shape of cars saw dramatic changes in the late 1940s and early 1950s, at the rear the 'sit up and beg' boot was replaced by a rearward extension with a lid hinged close under the rear window. At the front split windscreens were increasingly replaced by a single pane (commercial vehicles kept the split type for a few more years) and the single windscreen wiper in front of the driver became a pair of wipers. The separate 'wings' over the front wheels became part of the main body shape and the headlights changed from separate silver curved cone shapes to being set into the sides of the car. The sketch below shows a typical car from about 1955, this was the original Ford Anglia. The older designs with 1930s styling remained common into the 1960s but the shape shown below was typical of the cars built in the early to mid 1950s. Note the Morris 1000 and the diminutive Austin A30 were ahead of the pack on this, they had all the new features and came out in the later 1940s.

Fig___ Mid 1950s car styling

Original design of the Ford Anglia from the 1950s

The arrangement of rear lights one above the other seen on the original model Ford Anglia above presaged a design feature that would characterise the 1950s, namely adding 'fins' to the rear of cars. Originating in America the fins on British cars tended to be more subdued but they were seen on cars built into the early 1970s. The sketch below shows a 'typical' car of the period, things to note are the wings (at the front over the wheels) still bulge up above the bonnet, the wing mirrors (A) are mounted forward on the wings and are silver. There is a lot of chromed metal silver strip on the car including along the side (B) and around the tall rear light assemblies (C). There is also a silver strip around the front headlights (although these are set into the front of the car and no longer separate items) and the radiator grille and front and read bumpers (D) are also silver. The example shown below could be either a Morris Oxford or an Austin Cambridge, the two firms had merged in 1952 to form the British Motor Corporation. There was a lot of commonality between the various BMC built cars. Dave Plowman was able to advise
The Farina Austin Cambridge and Morris Oxford had identical engines and mechanics as well as basic bodies. The previous generation Cambridge and Oxford also shared engines and much of the mechanics - only the bodies were different.
This particular car is the Austin Cambridge of 1959, noted for being ruggedly built they remained popular amongst stock car racers (who put a really big engine in them).

Fig___ Typical late 1950s and early 1960s styling

Typical car from the late 1950s with lots of chrome and rear fins

By this time the manufacture of curved triplex windscreens had developed allowing the glass to form a curve at each side to blend into the body shape, these so-called 'wrap round windows' were popular at the time (they were even used for railway multiple units, although on these the higher cost saw them replaced on the railway multiple units in the 1980s with metal fittings holding flat panes). Another popular car of the time was the Triumph Herald of 1959, by this time the Triumph name was owned by Standard Motor Co. This car shows the same basic features characteristic of the period

Triumph Herald
Triumph Herald

After World War Two the British ran Volkwagen for several years, they produced two models the Type 1 motor car (known as the Beetle) and the Type 2 van. Both were occasionally seen in Britain from the 1950s but more so from the mid 1960s. The beetle was a development of a pre-world war two design, branded 'the people's car' by the NAZI government. It featured a rear mounted air-cooled engine, the luggage space being at the front, it never developed fins although it did feature chromed metal strips along the sides and down the centre line of the bonnet, with a looped handle near the base at the front. They became popular in the mid 1960s and were a feature of the 1970s road scene, by the later 1980s they were starting to disappear and had largely gone by the mid 1990s. Production in Germany ceased in the later 1970s but continued in Mexico until 2003 by which time over twenty million Beetles had been built.

Fig___ Volkswagen Beetle

Volkswagen Beetle

The VW van was produced in 1950 in response to a request from a Dutch industrialist, it used the same engine and transmission as the Beetle but on a stretched chassis with a box shaped body. Prior to 1967 these had a split windscreen, after that a single piece curved screen was used. In Britain the VW van faced a lot of competition from domestic designs but by 1975 the Hanover factory had built four million of these vehicles and they were quite common on British roads. The early VW van with the split windscreen is now a rare beast, the example below was photographed at a show in 2007.

Fig___ Early VW van

Early model VW van

The 'camper van' or 'dormobile' version of the VW van did rather well and was quite a common sight in Britain in the later 1960s and 1970s. The 'dormobile' was a British idea, introduced by a form of coach builders by the name of Martin-Walter. The dormobile started out as a van with folding seats that formed a bed, the key development however was a hinged roof section fitted with a fabric folding section. When raised this gave standing room in the vehicle, allowing them to be used as a self propelled caravan. The original dormobile was based on the Bedford CA van version dating from the mid 1960s.

Fig___ Mid 1960s Bedford 'dormobile'

Typical Mid 1960s Bedford dormobile

The company changed its name to Dormobile and produced camper vans based on a number of commercial types, as well as the Bedford and the VW they also produced version based on Fords, Landrovers, Commer and Leyland and Toyota vans. I was not able to find a mint condition original VW dormobile, the one in the photo below is a later type with a single piece windscreen.

Fig___ Late model VW 'dormobile'

Late model VW dormobile

Two cars proved exceptionally popular in the 1960s and 1970s, the BMC Mini and the Ford Cortina. The Mini, introduced in 1959 and selling for £500, was in part a reply to the successful 'bubble cars' which had proved popular in the 1950s. The Mini had the engine mounted transversely (running from side to side), the gearbox was built into the sump and powered the front wheels. The result was an exceptionally small car which proved to have excellent handling characteristics. Well suited to town driving the Mini was also a regular winner of races, notably rallies, and a souped-up version was produced called the Mini Cooper. There was no door handle on the inside of the Mini, had there been it would have been level with the rear of the seat and difficult to reach. Instead there was a plastic coated wire strop which ran across the door, pulling this operated the door catch. The windows on the doors were split in two, the rear section could slide forward to allow the driver to give hand signals. The rear side windows were hinged at the front and had a catch at the rear that allowed them to open about two inches for ventilation. The photos show a standard mini and the Mini Cooper S Type.

Fig___ Original Mini Minor and Mini Cooper S

Photos of  a standard mini and the Mini Cooper S Type

For the first twenty years the changes to the Mini saloon were small and subtle, production of the Mini continued up to 2000 (it remained in production after the Metro, which had been intended to replace it).

There were a number of variants on the standard mini, the Mini van proved a success with small businesses although the open backed 'pick up' version was less successful.

Fig___ Mini van

Photo of  a  mini van taken at a show in 2007

One distinctive variation using the Mini engine and transmission but with an entirely new body was the Mini Moke, introduced in 1964. Intended as a practical workhorse they found favour as a 'fun' vehicle, although in Britain plastic cloth sides were usually fitted. They did not catch on in the UK (although they did well in warmer climes) so a Moke sets the scene fairly firmly in the 1960s. The advert reproduced below is courtesy Tim Whyte.

Fig___ 1964 Mini Moke

Photo of an Early Ford Cortina

The Ford Cortina, introduced in 1962 and a much larger vehicle than the Mini, also proved to have good road holding and a fair turn of speed (one variant was fitted with a Lotus engine). Being a more up-market car there were door handles on the inside and the side windows could be wound down using another handle on the inside of the door.

Fig___ Early Ford Cortina

Photo of an Early Ford Cortina



Foreign cars were becoming more common on British roads by this time, one small and economical French design that achieved some success in the 1950s and 1960s was the Renault Dauphine. Introduced in 1956 production continued up to 1962, this was one of the first foreign makes of car to sell in quantity in the UK market. The Dauphine was noted for poor performance and handling and (by French standards) poor engineering design, as a result they did not last beyond the mid 1960s.

Fig___ Renault Dauphine saloon

Renault Dauphine slaoon

Less popular but regularly seen in the UK in the 1960s and early 1970s was the unusual Daf 'variomatic' car, which used a belt drive and cone shaped pulleys in place of a gear box. These were very easy to drive, economical and (I am told) reliable however they were viewed with deep suspicion by the British, especially men, so did not become commonplace. They were first introduced to the UK in the later 1950s and I can remember seeing examples in use into the 1970s.

Fig___ Daf saloon

Daf slaoon

In 1975 Volvo took over, introducing their own version of the basic Daf (the Volvo had bigger bumpers) and retaining the efficient variomatic drive until production was discontinued in 1991.

British car development was slow, in a sellers market there was little impetus for development. In the mid 1960s the millionth Mini was built, still to the original design with minimal changes. Competition from foreign cars was increasing however at about the same time the Renault 16 appeared, the first family 'hatchback' car. The hatchback design with a large rear cargo door hinged at the top proved handy for supermarket shopping and in the mid 1970s other manufacturers adopted this approach (albeit slowly, the first Vauxhall hatchback only appeared in about 1975). The sketch below shows the original 1960s Renault 16, the silver trim is still very much in evidence and the ribs along the sides of the roof echo the fins of earlier designs. The entire radiator grille assembly is chrome, as are the decorative front and rear bumpers. There are chromed metal strips around the head and rear lights, the windows have chromed framing, the windscreen wipers are chrome and a short length of chromed metal is attached to the side near the rear of the body side. Adding chrome trim to a model is easy if it is a white metal kit, simply scrape the paint away with the tip of a pin, for plastic models in N its a job for a very fine brush (the 'three hair' type) or a cats whisker (don't try and get one from a cat, it would hurt the animal severely, but they do shed them occasionally) .

Fig___ Renault 16 Hatchback

Hatchback car design

Three wheel cars had largely fallen from favour by the 1960s, not for any practical reason but mainly because their lower tax rate and motorcycle licence requirements had given them a reputation as 'not being a proper car' or being the 'poor mans car'. Neither was actually the case, traditionally three wheelers have often been at the forefront of technical innovation , Morgan pioneered independent front suspension and Reliant introduced Europe's first aluminium block engine. However their image problem coupled with the fact that they tended to cost more than four wheelers to buy made them less attractive. By the early 1970s only the Reliant range was still in series production (they had bought Bond, their only real competitor, in 1969). The sketch below shows the Reliant Regal Mk VI, introduced in 1960 with production continuing until 1972 when the Robin range was introduced.

Fig___ Reliant Regal three wheeler

1960 Reliant Regal three wheeler

The 1970's van version of the Reliant Robin was used by the post office and the AA ran one for a while as a patrol vehicle.

The small reliant Robin cars continued in development and production up to the turn of the century when production ceased in favour of the firms four wheeler cars. This proved not to be the end however as another firm (B and N Plastics) purchased a licence to produce a further developed version of the car to be marketed as the Reliant BN-1, but this is a niche marketing exercises catering to the fans of the type with production limited to just a few hundred cars a year.

The more specialised markets remained well served by popular British designs, notably the sports car market. By the mid 1960s British saloon cars were quite rare in America but the British sports cars had a good reputation and sold well around the world. In 1966 Jaguar was acquired by the British Motor Corporation Ltd. and in 1967 they produced the Jaguar E-Type sports car. The example shown below was photographed in 2007 when I gather it was still in everyday use.

1960s Jaguar E-Type
1960s Jaguar E-Type



The photos below show an MG 'B' series sports car and a Triumph Stag sports car, both dating to the early 1970s. Note these have both chrome metal 'bumpers' and round headlamps but the 'fins' of the 1950s and 60s have now gone completely.

Fig___ MGB and Triumph Stag sports cars

MGB and Triumph Stag sports cars

In the 1970s one very distinctive vehicle was the three wheeled two seater 'Bond Bug', actually built by Reliant at the Bond factory (Bond having been bought by Reliant). The Bond Bug was always orange, with a multiple black band at the rear with the word BUG. First introduced in 1970 production continued until 1974 and although the numbers produced were small compared to the mass produced main stream cars their distinctive appearance made them highly visible and characteristic of the decade.

Fig___ the Bond Bug

The bond bug

The Bug was fairly popular in the 1970s but few remained in regular use by the early 1980s, so they meet the criteria of a vehicle which establishes a particular date for a layout.

In 1970 the Range Rover was produced as a hardy four wheel drive machine offering luxury, prior to this those two ideas had never been incorporated in a single vehicle. This was a great success and spawned a whole new generation of 'off-road-shopping-vehicles' advertised as being able to climb mountains, although few ever faced anything more challenging than mounting the occasional curb. It was during the later 1970s that more people started driving their children to school and the perception of safety offered by these high riding heavy machines made them increasingly popular as a 'mums car' for use on the 'school run'. The sketch below shows the original 1970 design, note that by this time chrome trim was no longer applied but the decorative front and rear bumpers were still chromed metal and the external rear view mirrors were still mounted forward on the wings.

Fig___ Four wheel drive shopping vehicles

Four by four saloon car

Popular names such as the Ford Cortina remained in production, there were however distinct styling differences in the Cortinas from the 1960s and those from the 1970s, reflecting the changes in fashion over the period. The 1960s version had chromed metal strips running along the sides and a lot of chrome on the front and rear lights and radiators, and of course chromed bumpers front and rear. By the mid 1970s chrome was a lot less popular (due to its tendency to rust) and the 'vinyl roof' in a contrasting colour was a popular choice. By the mid 1970s the most popular colour for this car was a dark yellow commonly called Mustard.

Fig___ Ford Cortinas from the 60s (left) and 70s (right)

Ford Cortina

One classic machine dating from the post war era but not finding favour with the British until much later is the Citroen '2CV', designed before the war as a basic farmers car. The French hid the design plans during the German occupation and the car only went into production in the later 1940s, at which time it had only a single headlight mounted on the drivers side of the car. The original rather basic specification required it to carry a farmer, his wife and a large pig. The vehicle was also required to carry a basket of eggs across a ploughed field without breaking any of the eggs, resulting in a very 'spongy' suspension that made cornering somewhat exciting. The roof was a canvass sheet (proofed with plastic I believe) and could be rolled back to give on open top. Designed for agricultural use the entire car could be dismantled to its component parts using (I believe) one spanner, one screwdriver and the starting handle. Its utilitarian design meant it was not terribly popular in Britain in the 1950s and 60s, but in the later 1970s and 1980s it gained the status of a classic where its distinctive styling and the rugged simplicity of its design worked to its advantage. The sketch below shows a posh four door version from about 1960, this has twin headlights (by now a legal requirement) and even flashing turning indicators on the rear sides, however the windows are still fixed (the passenger window is shown 'open' with the lower half hinged upwards).

Fig___ 2CV
2CV motor car

The French farmers and tradesmen generally opted for the van version (a rare sight in Britain), which had a hoop shaped corrugated metal roof, but production of the car variant continued until about 1990 and they remained a common sight in the UK into the later 1990s.

During the 1970s the chromed front and read bumpers disappeared from new car models, replaced by black plastic sections built into the body of the car. The bumper made some kind of sense when most cars had a chassis to which it could be attached but there had never been any standardisation on height and their main effect had proved to be maiming people. By the late 1970s the hatchback was firmly established, the arrival of the sporty Volkswagen Golf brought the 'hot hatch' to the market becoming a favourite among the 'boy racers' of the 1980s and has remained a popular design into the early years of the twenty first century.

Fig___ Typical 'hot hatch'

Sketch of a generic 'hot hatch' type car

In 1980 Audi launched the Quatro, the first practical and affordable four wheel drive high performance production car, it had a five cylinder engine and could manage over 130 mph. Soon a firm favourite for rally driving over the following 4 years the Quatro secured over twenty championship records. Since that time all successful rally cars have featured four wheel drive.

The mid 1980s saw the arrival of the MPV or 'multi purpose vehicle' also known as the 'people carrier', essentially a van body fitted with seats. There had been various 'mini vans' built using standard van bodies fitted with windows and seats (notably the Ford Transit used to ferry workmen about) but these had been essentially utilitarian vehicles. In America the 1984 Toyota Van and Dodge Caravan were the first of their kind, in Europe the Renault Espace of 1985 set the standard (this was rather more sophisticated than the Toyota and Dodge vehicles, featuring folding seats and assorted other tricks to allow multi-purpose use). The Renault design originated in the 1970s when the Rootes Group (by then owned by Chrysler) in partnership with the French automaker Matra worked on the idea. They tried to persuade Peugot to build it but were turned down and ended up going to Renault.

Fig___ Mid 1980s Renault Espace

Renault Espace

These comparatively large vehicles proved popular as family vehicles, offering up to seven seats with relative comfort and a considerable space for cargo. Various manufacturers copied the idea and the type became a regular feature of British roads. Examples of the type include the CitroŽn Evasion, Peugoet 806, Fiat Ulysse and Lancia Zeta (all basically the same vehicle), Ford and the Volkswagen Group co-operated on the design of what became the Ford Galaxy, Volkswagen Sharan and SEAT Alhambra (again all the same basic vehicle).

Fig___ Volkswagen people mover photographed in 2007

Volkswagen people mover



At the opposite end of the scale in 1985 the Sinclair C5 was launched, a small pedal tricycle with an electric motor intended for commuting. It was designed round the legal requirements to make it as available as possible, anyone over the age of 14 could drive one, even if they had their driving licence revoked. Having one or two of these on a layout sets the date fairly tightly in the period 1985-87. The design originated with Clive Sinclair, the man who invented the pocket calculator and popularised the 'home computer', his reputation was such that even Ford was worried and set up a special unit to develop something similar. The machine was tiny, just over six feet long, two and a half feet wide and only two and a half feet high and was reputed to be great fun to drive. The motor was a sophisticated 12v DC permanent magnet type, rated at 250W continuous but the 'new technology' battery failed to work and by the time it was released it had a conventional lead-acid car battery offering poor electrical performance. The big problem faced by the C5 was the dangers of riding such a small machine on the increasingly crowded and unfriendly British roads and although the super-strong polycarbonate body was designed by Lotus it was generally perceived as a bit of a joke. The original C5 had a top speed of just 15 mph, slower than a moderately fit cyclist but the authorised spares dealer, a Mr Adam Harper built one capable of doing 150 mph and achieved a 0-60mph time of just 5 seconds. In the event only a few thousand were sold and most soon went abroad.

Fig___ 1985 Sinclair C5

The C5

The 1980s saw further erosion of the British share of the domestic market as Japanese and German cars became increasingly common on British roads. Much of the housing in Britain dates back to the era of prolific public transport, a driveway and often a garage had been designed into the more up market suburban home from the 1930s but smaller homes had neither. Parked cars were now lining most side roads in built up areas and the habit of parking cars half onto the pavement to allow other cars to squeeze past down the roadway meant mothers often had to push their prams on the road. A trend for digging out the front garden and paving it over to offer 'off road parking' gained momentum and between the later 1970s and the late 1990s the small front garden had almost disappeared. This added value to the house, an increasing concern at the time as Government housing policy had collapsed and house prices were spiralling out of control, on the down side this reduced the amount of land that could absorb water, leading to increased problems with flooding.

By the mid 1980s badly parked cars outside schools were causing more children to be run down than before and by the mid 1990s schools began asking parents to stop driving their children in. It was at about this time that doctors started pointing out that the children, subjected to lack of exercise and repeated doses of '10 micron particulates' (fine dirt from the engine finding its way into the car) were becoming fat and asthmatic. Another little publicised piece of research in the later 1990s noted that the popular 'new car smell' was in fact volatile chemicals boiling off from the plastics inside the car and these included some fairly toxic and carcinogenic materials.

By the 1990s there had been a settling out and the market was divided into a series of categories catering to specific sub sections of the market. The small 'family hatchback' was probably the most common type on the roads with all manufacturers addressing this market. There had also been a great deal of legislation in place to make cars safer both for their occupants and also for other road users, the front and rear bumper were now soft plastic and the curve of the front of the car was designed to be less dangerous to pedestrians. The result was the 'jelly mould' shape which became very standardised and made it increasingly difficult to tell the difference between different makes of car.

Vauxhall Astra of the mid 1990s
Mid 1990s Vauxhall Astra

The Ford Mondeo had proved itself a popular choice for companies equipping their 'reps', the example below shows a typical version from the mid to late 1990s.

Ford Modeo from the mid 1990s
Ford Modeo from the mid 1990s

There have always been cars that defied the mould or resisted the current fashions, targeted at specific markets such as young sporty males and people looking for highly economic cars. Examples include the Morgan sports cars and the Bond Bug three wheeler as well as less successful designs such as the Sinclair C5.

The French built 2-seater Qpod comes in four wheeled and three wheel variants, the three wheeler is intended as a small commuting vehicle. It has a smaller engine and is classed as a 'moped', so it does not incur city centre congestion charges where these are in force. Even the four wheeler, with its 340cc four stroke motorbike engine, is tiny at just over seven feet long and three and a half feet wide but it transports two people and a 'pickup' version is available for market gardeners and the like. The basic versions of the three and four wheelers are open topped but a roof and doors are available as optional extras.

In the early 21st century there were several attempts to reintroduce successful models, however times had changed and the rules on engine emissions and body styling had tightened considerably so these reintroduced cars actually bear only a passing resemblance to the original models.

The 'brand' mini was sold to BMW who reintroduced the car in 2001, however this was a much larger vehicle bearing little resemblance to the original BMC Mini (the BMW car is actually closer to an Austin design) and does not have the distinctive transverse engine of the original Mini, however it did sell exceptionally well.

Fig___ BMW Mini

Photo of BMW Mini

In the early 21st century Volkswagen 'reintroduced' the Beetle (I think this was in 2004), however the new car had nothing in common with the original other than its name and a vague similarity of body style, the rear mounted air cooled engine had gone and the essential rugged simplicity of the vehicle was no longer its selling point.

Fig___ Volkwagen 'Beetle' (photo taken in 2006)

Volkwagen 'Beetle' photographed in 2006

By this time Jaguar was part of Ford and the X type used a standard Ford engine (earlier Jaguars were essentially cars built around a Jaguar engine). The example below is the X type of 2003, a perfectly good car but the marque now refers more to the body styling than the engineering.

Fig___ Jaguar X type introduced in 2003

Photo of a Jaguar X type 2d taken in 2007

The increasing control of car design to improve safety and (to some extent) to improve aerodynamic performance for fuel economy meant that the early years of the 21st century were dominated by the jelly mould motif. The example on the left is a Citroen, that on the right is a Ford 'Ka'. These modern small cars easily out perform the 'boy racer' machines of twenty years before but offer much greater safety both for their occupants and for other road users.

Fig___ Typical small cars from 2006-7

Typical small cars from 2007

By the end of the 20th Century the American, Japanese, French, German, Korean, Czech and even Malaysian car makes were all established in the UK market but there were almost no British owned car companies left. The photo below shows a typical street in 2007.

Fig___ Typical street scene from 2006-7

Typical street scene in 2007

The enforced styling changes introduced to improve safety (and improve aerodynamic performance to reduce fuel consumption) even extended to vehicles who's original purpose would be compromised by the changes required. The Land Rover, once the farmers and explorers favourite, was by this time American owned and firmly in the 'shopping vehicle' category. The examples shown below are a Landrover and a Range Rover photographed in 2007 and I would doubt the headlights on either would survive the first encounter with a narrow jungle track or overgrown farm road.

Fig___ A Landrover and Range Rover in 2007

Photo of a Landrover in 2007

American cars, always larger than their European counterparts, went through a 'big is better' phase in the later 1990s and early 21st century, never very common in Britain (mainly due to the awkward large sizes) there were occasional examples seen. The Dodge shown below is sold as a Sports Utility Vehicle, the sort of thing people like taking children to school in whilst dreaming of driving up mountains.

Fig___ Dodge SUV

Photo of a Landrover in 2007

One truly odd vehicle in the early 21st century was a thing called The Hummer. This looks a bit like the US Army Humvee (a heavy four wheeled truck designed to replace the old wartime Jeep and various other small wheeled vehicles in a range of roles). The military vehicle captured the publics imagination and an American firm introduced the Hummer. Sadly the Hummer is not a Humvee, it is the engine and chassis of a rather unsuccessful van with a reputation for unreliability onto which they stuck a body styled to look like the military truck. These did not catch on in Britain, where the roads are not designed for such large vehicles, although a few were seen knocking about from about 2005.

Fig___ Hummer heavy shopping vehicle

Hummer heavy shopping vehicle photographed in 2007

Quite how this machine meets the modern requirements regarding the safety of other road users and pedestrians is not clear to me, presumably there is some aspect of the design which is not immediately apparent (a friend suggested they are intended for sociopaths, however this seems rather a limited market).

By this time there were nearly thirty million cars on British roads (compared to under three million in the 1960s) and the largest single cause of death amongst young women in the country was young men not being quite as good as they thought they were at driving cars. This statistic was not widely discussed, in Westminster it was felt that the cost in human life and property damage was more than offset by the increased profitability of chain store operations (major donors to Party funds), and the seductive convenience to the worker drones using them.




Guide dogs, Wheelchairs and Invalid Carriages

People have been using dogs to assist the bind for hundreds if not thousands of years however it was only in 1931 that dogs fitted with a harness to enable them to guide blind owners appeared in Britain. Guide dogs in the modern sense first appeared in Germany just after the First World War but it took a long time to catch on, an American lady opened a training school in Switzerland in the 1920s and it was from there that the idea came to Britain.

Wheelchairs had been about for a long time, I have seen pictures of examples dating back to the early 18th century. In about 1750 a Mr James Heath of Bath developed a light weight three wheeled carriage, thereafter known as a 'Bath Chair', in which people who could not walk could be transported. The Bath chair had three wheels for stability, the front wheel being steerable by the chairs occupant using a long handle. The chair was quite long and awkward and was generally only used when taking people outside. This was the standard way to transport very elderly or infirm people onto a platform to a train into the 1930s.

Fig___ Typical Bath chair

Sketch of a typical Bath chair

The batch chair required someone to push it, by the early 18th century there were various chairs made that could be moved by the occupant puching on the large side wheels. Up to the 1950s the small 'trolley' wheels were often at the rear rather than at the front as on modern chairs and these self propelled chairs tended to be used inside as the materials in use made for a heavy chair and the roads and pavements were not as smooth as they are today. Three wheels make for a more stable ride, the indoor wheelchairs often had a single small trailing 'trolley' wheel, four wheeler chairs were however common in the later 1930s. The examples shown below (scanned from the book of copyright free medical pictures 'Images of Medicine' by Jim Harter) would be suitable for layouts set from the 1850s through to the 1940s.

Fig___ Typical wheel chairs

Sketch of a typical Bath chair

The light weight wheelchairs could be used indoors but for going outside something more rugged was required, the illustration below (scanned from the book of copyright free medical pictures 'Images of Medicine' by Jim Harter) and shows a sturdy wheelchair from about 1900.

Fig___ Sturdy wheelchair

Sketch of a sturdy wheelchair

These chairs generally required an attendant to push them, although there were various attempts at making a self-propelled chair. The example below dates from about the 1890s and employs the (then) new roller chain technology, allowing a degree of gearing between the handles and the wheels. This was not a serious attempt at a chair for the road, it was mainly to do with easing the strain on the arms and preventing the hands getting dirty on the wheels.

Fig___ Early mechanically propelled wheelchair

Sketch of a sturdy wheelchair

Shortly after the First World War someone developed a simple light weight three wheeled self-propelled machine for people who could not use their legs. This resembled the older bath chairs, having a steerable front wheel with a long steering arm on which was mounted a set of hand operated 'pedals'. The last time I saw one of these in use was in the 1980s, owned by an elderly lady who had been using it since before the Second World War. This basic design remained in use right into the 1980s although by the 1920s battery powered and petrol engined versions were in production. The example shown below is hand powered, it has two pump arms rather than the hand-pedals and is shorter than the earlier types, it has 'twist grip' steering on the right with gear controls and a brake on the left. The photo was taken at the Imperial War Museum in Manchester, this particular chair was issued to an airman who lost his legs in the war, he made good use of it even completing the Lands End to John O'Groats run.

Fig___ Typical hand propelled invalid carriage

Photo of a typical hand propelled invalid carriage

The examples shown below are powered machines preserved at the Manchester Transport Museum. The older type on the left below is a battery type, I think this was a 1930s Argson (who also I believe made petrol types to a similar design). This machine resembles the hand-powered type, in use the occupant usually had a black oilskin cape over their legs, attached to the frame of the machine. The last example of the hand powered type I saw in use was in about 1987. There were many variants on this basic idea, there was even a four wheeler type that could be driven when lying down (called the 'spinal carriage').

In the 1950s there were various experiments, sponsored by the NHS, to produce a viable motorised disabled person's car, after a few two-seat designs came a basic three wheeled single seater, designed to allow the wheelchair to be carried behind the driving seat. The machine on the right is an example of this classic fibreglass bodied petrol driven trike produced from the early 1960s through to the late 1970s, this particular example dates from about 1967 I believe. They were just under ten feet (2.97m) long by four and a half feet (1.37m) wide but although they were three wheelers the turning circle was large at twenty three feet (7m). Production of these machines was, after the War, funded by the NHS and ended in about 1977 although the existing machines soldiered on until 2003. The advantage of the Ministry supplied machines was that (although expensive to build) they could be modified to suit the needs of particular people, for example there was a version for people with spinal injuries that could be driven when lying down (this had a flashing light that could be activated if the driver got into difficulties), in South Manchester there was a very tall machine built for a chap who had to stand up.

Fig___ Powered Invalid Carriages

Invalid Carriages

There was a more common type of three wheeled motor carriage (at least in the Manchester area), with more angular styling and painted a much lighter blue, but I have not found one to photograph. Actually they were not painted as such, the standard blue colour was that of the fibreglass specified by the Ministry, the inside face was a very pale cream colour. Each area had a company licenced to service all these machines (the hand powered, battery driven and petrol types of various vintages), so a small yard with a few machines in it could make an interesting model.

I had quite a lot of trouble finding out what they were like to drive but Sheilagh Beeston owned one of these angular machines and was able to advise -
There was a wide opening both sides, a sliding door slid well back so it was easy to get in and out and put a folding wheelchair beside (or behind) the driver's seat. The steering was something like motorbike handlebars, with twist grip handles for the accelerator and brake My accelerator and brake controls were fitted beside these. They looked like and worked like flattened bicycle bells and were very easy to use.
My car had automatic gears (introduced in the early 70s - the only bit of info I know). Maybe more experienced drivers continued to be given cars with manual gears?

In 1976 the government introduced a 'mobility allowance' for disabled people, however this would not cover the purchase and modification of a conventional car. A Manchester MP by the name of Alf Morris (who had been made the first Minister for the Disabled in 1974) pushed for a better arrangement. In 1977 this produced the Motability scheme, in which disabled people sacrificed their 'mobility allowance' in exchange for a new car (from selected dealers) complete with tax and insurance. The old blue trikes were leased to the people who needed them so when the Government decided they should be done away with in 2003 they were all recalled and scrapped.


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