If a Reliant Robin aimlessly wandered into a mad scientist’s shrink lab and got zapped straight to tiny town, the result might resemble the “Wee Bluey”.
This particular three-wheeled pokemon hails from 1971, and while the Scottish nickname was “Wee Bluey”, it was known properly as the AC Model 70. You might be thinking to yourself that the AC name sounds awfully familiar, and you’d be right. It’s the AC of AC Ace fame, the car that would later be transformed into the Shelby Cobra. You can feel the racing pedigree (more on that later).
All jokes aside though, the cute looks and small size actually hid a noble purpose: To provide mobility to the mobility-impaired. That’s right, this car was created to serve the disabled. A task that it completed with the help of the United Kingom’s National Health Service (NHS).
It turns out that the AC Model 70 was the most famous production model of a class of vehicles known as an Invalid Carriage. Simply put, an Invalid Carriage could be described as a road-going wheelchair. A predecessor to the modern modified minivan or car. The Invalid Carriage had a major advantage over a regular car though, because thanks to its size and legal allowances, some could be driven on not just standard roads, but sidewalks as well.
The AC Model 70 was produced under license from Invacar Ltd, with AC being just one of several companies licensed to do so. The Invacar company was founded in the late 1940's, after engineer Bert Greeves created a modernised Invalid Carriage for his paralysed cousin. He realised that his creation could be beneficial to the droves of injured military personnel and civilians from WWII, and the government of the United Kingdom agreed. In fact, they agreed to such an extent that the Invacar was provided to the disabled by the NHS via a lease, with all repairs and upkeep covered by the government. A program that kept Invacar production running until 1977, and resulted in 21,500 Invalid Carriages running around at the peak of the program.
Now, back to that racing pedigree. Originally, the AC Model 70 was offered with just a 147 cc Villiers engine, which probably provided the performance that you’d expect from a minuscule trike. However, in the early 1970s, the means of motivation received a step-up in the form of a 500 cc, or 600 cc, 4-stroke Steyr-Puch engine similar to that used in the Puch 500 city car. This resulted in a reported top speed of 82mph (132 kph). A speed that, when combined with the disabled-friendly handlebar steering/throttle/brake controls that were often designed to be operated by a single hand, probably could be classified as a suicide attempt. I couldn’t find any video of someone coming close to that speed, but I personally guarantee many high fives if someone wants to give it a go.
So, what happened to all of these little blue marvels? Even with production shuttering in 1977, many people kept on driving their tiny trikes right up until 2003. At that point, the UK government declared them unsafe, banned them from further road use, and instituted a scrapping program. The cars still in use were destroyed, along with all of the vehicles and spare parts that remained in government warehouses. Despite this, some still remain in the hands of both private collectors and museums. I don’t know about you, but I desperately want, nay need, to see a race between a bunch of these things!
P.S. If you dig the colour on this vehicle, it’s apparently known as “NHS Blue” after the National Health Service.
P.P.S. All pictures were taken in Glasgow’s amazing Riverside Museum. Definitely worth a visit!