The History of Vehicle Adaptations for Disabled Motorists


Vehicle adaptations East Anglia – the Invacar

Although vehicles have been modified for the disabled for many centuries, some of the more recent adaptations are relatively recent. Here Ransome Mobility takes a look at how vehicle adaptations have developed over the years – and the state-of-the-art examples which we can fit your vehicle with across East Anglia.

The 1940s

The 1940s was when real progress started to be made on vehicle adaptations. Although some cars were modified during the 1930s, it tended to be on a small scale, with modifications made to individual vehicles. It didn’t prove a great success as they were only fitted in cars with manual gearboxes, so disabled drivers only had one hand free for the steering wheel.

It was only after the Second World War that vehicles were adapted in larger numbers. General Motors and Ford in the United States started modifying cars for veterans who had been injured during the conflict. Examples of the adaptations they made included steering wheel knobs, extensions for secondary controls (indicators and emergency brakes) and different pedal configurations.

Two people were especially influential around this time – O.A. Denley, known as “Denny”, who crossed the Swiss Alps on a petrol-powered disability motor trike in 1947 even though he was paralysed from the waist down due to polio. He inspired many others to realise what was possible, even with a disability, and also founded the Invalid Tricycle Association, which later became the Disabled Drivers’ Association.

And fellow Briton Bert Greeves, with the help of his paralysed cousin, adapted a motorcycle into a powered wheelchair, using the engine from a lawnmower. He developed it into a commercially viable vehicle, known as the Invacar, pictured above. This was a three-wheeled vehicle that could be driven completely by hand using a chain, making it more accessible to some disabled drivers.

The 1950s

The 1950s was the decade in which vehicle adaptations became much more common and mass-produced. This was largely down to the influence of another former polio sufferer, Alan Ruprecht, who found the older types of hand controls difficult to use. He founded the Drive-Master corporation in the USA.

Ruprecht’s first invention became known as the Drive-Master Push Pull Hand Control System, which could fit in any car. Drive-Master soon began manufacturing other modifications, such as left foot accelerator pedals and pedal extensions.

The 1960s and Beyond

Vehicle adaptation developments continued throughout the 1960s. In this decade American wheelchair user Ralph Braun, who had spinal muscular atrophy, designed a hydraulic tailgate wheelchair lift which allowed him to get into a converted Jeep unaided and to drive to work (the Jeep also had modified hand controls).

In the 1980s, Canadian father Cliff Wolfe took this a stage further after his daughter, Elaine Anne, broke her neck in a swimming pool accident and became paralysed as a result. This lift used a platform which extended from the car and rose to slide her into the driver’s seat.

Developments and improved technology have continued to influence the modifications which are now available.

Vehicle Adaptations in East Anglia from Ransome Mobility 

The progress made over the decades is reflected in the variety of adaptations we can fit. For instance, we can install push pull hand controls in your wheelchair access vehicle. for those who can’t operate pedals in automatic cars, we also offer left foot and twin-flip accelerators.

The influence of Ralph Braun, and Cliff Wolfe, can be seen in the Carony Drive System which we offer – this allows you to drive your WAV direct from a wheelchair. And we can also fit steering wheel balls for those who have limited usage of their hands.

In recent years, we have taken advantage of scientific advances to offer modifications such as infra-red wireless keypad controls.

For a full list of the adaptations we can fit to your vehicle, click here.

Image: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/BUCH T

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