Centre stage for young David's prototype "Hobcar"

The Hobcar – designed by Wolverhampton ingenuity, built by young offenders, and driven with gusto by disabled children.

Young David Smith sitting in his prototype of the Hobcar with Minister of Health Mark Carlisle in a production version.
Young David Smith sitting in his prototype of the Hobcar with Minister of Health Mark Carlisle in a production version.

And now 50 years on since the genesis of this very special machine, the prototype has been donated to Wolverhampton's Tettenhall Transport Heritage Centre where it has gone on display.

Sadly the youngster who was the inspiration has not lived to see it happen.

Centre volunteer Lewis Palmer has created the Hobcar display.

Centre curator Alec Brew explained: "In 1971 Dr Stephen Perry of Albrighton was visiting a five-year-old spina bifida patient, David Smith, who lived then in Pattingham.

"He watched the lad, who could not walk, sitting on a large plastic tractor, steering with one hand and awkwardly propelling himself forward by pushing at one of the rear wheels with the other.

"Dr Perry thought there must be a better way and consulted one of his neighbours, Tom Simpson, the chairman of H M Hobsons, the aerospace company on the Stafford Road, Wolverhampton – later Lucas Aerospace, and now part of Collins Aerospace.

"They sketched out what was required and made it a competition for Hobson's apprentices. Michael Perry-Evans, then aged 25, came up with the winning design, which was a go-kart propelled by pushing forward and back on the handlebar steering.

Dr Stephen Perry and Tom Simpson watch David put his Hobcar through its paces.

"It was equipped with forward and reverse gears, an electric horn, and a removable handle for a following adult to aid little David's progress. The vehicle, christened the Hobcar, was built and proved to be a huge success, making David much more mobile.

"The design was given to the Ministry of Health who tested it and then put it into production at the Borstal, or Young Offenders Institution, at Stoke Heath near Market Drayton, which produced over 100 more for paraplegic children across the country, getting them mobile, and helping build up their upper body strength. Minister of Health, Mark Carlisle, was photographed in one of the production Hobcars alongside little David.

Young David Smith sitting in his prototype of the Hobcar with Minister of Health Mark Carlisle in a production version.

"Tragically David Smith died when he was 14 of kidney problems, but his mother, Mrs Win Smith, kept the prototype Hobcar at her home in Albrighton, until this month, November, when she donated it to the transport heritage centre, where it is now on display.

"We are very happy to have it on display as it falls well within our remit – it is transport, it is local, and it is also a heartwarming story."

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