|History of Mobility Scooters|
Last updated 10/Nov/2015
Please Help me find the Oldest Mobility Scooter in New Zealand
I am Tony McCarthy from Mobility Scooters Otago 211 King Edward St South Dunedin. I have been selling mobility scooters for 12 years.
I have always had an interest in these early Invalids carriages and mobility scooters.
So where did the name “Mobility Scooter” come from?
Who made the first mobility scooter and in what year (that was called and advertised a mobility scooter)
I am also trying to piece together the history and add to my collection some of these early mobility scooters also to collate the names of the first mobility scooter dealers in NZ and the brands that they sold.
Old names like NZ made Benefis, Trusty, RME Liberty and Fisher & Paykel Liberty scooters, Ikon, Pandect, Scorpion, ProBug , Ranger.
UK models Batricar, Bec, Regent.
Canadian fortress Scientific scooter
Especially any information on the USA made Amigo POV (Powered Operated Vehicle) made by Allan Thieme in his garage in 1968 The first POV that went into production and sold in the USA. I have made contact with Al he has been most helpful with information and a fantastic person. (please see note below)
Any help with original brochures, pictures or just a phone call of what model you still have I would appreciate. If any one has a mobility scooter older than 1995 for sale please contact me.
I am also interested in any information on Invalids carriages in NZ. (Older, large type of mobility scooter made to travel on the road)
If you can help me with any information at all (or if i have made a mistake)
please phone me on Shop Phone 03-4552875 or 0800-566-800
I am a member of the Invalids carriage register in the UK.
The first Benefis Travel Aid "mobility Scooter" was manfactured and sold in Christchurch New Zealand. 1979
Benefis Traveller - 12 volt Click on any picture to enlarge
Manufactured by Benefis Travel Aids Ltd
Christchurch New Zealand
Trusty Mini 12 volt
Benefis / RME Ltd New Zealand
Trusty 12 volt Click on any picture to enlarge
Benefis Travel Aids Ltd
New Zealand - Australia
Benefis Super Trusty 12 volt
Benefis / RME Ltd New Zealand
3 Trusty models
The Mini --- Super Trusty ----- Trusty
How many models were made?
Time Line (I think this is correct)
Sent: Monday, 21 March 2011
A friend sent me your website about the Mobility aids and I am pleased - and proud - to say that I launched the very first one in New Zealand as their PR consultant and went on to join the company and work on its further development and international marketing.
You are right in assuming the first chair manufactured in New Zealand was the Benefis Traveller, designed by Erle Bensemann, an electrical engineer and CEO of the Benefis Group of Companies. The mechanical engineer who also worked on the chair was called Bernie Hambrook and Christchurch factory manager was Daniel Perret - now with NZ Bus.
Erle Bensemann worked for Wormald Vigilant before setting up his own company and not only redeveloping the pneumatic and electrical fire detectors, but also establishing his travel aids division. While with Wormalds he set up Wormald Sensory Aids, so always had a leaning towards the medical market, as well as fire systems.
We launched the Traveller 1979, but did not call is a mobility 'scooter' - we called it a mobility aid. At that time the only opposition in the world was the American Amigo which referred to itself as a scooter, and we did not want to follow suit. (The very first design was actually made by Lord Tony Snowden in 1965 I think, the ex-husband of Princess Margaret, but this was never manufactured past a prototype.)
The Amigo had a number of disadvantages for the NZ market, or anywhere outside of a standard 'shopping centre' and pavement environment. The tyres were small, smooth, punctured easily and had no grip so could not climb any sort of ledge, the foot platform was too short for anyone who could not bring their legs into a tight sitting position and the battery system meant it needed charging often, making it unsuitable for any distance travel or climbing more than a one in ten slope. It also did not have a brake and the controls were "fiddly" making it difficult for people who had afflictions such as arthritis. The mechanism was also very sensitive, so anyone with a shake or tremor (e.g. spastics) could not control it, the turning circle was too wide to make it practical in a home and the width was such that it would not fit through a standard NZ Housing Corporation doorway. A final benchmark we used was being able to store the disassembled Trusty into the boot of a Toyota Corolla - at that time the smallest boot on the market - which the Amigo could not !
The Traveller, therefore, was originally designed to combat all these things, rather than starting from a concept basis - so after the launch when we realised the potential market, Erle Bensemann stopped manufacture of the Traveller and stripped the machine back and started all over again. The result was the first Trusty. I have memories of spending weekends moulding fibreglass cowls trying to get an easy shape that allowed incredible flexibility for the mechanisms, but still looked attractive....... they were great days. We tested the turning ability of the Trusty by tying the handlebar and running it around and around in circles un-manned proving that it could actually turn within its own circle.
The first Trusty not only addressed all the issues above, but with its gel-filled traction tyres was able to climb a one in five slope and take on a standard NZ roadside curb without puncturing ! With the extended platform the rider could stretch out his legs and Erle Bensemann himself ended up using the Trusty for some weeks after breaking his leg in a skiing accident and as a tall 6' 6" man, the flexibility of the machine became obvious. We also used a softer padded chair with removable arms and a swivel - again new concepts. This meant that the user could simply ride up to a desk, table or counter, turn the chair and work, eat of play without having to dismount into an ordinary chair, thus opening up the market to school children and those wishing to return to employment. I remember well the first time we accompanied a young lad to school in his Trusty so that we could show the headmaster that he was capable of attending school with his brother, rather than being side-lined into a "special school" because of his spasticity. He went on to become a well known NZ comedian and held a senior position with the Human Rights Commission.
We also made a tiny scaled down version for a dwarf from Rotorua, who was quite capable of standing, but could not keep up with her normal-size children. The Trusty was therefore a motorised platform on which she could easily follow them around and play with them.
It was me who worked with the NZ Government department - then Trade and Industry - to establish the sales tax classification for these mobility aids and we entered into a battle with the BEC Scooter when it was imported from the UK. (In answer to your question on the website - the BEC Scooter was the first imported model to NZ - the Amigo was the first into Australia.) The importers tried to maintain it was CKD to avoid the sales tax when in fact it was only disassembled. I also worked with the international governments below to classify this new invention.
Erle was never happy with the chair and worked constantly on making improvements - a better braking system, longer lasting battery power - even a two battery model for extended distances in the Australian outback, clear easily read LED controls and when we started to open up the export markets, he was constantly looking at special adaptations to suit the local markets - and that is where the Liberty model came from. (We also created a model for nurseries with a long tray on the back for carting plants and pots). During my travels I was constantly testing batteries and bringing them back for more intensive tests. It was us who brought the first gel cell battery into New Zealand.
We took the Trusty first to Australia in 1980 and then onto Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, The Philippines, Bahrain, Kuwait, UAE, USA. It was thanks to Erle Bensemann that I became the first Australasian woman marketing "non-female" products in the Middle East - a place I returned to work in 2005 and where I am living now. I took the machine to Sears Roebuck in Chicago and had the entire medical marketing team following me though their multi-story car park going up and down icy ramps they thought impossible in the minus 15 degree temperature of February 1982. We also made several adjustments to ensure it could take the potholes, rain and mud of the SE Asian countries.
Many people tried to copy the Trusty - the Scorpion you mention, was a copy of the Trusty with minor adjustments to avoid breech of copyright, and was built in Whangarei.
The company name was changed to Benefis RME (Rehabilitation and Medical Engineering) from Benefis Travel Aids when we decided to expand the company in order to represent the products of some of our overseas agents, particularly from Melbourne and Perth, introducing maternity delivery beds, operating tables and so forth. Both companies were always a part of the Benefis Group and at no stage was one taken over by the other.
The Benefis Group was sold in 1985 - Benefis Fire to Wormalds, Benefis Security to Armourguard and Benefis RME first in part to an accountant - a Mr Black (sorry - can't recall his first name) and then jointly on to Fisher and Paykel. What happened from there I am not sure, but in 2008 I think F&P still owned the company, as I saw one in their pre-marketing office here in Dubai.
(The motor for the Trusty was also used by Garth Galloway in some of his children's rides - Galloway Holdings now being a multi-million dollar business in Mt Wellington and the developer of the children's playgrounds used in most Macdonald's playgrounds around the world.)
Erle Bensemann went on to establish Argus Fire Protection, which is now headed by his daughter Jackie. Erle was killed on the Pukekohe race track in 2001 when he was trying out his new veteran sports car and missed the hairpin bend. He was 72 and died pushing things to the limit as always. I am one of many people who were honoured to know him and to have him as a mentor.
I hope this is of some help to you in establishing the history of these amazing little machines.
Braune Batric 3 wheeler - 12 volt
Made in the UK -An early 1970s - Export model
Made in the UK
Imported by Eastmond Motors in Christchurch NZ.
Does anyone have any information on these importers?
I can only find a PO Box address!
Click on any picture to enlarge
Later model Batricar
Sold by Eastmond Motors in Christchurch NZ
Battery Chair - 12 volt
Another New Zealand made machine.
Made by Brian Heape in Whangarei.
Brian made approximately 28 machines and most were all slightly different. The base design was copied from the New Zealand made "Benefis Trusty". Brian said that they were all 12 volt systems.
Some of the 12 volts models had two batteries. One for the travel out and when that was getting down you changed over to the other battery and that got you back home. (hopefully)
Some had the two 12 volts batteries connected (In parallel) together for more distance so there was no need to change them over for the trip back home.
Brian was a very talented man and also made the Scorpion Car. He made around 7-8 of them.
Another Scorpion with an origional basket.
Sales and Service
Scorpion Battery Chair
12 volt (originally coloured Orange)
This model has the two batteries, still a 12 volt system (one for travelling out on and then you change the plug over to the other battery so you could and should have the same battery power to get back home)
This must be one of the late models.
Later style Front fork assembly and seat, Two battery boxes. Later style cover over the motor and front wheel.
Basic ignition switch in the dash panel.
Below Showing the 12 volt battery charger charging the two batteries up in parallel.
Scorpion 12 volt
Has Harmony written down the front colum.
This model has two motors , two 12 volt batteries (still 12 volt) Earlier design seat but latter covering over the motors and front wheel.
Two different models
Seen better Days
Below: Later model, note the seat and Scorpion written down the colum!
No reference to "Battery Chair"
114 Cameron Street
Phone (089) 481-923
Still called a Scorpion Battery Chair,
So this is an earlier model. Also has no ign switch on the top panel.
Also the earlier style seat and front covering over the motor and front wheel.
New Zealand made Mobi 3 Mobility Scooter
This had NO on/off key
The instructions to start this scooter is.
Then the Red light shows at the bottom and it can now be driven.
Certainly not for anyone with Dementia!!
Below: The drive on charging dock for the Mobi 3 Mobility scooter
Ranger MK 2
New Zealand Made.
BEC Supa Scoota
In 1983 Sunrise medical (Chandler) purchased 5 medical equipment Companies over a 3 month period.
Joerns, Trans - Aid, A - Bec Mobility, Bec Mobility from the UK and Guardian products.
BEC Mobility Ltd
A look from the USA. Their "Mobility Scooters"were called (POV) Powered operated vehicle
Standing beside one of the first Amigo (POV) that he sold to the public in 1968.
Al would have had the most influence and the first in the USA to manufacture (in numbers) and sell his (POV) Powered operated vehicle to the general public.
I decided that I was going to try and find out some history on the Amigo POV never expecting to make contact with Als daughter Jennifer and latter Al himself!
This is a family business and the feeling that you get when communicating is indeed friendly and sincere just like Al said the Amigo was a “Friendly Chair” that is the way you feel when communicating with this business.
No wonder that they have done so well.
In 1970 Al manufactured a motorized Shopping cart and this has also transformed the lives of many. (not just in the USA)
They are continually making up grades and modifications and all sorts of innovated products.
I am so pleased to have make contact with this family business.
I asked Al if he would be kind enough to write down some history on the Amigo.
First Amigo invented In 1967
Amigo -- USA - 1967
A "POV" ( Powered Operated Vehicle) manufactured by Al Thieme.
I have made contact with Al Thieme, he has been fantastic to communicate with and has been extremely friendly and helpful. I have appreciated his time. Al sent me this note about the Amigo Mobility History.
Amigo Mobility History By: Al Thieme
On a trip to Mexico I rented a wheelchair for a family member, Marie Thieme. From this
experience I looked for something that would give her independence, dignity and be fun to
use. There was nothing available, so I built a battery powered mobility device for Marie in
We named it AMIGO as it was such a valuable friend and the idea came from our trip to
After experiencing the increased activity Marie had with the AMIGO, I decided to build a few
AMIGOs for other people. I located a company that manufactured a standup warehouse cart. I
purchased this model and rebuilt it to meet the requirements needed for walking impaired
The first AMIGO was sold in 1968.
In the early 70’s when attending a healthcare exhibit show I met Ralph Braun who had built a
battery operated cart for himself as he has Muscular Dystrophy. Ralph was selling his Braun
Tri-Cart and also selling van conversion vehicles.
I continued to build a few AMIGO’s while operating my plumbing/heating business. Sales were
very slow in the early 70’s.
My full time effort was put into building the AMIGO business in 1975. As the AMIGO mobility
concept began to get attention there were numerous other companies that also built similar
models, the other models did not sell too well.
AMIGO sales increased very well due to our unique marketing plan that used AMIGO owners
as sales people and the simplistic design of the AMIGO.
Today the majority of wheelchairs, power wheelchairs, scooters, and power operated vehicles
(POV’s) are built in Asia.
Amigo is built in the U.S.A.
Over the years I have found other 3 wheeled and battery operated devices (that were built before I built the AMIGO), none of these models ever went into production (see below).