By on May 9, 2013

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An editor that I know once said something about disappearing into a rabbit hole when you start to read about an automotive topic. You never know where you’ll come out minutes, hours or even days later. Doug DeMuro’s post where he ranked vehicles used as taxicabs elicited a thread of comments about London’s signature black taxis. While some of our more curmudgeonly readers think it’s rather arrogant of TTAC to call our site’s commenters the Best & Brightest (anyone besides me see the irony there?), we do have a well informed readership so I wasn’t surprised to see Geely mentioned as the owner of Manganese Bronze Holdings, who make the distinctive London hacks. The mention of the London cabs, though, pricked my memory. I had recently read that someone else, another company, made London taxis besides Manganese. Then I just had to remember who it was.

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Fortunately my impaired memory still knows how to access the history file on my web browser. The name of the company is Metrocab and it’s currently part of the Frazer Nash group of companies, a firm that traces its roots back to Achibald Frazer Nash’s sports car company, founded in 1922. I found out about Frazer Nash’s current incarnation, owned by Kamal Siddiqi, while down another rabbit hole, reading about the Bristol automobile company. Siddiqi’s Kamcorp bought Bristol out of receivership in 2011. The specialist carmaker continues to provide service to Bristol owners as it plans to go back into production with a new model car.

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Kamcorp also bought Metrocab out of bankruptcy back in 2001. That’s not the first, or second time Metrocab has gone through a bankruptcy or change of ownership. In the 1950s, body builder Weymann took over production of the Beardmore Mk 7 taxicab. Beardmore was one of a number of car makers competing for London cab operators’ business. In 1966 Weymann’s successor company, Metro Cammell Weymann, ended production of that model and started development of its replacement. That took a while. When finally on sale in 1987, the purpose built taxi was called the MCW Metrocab. In 1989, the Reliant car company, known for its Robin three wheelers and Jalopnik writer Jason Torchinsky’s Scimitar, bought Metrocab, only to find itself in receivership two years later. Coachbuilder Hooper then bought the assets of Metrocab, but in late 2000 sale of shares were suspended and all production employees were laid off. Kamcorp bought the assets the following year, reorganizing them under the Metrocab name, but the taxi manufacturer has continued to struggle.

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Production was shut down for 14 months in 2004 and 2005 and then again in 2006, apparently permanently, but with an infusion of cash from GENII Capital of Malaysia last year, and engineering help from Lotus, also controlled by GENII, Frazer Nash has announced that they will be producing an all-new London taxi, to be assembled in an Italian factory that formerly built forklifts. It will be a range extended electric vehicle, like the Chevy Volt, using technologies developed by a Frazer Nash subsidiary. As you can see from the photos, unlike Henry Ford’s Model T (well, the ones made after 1914) and the original London taxis, you’ll be able to get them in colors other than black. A fleet of seven Metrocab EREVs have gotten conditional approval by London taxi authorities to begin real world testing.

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That isn’t what this post is about, though.

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It’s about Taxi, the official publication of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association of the UK, which I found down one of the tunnels in the rabbit hole.  There I was able to find much of the information about the new Metrocab in their July 10, 2012 issue. The ads in Taxi are for cab insurance, used taxis, the GetTaxi London Cab smartphone app and guaranteed rebuilt engines for Manganese cabs. The articles are about the legal and financial struggles of taxicab operators. It makes for fascinating reading, well, that is if you find automotive subcultures interesting. It’s not exactly L.J.K. Setright era CAR (Setright, alav hashalom, loved Bristols, by the way), but it’s a perspective on a part of the British motoring scene that you might not otherwise get. If you want to check it out, you can download the latest issue here.

Speaking of professional cars, I saw a MKT limo like Lincoln is promoting to the livery business, behind a hearse in a funeral today. While the MKT Town Car might be suitable for “black car” service in American cities, I think a Ford Edge would make a better London Taxi than a stretched MKT. Come to think of it, the Metrocab might look better on American streets than the awkwardly styled MKT.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

 

 

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16 Comments on “A Different Kind of London Taxi & A Different Kind of British Car Magazine...”


  • avatar
    KrisT

    Excellent article. I think I can safely say this hackney carriage leaves a bit to be desired on the looks front. I never really considered the FX4 or the TX1 as lookers but they are lantern jawed heroes compared to this.

    • 0 avatar
      andreroy55

      A “bit to be desired on the looks front”? Taste is in the eye of the beholder. It looks like they wanted to look like a London Cab without actually being one.

      Actually, the first thing I thought of when I saw it was That Bentley SUV Thing … we know where Bentley got their design inspiration from.

      In all, I think this is better looking than That Bentley SUV Thing. Not A _lot_ better, but better. :)

      • 0 avatar
        KrisT

        “Taste is in the eye of the beholder”

        People who calmly make that statement in relation to this eyesore need a cane and a guide dog. This cab is badly proportioned, under wheeled, looks clinically obese, has alloy wheels that look like plastic wheel trims and has a nose that seems to take pride in its acre of cheap silvery plastic. Add in silly tacky detailing and the worst badge in automotive history it becomes to use a scottish expression a ‘Munter’

        “It looks like they wanted to look like a London Cab without actually being one”

        Why would you give it a point for being a lazy pastiche? Its not as if that requires a lot of effort.

        Its all very well for tourists but if they become common I will have to live with them long after most people on here have taken their tourist snaps and retreated from the gift shops with their tourist tat.

  • avatar

    Those are exactly what I’d expect taxis to look like. If I ever decide to tour London, I’ll hope to ride in one.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Hmmm…these look as if someone scrunched a Chrysler 300 in Photoshop and somebody looked at the results and actually built them!

    Cute in their own peculiar way, though, but somewhat antiseptic compared to the iconic London taxis, which I hope to be able to ride in one someday.

  • avatar
    vcficus

    Ronnie,

    Automotive history geek here too, I grew up in Ohio but knew what Woodward Ave and Gratiot were when I was in junior high! I’ve been down many of those rabbit holes myself…

    But the real reason I posted was the next article on VPG… those look sorta like cabs too! Sorta… and their business model seems about as solid.

    I’ve heard Benzes do well as cabs in many Latin American and other countries but it’s Checker or Crown Vic for me or nothing.

  • avatar
    Chocolatedeath

    They need to bring those here now. Replace every taxi in America. Why? So I will know that its a taxi and not a cop.

  • avatar
    corntrollio

    Did you see Fahrvergnügen’s comment on the taxi thread? Apparently he worked at VPG, and he gave some of the back story:

    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/whats-the-best-taxi/#comment-2046786

    “Did you know that the MV-1 was designed by a team who originally wanted to import London taxis from Manganese? They brought in about a dozen which got blown away in Katrina. And that was after they had been tested and it was determined that they wouldn’t survive NYC’s roadways, the distances, or the constant use. So, the MV-1 was designed with a full body-on-frame for durability. And plans were to move from Ford’s 4.6L to a smaller V6, with a 6-speed auto for better mileage. Very accomodating design – looks great in black -”

  • avatar
    Windy

    It must be kept in mind that one of the reasons that they work so well in London is due to the strict enforcement as to the condition of those used in London hackney cab service… When they become to expensive to maintain to that high standard they are sold into secondary UK city markets where the upkeep requirements are not as strict and a operator would not have to imeiadately pull a cab out of review service to fix minor cosmetic body damage.

    I know at one time there was a strict age limit imposed on the London fleet and even a perfectly maintained cab would either have to be sold into the secondary market or I think there was a provision for a special exception for historic old taxis.
    On my last trip I saw a 1940s 50s version (the sort with no door to the luggage area next to the driver) in service standing in the cab rank at Victoria station, so some sort of system must exist for important old examples.

  • avatar
    360joules

    A great example of search engine journalism! No sarcasm meant. It takes a great deal of discipline to spend hours or days to follow all of those “rabbit holes.” just the links from this story could result in hours of interesting browsing.

    I have to compare riding in a cab in London vs Manhattan (insert Chicago, San Fran, Seattle, Berlin, Rome, Shanghai, Los Angeles: I wasn’t in fear for my life. The article is correct in another respect, once away from London, the cab experience in the UK becomes a mixed bag for quality.

  • avatar
    jdmcomp

    The London Taxi (and it is used in many cities in GB) is uniquely designed to meet the demands of London streets and traffic. They apparently will u-turn in an alley and run all day on 2 liters of diesel. I do not know how many can be crammed in one as no doubt there are laws preventing this from being achieved. Another unique value of the London cab is its ability to point to a cheap place to get a breakfast or lunch (other then the M&S or Tesco marts). Cab drivers know all the best and cheap hangouts. I like the hole in the wall around the corner from Gloucester Rd tube station.


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