Few would argue that the Metrocab was the most elegant taxi ever to grace Britain’s streets. Yet in the 1990s it offered the closest thing to a choice of taxi in some of our major cities and, like most practical things, came to have its aficionados.

Taxi Choice

London’s archaic taxi ‘turning circle’ rule has inhibited cab choice in the capital for more than a century. From the 1970s, the FX4 taxi – made by Austin and Carbodies for London taxi dealer Mann & Overton – enjoyed increasing dominance in taxi sales until the Metrocab project provided a glimpse of the potential for a choice of taxi.

Metrocab Taxi Origins

The Metrocab taxi family tree can in be traced back to strong links with the early makers of motorised hackney cabs. A large Scottish engineering group, William Beardmore & Company, was the first to introduce a new type of taxi cab following the end of the First World War. Introduced in 1919, the Beardmore cab claimed half of the London taxi market by the mid 1920s.

In later years, Beardmore taxis were less successful but continued through various models till the 1960s. From 1958, Beardmore taxi bodies were made by coach and bus builder Weymann Motor Bodies, at its factory in Addlestone, Surrey. Since 1932, Weymann had been part of a joint venture with Birmingham-based rail and bus builder Metropolitan Cammell, itself a division of the engineering and shipbuilding giant, Cammell Laird.

In 1963/4 Metro-Cammell itself bought out Weymann. MCW bus and taxi production (for Beardmore) continued at Addlestone. However a 21 week long strike in 1964 brought the Weymann factory to its knees. In 1965 the closure of the Addlestone factory was announced. The factory duly closed the following year, with all MCW production moving to the Metro-Cammell factory at Elmdon, in Solihull, near Birmingham. From 1966 on, the Metropolitan Cammell Weymann name was dropped and only the abbreviated MCW title used.

Beardmore taxi production stopped in 1967, the Beardmore company itself going to the wall shortly thereafter. However the link with taxi production was to survive through key staff working at MCW. They had begun design and development work for a new taxi cab – originally named the Metro-Beardmore – but with the demise of Beardmore MCW took on the project, which duly became the MCW Metrocab taxi by the time of its launch.

The First Metrocab Taxi

With the cab trade increasingly disgruntled over LTI’s virtual monopoly in London and its failure to come up with a new model to replace the ageing FX4, there was considerable interest in the potential for a choice of taxi at long last. For many, the MCW Metrocab taxi appeared to fit the bill.

Sporting a modern-looking shape, the first Metrocab taxi offered a Perkins diesel engine. In a major innovation the new taxi cab had an all-fibreglass body. This made the Metrocab both light and therefore economical to run and also rust-proof – answering a key sore point on the dominant Carbodies FX4 taxi cab.

Initially the Metrocab taxi was adopted by the large London General fleet. However after working it for a couple of years this key taxi operator declined to invest in further development of the cab. Metrocab production ceased and the whole taxi project was shelved.

Reborn Metrocab Taxi

That seemed to be that as the short-lived Metrocab brand disappeared from the taxi sales world. Yet owners MCW apparently had long memories – or at least could still see the potential of attempting to break LTI’s unnatural taxi sales monopoly in London.

During the early 1980s Geoff Chater, a taxi engineer from Carbodies (later LTI), joined MCW and worked to recreate the Metrocab taxi concept, along with ex Peugeot-Talbot man Bob Parsons. 17 years on from the first Metrocab taxi – and after almost two decades of LTI virtual taxi monopoly in London – the Metrocab was re-launched, in May 1987.

Looking not unlike its ill-fated predecessor, the new MCW Metrocab taxi was also fibreglass-bodied, with a modern 2.5L Ford Transit engine. This Metrocab taxi was also less leaky and more economical than the competition. Metrocab was also the first wheelchair accessible taxi, in anticipation of coming legislation and the first taxi licensed in London to carry four passengers.

The new Metrocab taxi design leaned on a variety of parts from other production vehicles, including a Ford grille. The downside of the new Metrocab taxi, however, proved to be the gearbox. A late change of supplier forced Metrocab to use a Ford automatic gearbox with little testing, shortly before production started.

MCW’s second Metrocab project gained some effective dealers, such as Ashfield Motors, which held the Scottish franchise and later coordinated Metrocab taxi sales nationally. The taxi market was clearly keen for a choice of cabs and sales began to build, despite some initial reliability issues.

In 1989, however, MCW’s parent company, now named the Laird Group, ran in to difficulties connected with the massive Channel Tunnel project, which forced it to divest its train, bus and taxi-making interests. These were sold off separately, with the Metrocab taxi name and design being acquired by another West Midland’s firm, Reliant. Best known for their three-wheeler cars for disabled people, Reliant also made the fibreglass bodies for the MCW Metrocab taxi and now moved full Metrocab production to its factory at Tamworth.

Metrocab Taxi in the 1990s

Other commercial troubles forced Reliant to sell off the Metrocab taxi business, in 1991, to Hooper, a London coachbuilder, now turned sales and service agent. Metrocab taxi production continued in Tamworth and Hooper breathed new impetus into development of the Metrocab taxi, with important improvements such as the first disc brakes featured on a purpose-built UK hackney cab. 1995 saw the launch of the Series II Metrocab taxi, with several cosmetic design enhancements and 1997 brought the Series III Metrocab taxi, which even provided electric windows for the cab driver. Six and even seven seat versions provided further revolution for the cab trade and helped attract growing taxi sales volumes.

Metrocab was also now achieving a 25% share of taxi sales in London, to the horror of the previously unchallenged Carbodies – Mann and Overton empire (now reincarnated as London Taxis International (LTI)).

Metrocab TTT Taxi

For many Metrocab fans the ‘triple T’ model, launched in 2000, represents the finest Metrocab taxi. In part it was born out of necessity, as new Euro 3 emissions regulations forced a change from the original Ford Transit engine. Metrocab turned to Japan and fitted the TTT taxi with a 2.4L turbo-diesel from Toyota.

With the support of key dealers, which now included Allied Vehicles in the north, Metrocab taxi sales continued at significant levels. However, the investment pressure to develop the next generation of Metrocab taxi, together with the London taxi market dominance of LTI and strong new provincial competition from modern-style taxis like the Peugeot Euro 7, caused Metrocab to struggle to reach minimum taxi sales volumes to keep the business viable.

Metrocab Taxi Death Throws

Metrocab went into administration and ceased taxi sales and production in 2003, loosing almost 100 jobs at the Tamworth plant. New owners, Singapore-based KamKorp, reinstated production for a short time in 2005, before the factory gates shut for the last time.

With regular care and replacement parts Metrocabs remained in service for many years. However they are now increasingly rare, with very few now remaining in operation and Metrocab taxi parts supply becoming ever-more difficult.