Operating from their factory at Holyhead Road in Coventry since 1928, the coachbuilders Carbodies built up an enviable reputation within the motor industry both for the quality of their work and their ability to produce cost-effective tooling.
Over the years, almost all of the British car manufacturers made use of Carbodies’ expertise in one capacity or another, but there was a particularly strong association with Austin. Indeed this would lead to Carbodies winning a contract that would eventually change whole shape of its business…
Austin K8 “Three-Way” van
During the war years Carbodies had impressed Joe Edwards with its ability to supply high-quality tooling for the fighter aircraft panels that Austin was producing. Post-war, this associaton reaped benefits for Carbodies when they won the contract to build the bodies for this innovative van, which earned its name by having double doors on both sides, as well as at the back.
Austin FX3/FL1 and successors
With the K8 van already under its belt, Carbodies went on to win a far more significant contract. Building the bodies for the Austin FX3 taxicab, its hire car counterpart, and their successors – the FX4 and FL2 – would gradually come to play an increasingly important part in the company’s existence: within the next 15 years, they would take over production of the whole vehicle, and another ten years on from them they would be selling the vehicles under their own marque name. Not long after that, with taxi-building now their sole line of work, the company became LTI (London Taxis International) in 1985.
Austins A40, A70 and J40 / Austin-Healey 100
Carbodies’ association with Austin continued, with contracts to build
Daimler and the BSA Group
When Carbodies was purchased by the BSA Group, it was brought under the same umbrella as Daimler (which had been part of the group since 1910). BSA was headed by Sir Bernard Docker at the time, and he and his wife, Lady Norah, had developed a taste for lavishly (but tastelessly) embellished Daimler saloons. Several of these “Docker Daimlers” were built at their behest, each more overblown than the last, culminating in the so-called “Golden Zebra”, based on a DK400 limousine and upholstered in genuine zebra skin. Eventually, the BSA board lost patience with the couple’s extravagence and Sir Bernard was deposed. Daimler was sold to Jaguar in 1960, and subsequently became part of BMC>Rover with the formation of BMH in 1966.
The long, seductive bonnet of the E-Type was one of its most distinctive features, contributing greatly to the car’s desirability. However, it also cost a fortune to make, as Jaguar’s supplier, Abbey Panels, virtually had to form each one by hand. Carbodies came to the rescue by developing a way of pressing this complex panel, and they went on to produce almost 20,000 bonnets (and a few other panels) for the E-Type before selling the tooling to Abbey Panels.
Leyland 15 and 20
Originally introduced in 1958 as the Standard Atlas, Leyland had inherited this van when they bought Standard-Triumph in 1960; it was rebranded shortly after. When extra production capacity for the Triumph 1300 and TR4 was required at Triumph’s Speke plant, George Turnbull struck a deal with Carbodies which would see them take over production of the range. When UK production ceased following the formation of BLMC in 1968, the van enjoyed a long afterlife in India as the Standard 20.
Triumph 2000 estate
As early as 1963, when the four-door saloon version had only just been launched, Triumph were toying with the idea of a 5-door 2000, but at that stage had not decided between an estate or a fastback body style. Carbodies won the contract to produce the production tooling for either version with a £75,000 bid, thereby massively undercutting the £0.5million or so that Pressed Steel had quoted. Carbodies then built a prototype for each bodystyle, and it was the more practical estate body that won out over the arguably more glamorous fastback. Carbodies also won the contract to build the production version of the estate car, with Triumph sending partly-built saloon bodyshells to the Holyhead Road factory for modification and completion – a practice which continued right up until the end of production in 1977.
FX4 replacement projects
Over the years, several failed attempts were made to develop a replacement for the FX4 taxicab, and all of these owed much to the BMC>Rover parts bin. First off was project LM11, led jointly by Alec Issigonis and David Bache, which was to have used a proposed replacement for the 250JU van as its basis. Next, starting in the early 1970s, there was the FX5, which eventually used Rover SD1 underpinnings. And the 1980s saw the development of the CR6, which not only shared its name with a future MG Rover model (the “CR” stood for City Rover), but also used a modified Range Rover bodyshell, a Land Rover engine, the FX5’s SD1-based running gear and the front lights from the Morris Ital. You can find out more about all of these projects on the FX4 replacements page.
Triumph 1300 estate
Carbodies built this neat-looking estate version of the 1300, but coming at a time when the range was undergoing its curious transition from front- to rear-wheel-drive, it was ultimately seen as something of a distraction and did not enter production.
Rover SD1 estate
With the Triumph 2000 estate now over 10 years old, Leyland Cars planned to replace it with an estate version of their newly-launched Rover SD1. Carbodies were commissioned to build a prototype, but only got as far as producing this full-size clay model before Leyland decided to take the development in-house. The project was later aborted, although Michael Edwardes famously used one of the running prototypes as his personal transport before it was despatched to the Heritage collection.
Grant Lockhart took over from Bill Lucas as Carbodies’ managing director after Lucas had been forced to retire on health grounds. Lockhart had just resigned from his post as plant director at BL’s Cowley factory, after falling out with Michael Edwardes over the latest phase of reforms that Edwardes was pushing through.
4-door Range Rover
In the course of developing the Range Rover-based CR6 taxi prototypes, Carbodies had to modify the donor car’s bodyshell to accept four doors, which involved shortening the front doors. This resulted in the company winning a contract to supply the front doors to BL for the Range Rover’s own new 4-door bodyshell.
Range Rover Unitruck
In another Range Rover-based venture, Carbodies were commissioned to convert the two-door Range Rover into a general-purpose vehicle for agricultural use – a sort of upmarket Land Rover, in fact. Only three prototypes were ever built, as the high cost of the final vehicle made marketing the conversion an unviable proposition. This was to be Carbodies’ last project before concentrating solely on taxi production.
The “R” in the name of the first version of the FX4 to be sold under the Carbodies brand (as opposed to Austin) stood for “Rover”, or more precisely Land Rover, to signify the source of the cab’s new engine. The change of power unit had been prompted by BL’s decision to stop building the ancient 2520cc Austin diesel unit in the UK, off-loading it onto Stampro in India to be used in the Standard 20 van (see above). However, the new engine proved unsuited to the taxi’s lifestyle, and the FX4R was beset by a series of embarrassing technical problems which saw sales plummet. A desperate Carbodies enlisted the services of Rover engineer Spen King to find a solution. You can find out more about the nature of the problems, how they were resolved and an extraordinary twist which arose in the meantime, in the FX4 development story.
When Osmond joined Carbodies as engineering director, he came with a personal recommendation from his former boss at BL, Spen King. Osmond had worked under King until 1977, when he left to take up the post of engineering director at Reliant. As fate would have it, his last days at Reliant had been spent working on the costings for the production of the MCW Metrocab, which would soon provide the FX4 with the first significant competition it had ever encountered.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.