Essay : Metrocab – back from the dead?

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Craig Cheetham

I’ll never forget the ridiculous level of excitement I felt, back in 1987, when I rode in a Metrocab for the first time…

A very tall Ford Granada...
A very tall Ford Granada…

My home town, Stockport, was one of a handful of provincial towns in the UK where ‘London’ taxis operated on the town ranks, which to a car nut was a bit of a disappointment even back then. Even today, I get a little bit excited (tragic, I know) when I’m standing in line at an airport rank, wondering what transport of delight will come along and whisk me to my final destination. The best, to date, remains a Range Rover P38 in Amsterdam, though goodness knows how the driver could afford the fuel bill – perhaps he wasn’t wearing his glasses and mistook it for a Metrocab on the forecourt?

A grainy camera phone shot, but this is a genuine Amsterdam taxi. No wonder the fares are so expensive!
A grainy camera phone shot, but this is a genuine Amsterdam taxi. No wonder the fares are so expensive! Funny how similar to a Metrocab it looks, though…

So, much as I love the FX-4 (and would dearly love to own one), the excitement of seeing the Metrocab for the first time was only matched by the ensuing game of ‘spot the part’, with such beguiling features as Ford Granada headlamps, Escort Cabriolet tail lights and a Maestro/Montego dash moulding.

In reality, of course, the Metrocab didn’t quite meet expectations. It may have had a distinctly more modern flavour than the FX-4 (though it didn’t help that the Granada it borrowed its nose from had recently been replaced), but the fit and finish were flimsier, and traditional cabbies continued to favour the old FX-4 style cabs, not least because of their indestructible Nissan 2.7-litre diesel engines, which were doggedly reliable even compared to the Metrocab’s honourable Ford Transit sourced unit.

Yet Metrocab is a name that refuses to die – along with Frazer-Nash, which in a fairly loose sense is the owner and parent company of a new venture, launched in 2014 and developed specifically to meet the new London Transport conditions of use that come into force in 2018.

A bold new era in taxi-ing
A bold new era in taxi-ing

We’ve covered the new Metrocab on here before, but recently the new model has taken things to a new level, having become the first zero-emission-capable taxi to be licensed by Transport for London to operate on a trial basis as a London Hackney Carriage. And while that might not sound much, it’s big news…

Metrocab Chairman, Sir Charles Masefield, said: “The Metrocab has received numerous accolades and plaudits across the board in recent months, but now it is official – it is the first licensed range extended electric cab for London, and indeed the first in the world. We’re very proud, and delighted with the Metrocabs’ performance, economy and range at the hands of the first few London cabbies to be operating our range extended electric taxis.”

The Metrocab has also been shortlisted for the London Transport Awards 2015, in the Taxi & Private Hire Innovator of the Year category.

A further plaudit came from London Mayor Boris Johnson, who described the Metrocab as “superb and absolutely beautiful. A masterpiece of British engineering. The Rolls-Royce of taxis that can do 100mpg.”

The new Metrocab's number 1 fan
The new Metrocab’s number 1 fan

Smoke? Mirrors? Maybe… But I have a gut feeling that it probably isn’t… While the most established taxi manufacturer, LTI, has potentially dragged its heels on this one, a new and dedicated taxi manufacturer has revived an established name, and brought it to the fore once again, but this time as an innovator. Over the next three years, taxi operators across the capital will be scrabbling to get their hands on vehicles that comply with Boris’s latest emissions legislation (before he moves the goalposts yet again, I’m sure…) and the new Metrocab couldn’t be launching, with proven capability and ahead of its rivals, at a better time.

Meantime, if you want a funky family runabout, there’ll be thousands of LTI taxis being decommissioned between now and 2018, when all London cabs must be zero-emissions capable (ie, electric or hybrid). Already, they’re popping up in the small ads for less than a grand… Surely I’m not the only one that’s tempted?

Yours for £850 with 12 months' ticket - and they're only going to get cheaper...
This one‘s yours for £850 with 12 months’ ticket – and they’re only going to get cheaper…

 

Craig Cheetham

A serial impulsive car purchaser, Craig has had his name on over 200 V5s over the past 20 years. 10 per cent of those have been either 800s or Austin Allegros, with between 10 and 20 cars usually owned at any one time. Started out as a local newspaper journalist then worked for car mags including Auto Express, Classic Car Weekly and Land Rover Owner. Worked inside the car industry for a decade as an employee of General Motors, now works for a news distribution agency. Home based, which is dangerously convenient for further irrational heap purchases. Lover of all makes of car since childhood, with a particular leaning towards Austin-Rover... Father of three boys, so hoping to spread the car love. Other passions include rugby union, travelling and eating out.

19 Comments

  1. It’s great to see that London is making an effort to improve air quality. In Lisbon was forbidden the circulation of pre-EURO 3 cars in city center and evribody started complaining about this. I think that everibody needs to understand that some measures must be taken to improve the air quality, it’s unbelievable that some of Lisbon taxis are Mercedes 190D!
    I’ve been in Amsterdam this week and I was surprised with the amount of Tesla’s taxis operating in the airport. It looks like they made a deal with Tesla and in this moment they have 800 Tesla’s operating in Amsterdam.

  2. London’s problems are mainly due to diesel particulates, where a road like Oxford Street where private cars are banned most of the time is particularly bad due to all the buses and taxis on it, and its buildings preventing dispersal of the pollutants. If they are able to operate in electric only mode for some of the time, then this would have a major beneficial effect.

    A shame the new Metrocab couldn’t look nicer though, though I guess the boxy styling is space efficient!

    • Not only particulates, but the dreadful diesel exhaust Nox emissions, and to those individuals who think biodiosel is a blessing from heaven, Biodiesel Nox emissions are higher by as much as 15% over fossil-fuel diesel.
      Mayor Boris is certainly on the on the right track by converting the City roads system over to a bicycle mass urban transport network

  3. Then there was the Carbodies proposal for a taxi based on the original Range Rover panelwork. The original Metrocab was nearly reborne some years ago – one of my suppliers was doing the chassis – but apparently they ran out of money.

  4. I remember there was an edition of Perpetual Motion about 20 years ago on black cabs, which mentioned it was a hard design to replace.

    IIRC Range Rover based prototype for a replacement was mentioned, but failed a crash test.

  5. At least British companies like LTI and Metrocab are at the forefront of the new London taxis as the traditional black cab must be the only part of the motor industry where all the vehicles are made in Britain.

  6. @ Tigger, also the FX 4 used a Nissan engine as the British engines on offer at the time weren’t durable enough, particularly after the phase with the 2.2 litre Land Rover engine. Indeed so tough were the Nissan engines used in the last two generations of FX4 taxis they could do 400,000 miles without a misfire.

    • Absolutely. Though the Land Rover engine was always a bad choice as it was never designed for such an application. Do you know where the current engines are sourced by the Chinese owners now?

      • They’re the same Italian VM engines that LTI specified themselves. I assume it’s a similar unit to that used in the LDV Maxus

  7. I can’t understand why all the new hybrid buses/taxis aren’t lpg and electric hybrid. Diesel’s nasty stuff for an urban environment

  8. The Transit engine isn’t that good in the current LR Defender. Indeed, many people i know would prefer to have the venerable TD5 than the Transit engined one! To be honest, the main issue with making diesel engines compliant with Boris regs will be particulates, and particulate filters don’t like slogging in town and stop/start operation. I can see a spate of blocked DPFs if used in a London Taxi, especially if the same engine is also equipped with stop/start technology.

    A boxy shape isn’t an issue in town as below 50mph, aerodynamics are largely irrelevant. The benefits of interior space will outweigh aerodynamics for a cab that will spend most of its’ time averaging 12 mph.

  9. Modern diesel engines are too complicated. I can’t see a London taxi lasting very long with DPFs and the electronics used in modern diesels. The way forward is hybrid petrol/ electric engines. I’m surprised Toyota haven’t thought of a Prius based taxi. Also diesel now being 6 pence a litre more than petrol rules out the old economy argument.

    • Modern diesels are too complicated, and it is being officially recognised they fail to control their Nox emissions hence the serious issue of air quality in cities such as London, the euro 4, 5 and 6 diesels are only fit to pass the rolling-road conducted laboratory tests whereby the ECU deduces the test is in place and enacts a special low Nox test fuelling map, in effective the real world numbers are results are understated by factor of fout to seven. Chancellor Gordon Brown who introduced tax breaks for diesel vehicles and encouraged the diesel sales boom, has made public his disatisfaction , he believed the emission problems of diesels would be fixed, he did not foresee the fiddling by unscrupulous car manufacturers who have made fools of the car buying public and the cause so many current and future health problems in adults and children.

      http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/uk_news/Environment/article1511239.ece?shareToken=a0604f4f15724c64bf94ff6c3ad6d00f

  10. Craig, go on, you know you really want an FX4 or similar!
    I ran an old FX4 for a couple of years purely as a private car, bought it very cheap with a blown engine which I rebuilt, the wonderful old BMC 2.2, it was an early example with the “rabbit’s ears” indicators on the roof. I used to watch old episodes of “Minder” to try to be able to mimic a Cockney cab driver, but as I’m a Geordie this was never going to be convincing.
    It was a complete hoot! We had loads of fun with it, including my sister-in-law’s wedding, however I must warn you that people assume it is still a black cab. This could result in some very odd situations, including picking up my wife one evening from the local station when she was on a late shift and finding a gang of girls wanting a taxi, at any price. And they didn’t intend paying for it with coin of the realm………………..!

  11. I’m suprised no one has made a taxi based on the Land Rover Defender. As an added bonus it would be as uncomfortable to drive as the FX4, if rather better at dealing with potholes & speed bumps..

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