The other day my cab broke down – gearbox in case you were wondering – and I found myself driving, as a replacement, an old Fairway of the type American tourists love. It’s hardly surprising, if your vision of London is of a rather quaint city that is still stuck firmly in the 50s, then the classic Fairway fits the bill for our colonial visitors.
Little changed from its launch in July 1958, few vehicles have matched its longevity. Although the indicators were moved from their original position on the roof (giving them the sobriquet ‘bunny ears’) the vehicle still has the little round indicators last seen on a car being driven by Jack Regan in The Sweeny.
Manual sliding rear windows locked by means of an ineffectual metal lever, no intercom, brakes fit for a go kart with 2 tonnes of momentum to slow down, top heavy necessitating roundabouts need to be negotiated at half the speed of a modern car and its acceleration beyond 30 mph is almost impossible especially when travelling up a hill. Clunking doors which open the wrong way – the driver can reach out and open the offside passenger door without leaving his driving seat. Oh yes! and plastic seats.
[I]t was a trip down Memory Lane. The hardwood 3-spoke steering wheel, imitation walnut trim to the doors and a top speed of 60mph. Many passengers could not fathom out how to open the doors and with its stiff buttons on the outside handles ladies needed strong thumbs to open the door. Inside the chrome door handles have a plastic guard, presumably an early health and safety requirement.
For all its faults driving this London icon has been a privilege, evocating days when London changed little and we worked at a gentler pace. I’m not the only one who loves this cab. Tourists love its quaintness, choosing it over the more brash upstarts. I’ve even had a guy chase me down the road offering to buy the vehicle. Apparently they are very much in demand abroad and a rather enterprising cabbie buys them for export to of all places Saudi Arabia.
So it looks like the old girl might have a second life after being taken off the road by the Burgers at the Public Carriage Office who following the dictats of Europe have decreed that cabs over 15 years old must die.
Or she might stay in England many owners like them some even write blogs about them.
2 thoughts on “An icon’s swansong”
Great piece, David. I was at M&O’s showroom a few days ago and they had a Fairway on display, polished to perfection- it looked gorgeous, a design classic.
When I first started cabbing I drove a Fairway for a while. However, I got a job to Stanstead airport one evening; five French students fully laden with rucksacks and other luggage… needless to say that, on the steady, uphill section of the M11, we barely made it, slowing down to under 30mph with motorway traffic roaring past us! After that, I had to sadly trade the old girl in.
The Fairway will be sorely missed here but, as you say, she will live on.
I managed to run out of juice the other day on the M25, its fair to say that the Fairway’s fuel gauge is not to be trusted.