The day began with the alarm sounding at 7am, a slice of toast and a large mug of tea on a beautiful Sunday morning. Then I was off outside to Percy with some Super Resin Polish from our Auto Glym cleaning kit. He had been washed, dried and vacuumed inside on Saturday evening at the local hand car wash, but I thought he deserved an extra polish for his big day.
At 8.30am, a very shiny Percy set off to Chelsea Harbour for the start of the Cabalcade. We first drove into the area reserved for only the eldest and shiniest Austin FX4s, so we quickly u-turned to find our spot amongst the more ‘modern’ Fairways.
We received our goody bag and breakfast voucher before checking out the other taxis taking part. I was glad I got up early to give Percy a polish, so he could hold his head high amongst his Fairway friends.
-Percy and friend
We were delighted with the goody bag, containing a special commemorative number plate, mug, key ring and briefing pack.
We were then given our briefing. Must obey usual traffic rules, drive with your headlights on, try to stick to the planned route… this was made a lot easier by the incredibly clear and detailed maps and instructions provided in our pack… organiser Gary had obviously put a lot of effort into planning the day.
For the first leg of the tour we managed to stay in convoy with the 47-or-so others, following the last ever Fairway to be licensed. I received a text message from a friend whose flat we passed en route, saying he had seen some vintage taxis passing that we would have liked… he was amused by my reply that we were one of those passing taxis! Our first stop was at a taxi shelter in Grosvenor Gardens, Victoria. It was quite a privilege to be able to go inside the shelter, which is normally for cabbies only. It was rather cosy inside, but I was assured 12 men can squeeze in comfortably. After some pastries and tea over chats to other cabalcaders about the highs (and lows) of Fairway ownership, we set off for the next part of the drive.
-Now, where did I park Percy?
We battled past the hoards of tourists outside Buckingham Palace and crossed the river Thames via Lambeth Bridge to our next stop at the Public Carriage Office on Lambeth Road. Here a slight mishap occurred, when an over-zealous driver reversed into Percy and their bumpers became attached. Three grown men standing on Percy’s bumper and jumping a little managed to dislodge him unscathed. We then had the treat of an informative talk from taxi historian, the authority on Percy’s past, Bill Munro…author of The FX4 Enthusiast’s Manual and The Full History of London Taxis.
Back on the road, we made our way to another Public Carriage Office in Penton Street. Snap-happy tourists on Westminster Bridge seemed please to be treated to a whole convoy of the iconic taxi, probably for the last time.
At the Penton Street Public Carriage Office, we were given an interesting and entertaining insight into a cab driver’s life by Alexander Kennedy.
-Percy and friends waiting patiently…don’t mind the double yellows, its Cabalcade!
The final stop-off was at the London Taxi Company showroom (previously Mann and Overton) on Brewery Road, Camden. After some welcome refreshments we enjoyed two great talks. The first was from Lord Jamie Borwick, who spoke about the history of the now defunct factory and rightly pointed out that it is the Fairway model that is the enduring icon of London taxis, despite now being outnumbered by the TX models. For media appearances it is always the Fairway that is in demand… it was the model used for the London Olympics 2012 opening ceremony after all. The final talk of the day was from John Mason, who rightly said that whoever manufactures the next London taxi would be unwise not to look to the past for inspiration.
Nina took the wheel for the final part of our journey, in which we got slightly separated from the convoy due to heavy traffic. We made our way down Marylebone Road and circled Marble Arch three times before being beckoned in to park up alongside the others. Nearly 50 FX4 and Fairway taxis made quite a sight parked up under the imposing archway.
We had the most pleasant of surprises that Nina’s parents had come to see us at Marble Arch, but Percy also had his own special guest, all the way from France. It was ‘khabi2011’, a regular follower of Percy’s blog. Thank you so much for coming by to see us, we hope you enjoyed the day half as much as we did, and good luck with your two Fairway Drivers!
Percy actually ended up being quite an attraction as he was parked right at the front, where people were walking through from Hyde Park. I lost count of how many photos he was in, and it gave Nina and I huge pleasure seeing so many smiling faces, from toddlers to the elderly, next to Percy in photos that will be in their memories for years to come. It was great to see so much appreciation for the taxi model that we love so much.
It was an exciting moment when the last ever Fairway off the production line arrived, on the back of a tow-truck as it isn’t driven (proven by the 11 miles on its speedometer, making Percy’s 458,000 seem rather impressive, enough to make it to the moon and back).
-Spot the appropriate number plate of the last Fairway produced
After presentations and speeches we were left with mixed feelings, of sadness that the iconic Fairway will no longer be licensed, but also of pride that we and the other members of the LVTA are dedicated to keeping their legacy alive. The care and love invested in their upkeep was evident from the immaculate examples on display at the Cabalcade. It was a fantastic day, thanks to the hard work and vision of Gary Zylberszac, and we felt proud to have been a part of it.
Seeing Percy parked at Marble Arch with so many ex-cabbies, some of whom just came to see these old cabs and share their stories with us, really made us appreciate the history not just of these Fairways and FX4s, but of Percy’s own life in London and the stories he must have from his 20 years of working life. It only confirms that there was no other car we could possibly own whilst living in central London… this is where Percy belongs.