Milestones

It was my 30th a few weeks ago and Nina and I hired the Skittle Alley in The Black Lion pub near Hammersmith to celebrate with some friends and family.

Nina was in charge of the decorations and bought 2 large balloons (3 and 0, naturally) and several other bits like napkins. Cabette loved holding onto the balloons but I didn’t trust her not to let go during the 15 minute walk to the pub. We also packed enough toys (the size of a tuck box!) to keep her entertained throughout the day so Percy it was!

30th birthday balloons in fairway driver taxi

A colleague of mine used to bring cakes that her Mother had baked into the office, and they were always delicious, so I asked her if her Mum would mind baking me my birthday cake if I paid her. I was very fortunate she said yes, because the end result was a delicious and above all a visual surprise! I was expecting a Madeira sponge with white icing and possibly Happy 30th iced onto it.

Fariway Driver Taxi birthday cake

It also tasted as good as it looked!

It was also time for Percy’s MOT last week which meant a trip to the all knowing cab driver and mechanic Danny in Walthamstow. It’s a bit of a trip for us now that we live in Chiswick, but leaving bright and early in the morning on Saturday meant that there was barely any traffic.

Danny gave Percy the once over and tightened a loose front left wheel bearing, then it was off round the corner to Ian’s garage for the MOT. I chatted to him about motorbikes as he has 8 and although I had sold mine I’m still fond of them.

Once back at Danny’s to have the battery isolator switch fitted to Percy, another Fairway pulled up behind Percy and a gentlemen called Alastair came over and said he recognised Percy from this blog.

I got chatting to Alastair from Lewisham who along with his wife also own their Fairway for leisure, but were having issue with it’s temperamental approach to starting, hence he was at Dannys.
While chatting, I discovered a very unusual feature of Alastair’s Fairway, a rear electric sunroof! from a Renault Twingo. I’m also rather jealous of the wooden steering wheel…

Fairway Driver Taxi rear sunroof

Box of tricks

I took Percy to Carl at Globe Transmissions a few weeks ago for a diagnosis on his gearbox problem and I wasn’t expecting good news.

On the way to Bethnal Green, Percy’s gearbox actually got gradually better, starting to change gear automatically and dropping the funny business of pulling away in third or refusing to change from first. In fact, it improved so much that I was tempted to turn back and go home, but I knew it was a temporary reprieve and the problems would probably return once I got home.

Carl took off the sump and it wasn’t good, the fluid was clearly burnt and there were bits of metal swimming around in the tray. Percy needs a ‘new’ (reconditioned) gearbox. It was either a reconditioned box from Carl or looking around for a second hand one from garages and ebay, but I’m very risk averse and wouldn’t touch an ebay gearbox with a barge poll… you never know what the condition of a second hand gear box from another 20 year old taxi is going to be like. So, we stumped up the cash for a box from Carl, which was actually very reasonable.

I got the sense that Carl and Elsa much prefer to work on old gearboxes like ours, as Elsa was explaining to me that newer cabs now need laptops plugged in to diagnose the problem, and she was having a hard time explaining to a customer that he needed to resolve other problems with his cab that were not related to the gearbox, in order for the warning light on his dashboard to disappear.

I left Percy in Carl’s safe hands and returned a week later to collect him. Carl took me for a test drive to show off his handy work and the box was smooth as velvet and he had even installed a kick down switch for us, which we didn’t have before. He also tried to replace Percy’s speedometer cable for us, as it rattles in the cold and leaves your exact speed as a bit of a guess, but he didn’t have a new cable so he just tightened and straightened it for us instead for free. How kind.

So, Percy lives on….

Fairway Driver MOT

Percy’s new battery is going strong and it’s time for his MOT, so we took him to Danny the mechanic in Walthamstow to be checked over first. Apart from a few minor things that might be picked up on, Danny said Percy should sail through the MOT and sure enough, 2 hours later, we received the call to say that he had passed his MOT with only a replacement reverse light and 2 new tracking rod ball joints for the steering. Hurrah!

Fairway Driver London taxi MOT check

Open wide!

With his new MOT, Percy took us to Ikea where we bought a fair amount of furniture and at the checkout we saw a queue of ‘self-hire delivery drivers’ ready with their vans waiting to pounce on us, figuring that we wouldn’t have brought a van (of course we couldn’t fit all our purchases in a normal car). Sure enough, we were greeted by several men offering different rates to drive us and our newly acquired Ikea flat-packs home.

This only made me more determined to fit everything into Percy, although I had no idea at the time whether it would actually all go in or if we’d be left red-faced and have to go back to the crowd of drivers with our tail between our legs asking for a lift.

Well, here’s the result… it was very close and we had to take the arm chair out of it’s packaging, but we did it! So that’s 2 adults, a wardrobe, changing table/shelving unit, cot, baby mattress, bathroom cabinet, bedside table and an armchair in one Fairway driver. Granted, all except the armchair were flat-packed but impressive none the less?

Fairway Driver taxi Ikea wembley

Just before the storm (St. Jude) arrived, we took Mimi the rabbit for a walk in the autumn sunshine, which she seemed to enjoy. I was wondering whether it was a good idea to leave Percy parked up beneath a tree but I really didn’t think that this ‘storm’ would be too bad, especially at the time we were walking Mimi with not a wisp of wind in the air.

pet rabbit eating autumn leaves in Rembrandt Gardens London

However, as you can see below, it really was pretty brutal in London. When we were woken up by it at 6.30am on Monday morning I was praying that Percy wouldn’t be squashed under another tree.

Fallen tree st Jude's strom St John's Wood Road London

Luckily Percy survived, but I should follow my intuition next time and find another parking spot.

New Shoes

When I set off for work this week on foot, I made a slight detour to check on Percy as he’d been parked in the same spot for almost a week, but he looked fine to me, with no windows smashed (I don’t know what I was expecting but I do like to check).

I then came home to find the Percy’s new battery (Banner Buffalo Bull 105AH) had been delivered so wasted no time in going to fit it, mumbling “positive first, negative last” all the way to Percy (didn’t want to fry myself or Percy). I had to borrow my kind neighbour’s trolley to transport it from the flat to the end of the road where Percy was laid up, because it wouldn’t have been fun carrying it by the two tiny plastic handles- dropping that on your foot could win you prizes for Halloween!

I was coming up towards Percy when I noticed that there was something missing, he looked like his wheels had gone! I thought surely not, it’s not the kind of area where people actually put cars on bricks (let alone a 2 tonne taxi) to steal the wheels and they’re taxi wheels for goodness’ sake. As I got closer, trolley in tow, I realised that it was in fact our chrome hubcaps that had been pilfered by some rotten thief. However, perhaps one with a sense of humour, as he’d kindly left us the two on Percy’s left side, but helped himself to the right, which was oddly right under a lamp-post and unshielded by cars.

fairway driver taxi missing hubcaps

Where are my shiny shoes?!

Well, it wasn’t the most pleasing start to the evening but I did manage to install the new battery without setting fire to myself or Percy, and he started up like a dream. However, I still had the small matter of finding some replacement hubcaps for him. I was all set on removing the two remaining hubcaps and just driving him around without but as you can see from the picture above, he looks ridiculous, like he’s floating on a magic carpet. Umm, actually it is Halloween….

I couldn’t stand seeing him without his shiny shoes, so I texted Graham (who sold Percy to us) to ask if he had any spare chrome hubcaps for sale, to which he replied he had several and in different styles. I also searched around on the internet and research told me they were roughly £10 each for new ones, but I didn’t know what size, whether they’d be any good (you can’t really tell on a screen) or how long they’d take to be delivered. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted new ones, just in case the thieving swine returns for the other two he left behind!

A day later, we were home watching TV after work and I received a text from Graham asking if we’d be home in the next hour as he’d be working a late shift and had some hubcaps in his cab for us. I was rather surprised and less than 45 minutes later we heard the honk of a TX1 outside. I rushed down to the street to greet Graham and he took out four new chrome hubcaps which were of an older style (perfect for Percy), showed me how to put wire round the inner rim and where the valve goes. I hadn’t actually decided whether I wanted to purchase them yet at that point, but Graham had so kindly driven them to us and they did complete Percy once again. We would much rather buy them off a fellow Fairway enthusiast than a website anyway. He even had two used hubcaps that matched Percy’s remaining two, so that we could drive around London in those and switch to our new super shiny ones if we go to any London Vintage Taxi Association shows or events.

So thank you very much Graham (if you’re reading) for coming to Percy’s rescue and you must give us your address to post the cheque to.

On a final note, for those who read one of our previous posts about my attempts to find a cabbie to give Percy CPR, we have some pictures of the Chapel/Pavillion cab shelter, and were even very kindly let inside by whom we presumed was the owner (a very kind lady, as only cabbies are allowed inside).

The Chapel cab shelter st. john's wood

Once inside, we were greeted by a hand-painted mural of a Fairway Driver on the walls, beautifully painted by her brother.

mural of fairway driver taxi in the Chapel cab shelter

fairway driver taxi mural side view in chapel cab shelter

Flat Fairway

We have joined the countless number of Fairway owners to have left their lights on overnight after parking up this week. Unsurprisingly, when Nina went to take Percy to school, there was no life when the usual half turn of the key was made. Percy’s battery was completely flat. No worries, bus to school it is. I had the day off so started thinking of ways to get Percy going again. I couldn’t call the AA as the membership was under Nina’s name. So that left me with chancing upon a friendly cabbie at the nearby ‘pavillion’ cabbie shelter in St John’s Wood, or calling HSBC recoveries but I‘ve already used one life line from them (mentioned in this post) and only have 4 left this year. Since we didn’t need Percy urgently, I decided to save my remaining 4 lives for more urgent call outs.

I texted Graham (the cabbie we bought Percy from) to check that another cab could indeed jump-start Percy safely, which he confirmed and even offered to come round to perform the CPR himself with his working cab when he started work later in the day. However, it didn’t seem fair to take up his fare-earning time, no matter how kind the offer. So, I ventured over to the cabbie shelter and bought a cup of tea and chatted to several different cabbies over the course of an hour. The general consensus was that I would be better off getting the AA out. They were all very friendly but slightly reluctant to help shall we say, and I can fully understand as their cabs are their livelihood, and there’s a risk of harm to their cabs if they were to help jump Percy. One driver even said he managed to melt his jump leads last time he tried to help somebody as he wasn’t paying attention and connected something wrongly. Another cabbie said that with all the high-tech electronics in cabs (he had a TXII) these days, a lot can go wrong with them. I took that as a ‘no’ to my question of ‘do you have a jump lead and would you be willing to help jump start my 21 year old Fairway?

I did have a lovely chat with an elderly cabbie about Fairways; he said it was easily ‘the best cab I ever owned’. He now drives a company-owned TX4. I gave up on the jump starting plan and waited until Nina returned from school with her AA membership card. The AA van arrived within the hour. The mechanic took one look at Percy and giggled ‘how old is this?’ to which we replied the golden age of 21. He jokingly asked if the battery was also that old but we think it is maybe 3 years old. He wasn’t convinced that the battery would hold any charge as it was down to 3.5V (apparently anything below 7V usually means game over) and looked rather old and rusty. It has also been through a tough winter. He suggested it might be worth buying a new battery, whilst leaning underneath the bonnet to connect the jump leads from his ‘mega booster pack’ but had the cheek to suggest ‘not sure if it’s worth it, might be more than the cab is worth’. I’m sure Percy felt the urge to slam his bonnet shut at that moment.

Finally, it was time to start Percy with booster pack connected. I turned the key and there were some very feeble clicks and whirs but no 2.7L diesel action. AA man frowned and said ‘wait, I’ll get the other booster pack out.’ With 2 mega booster packs aiding his tired battery, Percy bounced back to life! And with the 2.7L diesel engine running, the AA man spoke seriously for the first time: ‘wow, it sounds good for a 21 year old cab’. He then tested whether the battery was taking in charge as I revved the engine, and again seemed surprised that it was. He recommended we drive for at least an hour, as we don’t have anywhere to plug in a charger for 24 hours. Before he left he had to take the mileage, which was 460,623. He said ‘what?! Hold on, I didn’t get all the numbers…’ I read it out again and this time he just came over with a smile and took the mileage reading himself with eyebrows raised, I don’t think he believed me without seeing it for himself.

We went for a leisurely drive out to Heathrow T5 (random I know, but I had to find somewhere to turn round and come back) and were back after an hour and ten minutes. We are yet to see if the AA man was right about the battery possibly not holding charge as we haven’t driven Percy since. Fingers crossed…

Fairway fan

We’ve been seeing fewer and fewer Fairway Driver taxis working in London now; I saw one today in Kensington (first time in weeks) when I used to see at least 2 a day around Holborn. So, when we walked past Percy parked on the street tonight, after commuting home together following a busy day at work, we said hello to him before heading indoors. We realised that Percy has been a little neglected recently, with the rust hole under his aerial growing steadily and him desperately in need of a good clean inside and out. The recent changeable weather hasn’t helped. We decided that Percy is going to get some TLC this weekend if the weather is fairer.

A quick change out of work attire into my chef’s whites (pyjamas) and it was onto tonight’s menu- chicken fajitas. I was washing a couple of peppers at the sink and out of habit I always look out the window to check on Percy if he’s parked within sight… tonight I noticed a gentleman standing behind Percy with a smile on his face. He then decided to take some pictures of Percy’s rear shelf on his smartphone. I told Nina and we were both very proud that Percy had attracted yet more attention from the passing public. We do occasionally see passers-by either turning their heads or even taking photos but this chap seemed really quite taken by Percy, so Nina decided to take a picture (see below). I went back to chef duties and food was done in 20 minutes.

Fairway Driver London Taxi admirer

I was setting our meal down on the table when, again out of habit, I just glanced down at the street and… the same gentleman was still there! He’d worked his way to the side, and was taking pictures of Percy’s interior (cushions, blanket, rug and fairy lights). Now we felt really bad that we hadn’t given Percy a clean, he still had shavings from Mimi the rabbit’s travel cage on his passenger compartment floor.

Fairway Driver London Taxi admirer

We turned back to our supper and watched the news on TV, before getting up to clear the table and glancing out of the window… to my surprise, the gentleman was still there! He was taking photos of Percy’s front end now and admiring the LVTA badge on his grille. If I wasn’t in my ‘chef’s whites’ I’d have gone downstairs to introduce him to Percy properly and perhaps persuade him into buying one too (Graham, the cabbie we bought Percy from, currently has one for sale for less than £900).

Fairway Driver London Taxi admirer

Finally, the gentleman looked like he thought he should go home and he started off down the road but kept turning back to look at Percy over his shoulder every two paces. Well, we know the feeling is mutual, as Percy hasn’t had the same attention from his owners recently. Oh, and one more thing… that chap has good taste.

Fairway Fixed

With Percy finally home, no thanks to the AA, we had to take him to an auto-transmission specialist to be looked at. Both Danny, our mechanic friend, and Graham; who sold Percy to us, recommended Carl at Globe Transmissions on Cudworth Street in Bethnal Green, East London. I called ahead and spoke to his lovely wife Elsa, who knew more about transmissions than I will probably ever learn, and she told us that Percy would be looked at if we could get to them by 10am.

We drove tentatively round the ring road (Marylebone Road and Pentonvilled Road) and even saw a fellow LVTA member Gary on the way. He honked his horn and waved- his passengers looked like they thought we were all bonkers.

We arrived at Cudworth Street and were treated to an entire street of London cabs.The street runs beside a railway bridge and under each archway is a different garage specialising in taxis- everything from meter repairs to paint work and everything in between.

Fairway Driver Taxis London Cudworth Street

Where can you find a cab in London…

We found Globe Transmissions at the end of the street, where we were greeted by the experienced Carl, a fountain of knowledge on taxi transmissions.

Fairway Driver taxi Globe Transimissions Cudworth Street

In fact, I’ve decided he is the Yoda of London taxis. He explained how we didn’t need a lot of the things in our engine bay as they were all put in place to reduce emissions and as a private car Percy didn’t need to worry about that. He also immediately spotted that one of the vacuum pipes from the gearbox had come away and so the vacuum was no longer sealed- this could be the cause of our problems. However, he still took Percy for a ride with us in the back to gauge and feel the extent of Percy’s woes himself.

Fairway Driver Taxi vacuum pipe

Should have spotted the disconnected pipe, d’oh!

He felt it was best to give Percy’s gearbox a service and dropped the sump. There were already three cabs in his garage but some skilful manoeuvring (you could tell he’d done this a million times) and Percy was on the ramp and being lifted skyward. We actually wondered if Carl’s worked on Percy before and we strongly suspect he has, as he seems to be the go-to man for gearboxes, working on all ages and models of taxis, from Fairway Drivers to TX4s and has been for many years.

Fairway Driver Taxi inside Globe Trasmissions Bethnal Green

Mind your head

So, Yoda and his apprentice took out Percy’s gearbox and found that it was sadly burnt. He showed us black sediment from the friction of the parts grinding together and the burnt transmission fluid. He said he was surprised that Percy even changed gear at all, as they normally just get stuck in 1st at this stage- Percy’s a determined taxi. Carl suggested that he service the gearbox change a few parts and after a few weeks of driving we should see how Percy feels… if he struggles again, Yoda would find us a replacement second hand gearbox but at a reasonable price, because he knew that we only own Percy privately and as an old retired man it wouldn’t be worth a full reconditioning or new gearbox for Percy. So, the bill settled with Elsa, who was looking forward to seeing her grandchildren this weekend, and we were off home.

The result? Percy’s gearbox feels fine. Smooth gear changes, no juddering, just perfect… as long as you treat him gently. We know it might not last but we do know that Yoda is on Percy’s side and we’re very happy with that.