Whatever you think of minicab drivers, there’s no denying their cars are the unsung heroes of the roads. They rack up hundreds of thousands of miles a year, the passengers bash the interiors about and throw up on the seats, they are used and abused in ways that no manufacturer ever tests for.
So minicabs need to be tough and durable; if the car’s off the road, the driver doesn’t make any money. As such, there’s always one car that minicabbers across the land favour above any other. At one time or another, these were the favourites.
The British-built Bluebird went on sale in 1986, competing with the Ford Sierra and Austin Montego. It was automotive cabbage soup. But it was good value, spacious, comfortable and built like a brick bog-house with an engine that lasted forever. Cabbies loved them. They filled taxi ranks well into the Nineties and some even lasted into this century. In 1991 the Bluebird was replaced by the Primera, which itself proved popular with taxi drivers. Less than 1,000 are left and quite frankly, no-one cares.
Launched in 1981, the Mk2 Cavalier dominated minicabbing for the first half of the Eighties until the Bluebird came along, and even then it remained a popular choice. In fact, it was one of the best selling cars of the decade. But it wasn’t anything like as long-lived as the Nissan, most turning into rusting heaps even before they were ten years old. As a result, out of hundreds of thousands sold, probably only a couple of hundred are still on the roads.
It doesn’t matter where you go in the world, someone will be using an E-Class of some vintage or other as a taxi. Even New York. While it has never dominated the UK’s taxi ranks in the same way it does Germany’s, it has for decades been the default choice of the posh ‘car service’, ferrying the well-heeled to airports and around London. And they are everywhere in London – about every fifth car you see is an E-Class with that white TfL sticker in the back window.
The Mondeo revolutionised the repmobile sector when it arrived in 1993, with its combination of space, performance, superb handling and general sophistication. Taxi drivers bought them in vast quantities, the frugal if noisy diesel in particular. 2001’s third-generation proved especially popular, and many still ply their trade.
It wasn’t until the Octavia came along 1998 that British taxi drivers found a true successor to the Bluebird. The Octavia was cheap, roomy and built like a tank. Recognising its appeal, Skoda even offered special finance deals to self-employed drivers. The Mk1 Octavia was replaced in UK showrooms by the Mk2 in 2005, though it remained on sale elsewhere. Such was the Mk1’s popularity that specialist taxi dealers imported them into the country for several years after.
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