Adventure: Taxi! Part II

A 1930s Austin London taxi at the scene of a bomb blast.
Image reproduced with kind permission of Getty Images.

Last week we looked at some of the many, incredible adventure stories that took place in the 1950s in 1930s Austin London Taxis. But why only 1930s Austin London Taxis and why only during the 1950s? There were several, contributing factors that all aligned to enable this unique, travel phenomenon.

1. When war broke out in Europe in 1939, the fleet of 1930s London taxis where already middle aged. Only ever expected to be in service for 10 or 15 years, these taxis would likely have not seen the world as they did, had war not broken out. They would have been retired or scrapped, and replace by newer taxis by the mid 1940s.

But war did break out, and the taxis were not retired. Why? Because the war effort focused virtually all industry, including the automotive industry, on the war effort - metals and other materials essential for the manufacture of armaments and weaponry, were restricted and reserved for the making of planes, tanks, ships, trucks, and other war vehicles and supplies. As a result, no new taxis were built from 1939/1940 right up until the late 40s, and therefore there were virtually no taxis other than these old taxis, at the beginning of the 1950s.

2. Why Austins? Between 1930 and 1940, Austin was quite simply dominated the taxi trade. In that ten year span, nearly 6000 Austin taxi cabs were registered, representing an astonishing 75% of all new sales of taxi cabs. Competitors like Beardmore and Morris couldn't keep up, and there just weren't as many of their taxis on the road, as there were Austins. Austin taxis were everywhere.

3. The war effort also recruited a large number of the older taxis on London's roads for the war effort, which earned many of them mechanical upgrades that they might not have otherwise had, arguably extending their mechanical strength and their life spans. Nearly 2500 Austin taxis were recruited either into the Auxiliary Fire Brigade (see War Taxis post) pulling water tanks and pumps to bomb blast sites or into a specially trained units preparing for the possibility of a German invasion of Britain. These taxis were often camouflage and even fitted with machine guns. Those taxis that were still in the service of carrying passengers around London were specially maintained by Mann & Overton, the taxi trade concessionaire/distributor, to ensure their reliable service.

1930s Austin taxis lined up with camouflage for military training exercises.
Image reproduced with kind permission of Getty Images

An Austin taxi that was recruited into the auxilary fire brigade to pull water tanks and pumps.
Image from the book "Taxi, The Story of the London Taxi Cab"

4. With the war finally over, and things beginning to return to normal, the first waves of new taxis finally arrived at the end of the 1940s and beginning of 1950s. The 1930s Austins were old, battered and out of date. The ones that did survive (around half of the total fleet) were worn out, and being scrapped or sold off to whom ever might be interested in them – and then, along they came.

5. The dawn of the 1950s was a brave new world – perhaps more so for those who didn't live in Europe during the war. But the war was over, much of the reconstruction was well underway, and Europe was safe again. A new generation, who were students during the war, were now finishing University and ready to explore the world. Jack Kerouac's "On the Road", written in 1951 and published in 1957, expressed the opening up of possibilities.
Many who arrived in London in the mid 1950s, who had a taste for adventure, seemed to discover a unique way to travel. 1930's Austin London taxi cabs.... and travel they did – far and wide, and none farther, than Alfred & Jakobine.

And that's how it happened!