Taxi conversion was a hire calling

Bill Nicol with his 1996 Hackney cab
Bill Nicol with his 1996 Hackney cab
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They’re so much part of the city landscape, we don’t even notice them. In fact, they all but disappear from the streets – especially when it’s raining.

But to one man, the iconic black cab is very much in his sights. Bill Nicol is so fond of them that he’s now achieved a long-held ambition and is the proud owner of the genuine article – a 1996 London Taxis International FX4 hackney cab – and now that it has retired from active service, he has big plans for it.

He’s not going to ply for hire, although the cab is street-ready and fully equipped, including a working taxi light on the roof. For a start he doesn’t have a taxi licence but he wants instead to have some fun with it… he’s going to convert it for overnight stays into a mini cab camper.

The idea seems crazy but Bill, who has a background in property and land regeneration and is director of the Lanark-based Hometown Foundation, has fully researched the possibilities.

“I’m interested in the potential of small spaces and what you can use them for,” he explained as he showed me round the cab, which looked out of place in the rural setting of his home in Lanark.

“I originally looked at buying an old hearse because of the amount of legroom – and the fact that it’s actually got two
storeys. But then I settled on the cab and found that other people had done something similar.”

Apparently during the London Olympics some enterprising individuals had converted old taxis into mini campers and were renting them out at £150 a night. One had even replaced the rooftop taxi sign with one which read “camper”.

As there’s no front passenger seat, that leaves space for a small washbasin and cooker, and using the available boot space extends interior legroom to more than seven feet, which allows for a foldaway “rock-and-roll” bed and other home comforts.

Bill scoured the internet and eventually tracked down exactly what he wanted on eBay.

“It was being sold by a man whose home was near Dundee, but he was working with the UN in West Africa so all the correspondence was done by e-mail. I eventually bought it sight-unseen with a winning bid of £2,555. There were 21 bids… and I got it by just £50.”

It turned out that the cab had spent only part of its life working London’s streets and had latterly been used by a nursing home for residents’ transport, which explained why it had only 113,000 miles on the clock rather than the average half a million.

Bill was delighted with what he found when he went to collect it. “The bodywork isn’t especially good, but all the mechanical bits are first class. It came with lots of spares, including fibreglass wings and it’s dead easy to work on.”

Included in the deal was also the cherished number plate E7 ERN (Big Ern).

Bill has still to carry out his planned conversion but has already taken it round some iconic Scottish landmarks, including the Forth Rail Bridge and the Kelpies, and on holiday across to Arran with wife, Elaine, and dogs, Kim and River.

“People don’t notice taxis in the city but when you take them out of their familiar environment, folk smile and wave and it’s just great fun to drive. It’s unusual as it has a four-speed manual gearbox but the 25-foot turning circle is amazing and the big diesel engine doesn’t just have a re-assuring sound, it’s also bombproof.”

He’s not alone in his appreciation for taxis. Among other enthusiastic black cab owners are TV’s ubiquitous Stephen Fry and model Kate Moss, and actor Sir Laurence Olivier was known to get about London at the wheel of one of his own.

Bill admits he hates driving “boring” cars, which explains why he has previously owned cars including a V8 Westfield, a Morgan and a Lotus Exige and his current fleet also includes a classic Porsche 911 and a totally restored ex-military airportable lightweight Land Rover called “Cheeky Monkey”… which he also bought on eBay.