I live at Glascote Locks, just off Basin Lane, Tamworth. Passing boaters sometimes remark on what a shame it is that this once-rural area is now a housing development, but the truth is that the area was previously an ugly brownfield site, albeit with a fascinating industrial history spanning several hundred years. Originally it was a heavy engineering works for Thompson and Southwick, where huge mining equipment was made, but in 1966 it was purchased by Reliant and was used for the manufacture of cars and taxis.
Reliant at Basin Lane, 1966
In the 1960s, Reliant's factory was in Two Gates, Tamworth, straddling Watling Street, just to the east of the River Tame. On about 3rd February 1966 there was a fire at Reliant's Two Gates factory which destroyed the body shop. A thousand employees were laid off. With all speed the company purchased the site of the old Thompson and Southwick iron foundry, on Basin Lane.
Many of the car workers got involved with the construction on three shifts working round the clock, with the aim of completing the work by the end of the month. It was planned that the first vehicles to roll off the plant in Basin Lane would be Scimitar GT's for the export market, with the range of three wheelers following three to four weeks later. (Source Birmingham Daily Post and Coventry Evening Telegraph). By 15th February 1966 work had started in the new mould making shop 15 February 1966 (source Coventry Evening Telegraph, with photos). Then on 21 February 1966 Reliant accounced that they were on schedule to fill a Greek order for 150 three-wheel left-hand drive vehicles. (Coventry Evening Telegraph).
Production started at the new site on Monday 4th April 1966. The Birmingham Daily Post reported, "The Reliant Motor Company at Tamworth will get back to full production of 300 three-wheeler vehicles a week in three weeks time, said Mr R W Wiggin, general manager, yesterday. The firm restarted production on Monday after workers had completed converting the century-old iron foundry at Kettlebrook into a glass fibre vehicle body shop to replace the shop destroyed by a £150,000 (sic) fire in February.
Metro-Cammell-Weymann 1987 to 1989
Metrocab was a taxi manufactured in Britain between 1987 and circa 2006. The Metrocab was developed by Metro-Cammell-Weymann in collaboration with the London General Cab Company and was based on early designs for the Beardmore Mark VIII. There were three protoypes, but only two of these survived, POE 629R built in 1970, known as Edgar, and UOK 729H, which worked as a commercial taxi in the London General Cab Company fleet.
The original Metrocab model went into production in Birmingham in 1987. It had a fibreglass body, a 2.5 litre, four cylinder, Ford Transit direct injection diesel engine, and a Ford gearbox with four-speed automatic or five- speed manual variants. It was the first London cab to be fully wheelchair accessible via its extra wide doors. It was licensed by the Public Carriage Office to carry four passengers.
By 27 August 1987 the company was reporting that the £14,996 Metrocab and hoped to have 550 cabs on the road by the end of the year. Company spokesman John Gold said, "This is a specialist market but we now have 120 on the road in London and 250 on order." (Source Birmingham News).
However, the success of the Metrocab was overshadowed by deep issues at MCW. In January 1989 the firm confirmed that 500 jobs were to be lost in Birmingham. There were "skeletons in the company's cupboards," and Metro-Cammell was "clearly on course for heavy losses." (Source Birmingham Mail). The parent company, Laird, announced that it was selling its transport services division including MCW, which appeared to be the cause of a slump in sales of the Metrocab.
On about 20th April (TBC) Reliant Motors announced that they were front runners in the bid to take over Metrocab. Reliant had made bodies for Metrocab since production began. Reliant also admitted that it wished to move the Metrocab operation to Tamworth, and that they hoped any workers laid off could be re-employed at Tamworth. They were keen for Laird to sell Metrocab quickly because the uncertainty was driving orders down further. (Source Birmingham Mail 28th April 1989).
On 28th April 1989 the Birmingham Mail reported that 50 to 60 production workers at MCW's Washwood Heath site had just received their redundancy notices. No-one was available for comment from either company that day. (Source Birmingham Mail 28th April 1989).
The Tamworth Herald reported that on 10th June 1988, Paul Channon, Secretary of State for Transport, opened a new £250,000 Paint Plant at Kettlebrook. This may have been on the Basin Lane site, but the Herald did not confirm the address in their article. The new plant, "will be used for painting bodies for Reliant’s Rialto and Scimitar car ranges. It has been designed so that it can handle other vehicles and components as well". The new plant was built by paint spray specialists Binks Bullows of Walsall.
Metrocabs at Basin Lane, 1989
Reliant bought the Metrocab from MCW in 1989, and moved the plant to the Kettlebrook site.
Reliant ceased production in Tamworth towards the end of 1998. The company moved to a purpose built factory at Burntwood in January 1999, then to Cannock in April 2001, before closing completely at the end of 2002.
When Reliant suffered financial trouble, Hooper bought Metrocab and began a programme of improvement. In late 1992 the Metrocab became the first London cab to be fitted with disc brakes as standard. Six and seven seat versions followed. The restyled Series II was introduced in 1997 and featured a great many detail improvements.
In 2000 a turbocharged Toyota engine replaced the Ford in the TTT model.
More to follow