Why a new edition?
When it was published by Crowood Press in 1997, Carbodies, the Complete Story gained critical acclaim and much interest amongst automotive historians and vehicle owners alike. As the book was part of Crowood's Autoclassics series, the amount of content was limited by the size of the book and the print technology of the time limited the use of colour images to an eight-page centre spread.
So much more information has become available that could and should be assessed and analysed and with much improved print technology, it was obvious that a new, enhanced edition had to be written. That is what I am doing right now.
What will the new edition contain?
- A much greater focus on the coachbuilding years and the postwar work on private cars
- Colour images throughout, including specially shot images of vehicles with the many types of bodies made throughout the years, examining how Carbodies made several basic types fit different chassis.
- An overview of the evolution in styling and design technology and the effect that the adoption of pressed steel bodies and the development of unit construction had on the coachbuilding industry in general and on Carbodies in particular.
- Greater details of the cars that were fitted with coachwork by Carbodies and more in-depth detail of the companies that made those cars
"It could be argued that if Carbodies had not existed, the rest of the British motor industry would be very different."
So said the blurb on the back cover of the first edition of Carbodies - the Complete Story. And it is true. What is more, Carbodies' story is a microcosm of not just one, but two aspects of the British motor industry; its coachbuilding and its supply industries.
The coachbuilding years
As a jobbing coachbuilder in the 1920s and 1930s, the arrival of the MG marque provided Carbodies' owner, Bobby Jones with a reliable source of work and a very welcome and reliable way of expanding the business. Carbodies also supplied makes such as Alvis, Invicta and Railton and made special bodies for mass-produced makers such as Rootes and Rover. During the 1930s, as the big manufacturers adopted pressed steel bodies, Carbodies developed new designs of drophead coupé and sports bodies, with elegant lines and experimented with power-operated hoods.
The post-war years
After the Second World War, during which Carbodies made a considerable contribution to the supply of aircraft fuselage components and vehicle bodies, the company turned its attention to the conversion of steel bodied saloon cars into convertibles. It also took on the building of the Austin FX3 London taxi for Austin and the taxi's sponsors, the taxi dealership of Mann and Overton. This would secure the company's future up to the present day.
The Daimler years
Carbodies was taken over by BSA in 1954 with the idea of turning it into the body making division of Daimler. Instead, it made just one complete Daimler body, the Majestic, in 6-cylinder and V8 and Majestic Major forms. With the ousting of Sir Bernard Docker from the board of BSA, the new management turned Carbodies into a more general body supplier and converter, producing diverse product lines, convertible versions of Ford and Daimler cars, motorcycle panels, commercial vehicle bodies, body pressings under contract for other makers and domestic washing machines, all alongside the Austin FX3 taxi.
The arrival of the FX4 taxi
Though nobody in the company could have foreseen it, the arrival of the Austin FX4 taxi in 1958 pointed the way the company would head. Gone by the early 1960s were the convertibles, replaced by estate car conversions for Rootes and Triumph.
The start of the 1970s saw the collapse of BSA and its acquisition by Manganese Bronze Holdings Plc (MBH), the loss of private car conversions and the rise in dominance of the taxi; by 1977 the FX4 was the company's sole product.
The arrival of a new managing director at the end of the 1970s resulted in two unsuccessful attempts to return to private vehicle conversions, with the Cortina Coupé and the Range Rover Unitruck.
In 1982, Carbodies acquired the intellectual rights to the FX4 from British Leyland and from then on, taxi manufacture would become its sole business. After the failed attempt to produce the Range Rover-based CR6 taxi to replace the antiquated FX4, Carbodies' management began to evolve the FX4, fitting improved brakes, suspension and interior until, in 1997, the chassis of the final FX4 variant, the Fairway Driver became the foundation of a new taxi, the TX1.
Taxi development and manufacture would continue under a new banner, London Taxis International (LTI), but at this point in time, MBH dropped the name Carbodies, focusing on the LTI brand. With this change of name, the book ends, but the company continues as LEVC Ltd, the London Electric Vehicle Company.
Talk to me
I'd be very interested to hear from you if you:
- worked at Carbodies or for any of its suppliers before 1997.
- are a member of a car club that specialises in any of the makes listed. I would like the opportunity to photograph the rarer and the unique coachbuilt models on which Carbodies built bodies.
- are an automotive historian with an interest in coachbuilding or any other aspect of the story.
- have any old photographs from the earlier days that you would be willing to share or allow me to examine.
Just visit my 'Contact' page and send me a message, or you can phone me or even write a letter.