Those of you who are regular readers of Fleet News will have heard me mention my old LTI Fairway cab before. She has become a somewhat honoury member of the fleet and is often used to carry bus bits around in as well as being used as a family run about. She has also taken us on many a paranormal investigation too as well as the occasional picnic. Normally she is ultra reliable but a few weeks ago she blew a gearbox gasket and had to be towed away. Although (hopefully) repairable (and at a reasonable price) I realised she would be off the road for a while. This left me with the problem of finding transport to and from work as well as popping over to the buses etc. An answer came from my friend Chris in Gateshead who some months back had acquired a Metrocab while his family car was off the road. That weekend, Claire and myself headed north to pick the cab up - despite the severe weather warnings!- and bring her back to Thanet. I've now had her on the road for over a week and am slowly ironing out a few faults that we said we'd sort out for Chris while she's down here. So how does the Metrocab compare with the classic FX4 Fairway? Well despite being designed by MCW who managed to built corrosion into all of their designs, the bodywork isn't too bad. This is helped by it largely being fibreglass like a Reliant Robin, which is a coincidence as when MCW ceased production in the late 80's, the design was sold to Reliant. The Metro is powered by a 2.5L Ford Transit engine which when coupled to a manual box gives impressive fuel returns. The Metro gives a smoother ride and it's obvious this is the newer design over the rattly old Fairway. However, the old FX4 has much more charm about her. It's a but like comparing a Routemaster with a Metrobus realy. Yes, they're both buses but totally different, and lets face it, also like the RM, the black FX4 cab IS the face of London. You don't see tee-towels, tee-shirts and postcards with Metrocabs on them do you? The long term plan is to get our Fairway back on the road once the gearbox has been fixed. Her steel bodywork is in need of a lot of TLC though at the famous Margate sea air has certainly affected her. Worst case if she can't be fixed would result in her becoming a generator at the yard (we have no mains electricity there) which would be handy. Owning 3 buses and looking after another 6 means that a large chunky vehicle like this is super handy- the old Fairway could carry 3 bus wheels at a time- but is only the fraction of the price of a van. We also get a cracking 7 seater family car when she's not full up with spares, which can be used for taking friends out and eating picnics inside on wet days. And best of all, like a van, they're easy to clean out.
It always amazes me, as a bus driver, how technology takes three steps forwards and quite often two back! Having just come back from a walk around Margate, I was amazed to hear some of the more modern buses struggling up certain hills in the area. No reflection on the operators at all, this is purely down- it seems - to the automatic gearbox deciding to change up a gear halfway up the hill. Most modern buses have just three gear selector buttons, D = Drive : N = Neutral : R = Reverse. No holding gears or nothing to help a loaded Dart struggle up a hill. It wasn't always like this of course, once upon a time ago, the driver had more control. As with our buses in the collection, all buses had gears. Even the London Titans that were fully automatic in top gear had holding gears you could put the thing in to help in up a hill - or more importantly DOWN a hill in icy weather. The early Darts even gave the driver the ability to select gears but over the years, this has been taken out of the cab. True, there will always be drivers who abuse a gearbox, changing gears too quickly and not pausing between each change correctly, but taking this level of control away from the driver turns them into little more than a steering wheel attendant! Negotiating a tight corner in snow is always best done in a low gear, but as I've found out many time, the automatic gearbox on the bus changes up at a critical moment making it harder to control. Maybe we should step back to the days of at least five buttons in the cab D1, D2, D, N, R....?
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