Once a familiar sight in Newmarket as the regimental taxi of the Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Territorial Army, a vintage cab ended up being used as a courtesy car for Hollywood stars by a fashionable London hotel.
In between the 1935 Austin, registration BYK 294, was the proud possession of Derek Pearce of Worthing in Sussex.
Decribing himself as “a vintage taxi cab enthusiast of the 1960s” Derek had placed an ad in the then popular magazine Exchange and Mart for such a car.
“I was subsequently very surprised to receive a reply from a most unlikely source, the TA offering me theirs,” said derek.
“It was the autumn of 1964 and i was told that, due to a re-organisation of the regiment the vehicle, which had been used for both advertising purposes and for transporting the regimental dance band to and from venues, was now surplus to requirements and so could be mine for £45.
“So one Saturday in October found me with my eight-year-old son at the Drill Hall in Newmarket’s Rayes Lane - after 50 years I still recall the colourful leafy road where in BYK 294 was sandwiched between two large army lorries,” said Derek.
The journey back to Worthing was not without incident. On reaching Barnet in north London Derek discovered the taxi’s rear lights weren’t working. “I had no option but to keep going round the north circular without them - who would risk that now?” said Derek. “We got to Kew where luckily we found a cycle shop still open and a rear cycle light tied to the spare wheel with string, saw us home.”
Derek kept the car until 1969 during which time it served as both a family car and hobby vehicle. He drove in the London to Brighton Madeira Drive for historic commercial vehicles in 1965. In the late 1960s Derek was badgered by a London cab garage to part with BYK and let it go for £300. But a couple of years later he heard it had been sold to the actress and hotelier Anouska Hempel, later Lady Weinberg, and was being used as a courtesy car for her Blakes Hotel in Knightsbridge, carrying many famous passengers including Robert Redford, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan and Jane Russell.
Derek was contacted by the hotel and asked to help with the taxi’s restoration and for a while it came back to him at Worthing “I was appalled at the non-authentic work that had been carried out. The vehicle had become totally unrecognisable and I was glad to return it to Blakes,” said derek.
In was in November last year that Derek’s daughter, who had fond memories of the BYK as a family car, discovered it was a lot in a specialist car auction.It appeared it had spent around 12 years stored in a coach house on Lady Weinberg’s Wiltshire estate.
The sale brochure described the car as being in “remarkably good condition” and representing “an ideal opportunity to acquire not only a pre-war Austin which was the mainstay of the taxi fleet during the 1930s but one that also holds a fascinating history.”
At the sale BYK 294 was knocked down for £28,000.
For Derek, the car will always hold happy memories. “As the Suffolk and Cambridgeshire TA regimental taxi for at least five years, presumably based in Newmarket, I wondered if any Journal readers had any memories or photographs of it,” said Derek.
Do you remember BYK 294, if you do contact the newsdesk on 01638 564104.