Lecker Aufs Land

Change. Progress. Environment. Old taxis.

(c) Reversehomesickness.com.

Morocco is changing. Having vivid and fond memories from the heyday of CAR magazine in the seventies and eighties where a story headed off towards (or perhaps away from) the Sahara, or following the sinuous roads through the Atlas Mountains; images enticing us with not only the car in question but the souks and markets, faraway towns and remote villages that could’ve been from a thousand years ago, not merely thirty or so. One could almost feel the heat, smell the cooking aromas and taste the diesel fumes.

For usually at the rear of at least one photograph and almost certainly described within the report, the ubiquitous taxi would be parked there. Tatty in bodywork, everlasting in use and wearing a three pointed star on the front. Or not, for those chrome embellishments are coveted by the light fingered brigade the world over. This leaves the car with either a gaping radiator grille or a hole at the bonnets front, lending that forlorn yet plucky demeanour to its snout. Working class but honest.

No real matter, for a trip to Red Casablanca is all that’s necessary to ascertain those required spare parts. From those stars to axles, panels to gearboxes – it’s all there, brought in from Germany. This status quo on the parts trade has been so for years.

A potted Moroccan taxi history. The petit taxi is exactly what it says on the tin; a small hatchback of either French or Italian origin and allowed to carry driver and “a maximum of three passengers.” Ideal for buzzing between those market stands, narrow streets and the harbour front. They are metered for price and require hailing.

The Grand taxi is where those wearing a W moniker reside; 123’s, 124’s are the most common with the odd 114 Stroke 8 and 126’s still doing the rounds, thrown in for good measure. Plying their trade transporting more passengers and luggage or supplies due to their size. Whereas the petit is restricted to town, the Grand is open for any form of business, from airport to hotel or across the nation. Price is determined by haggling with the driver and can vary wildly.

And each town or city has their own colour scheme – pistachio green for Mohammedia. A shade of ochre for Marrakesh. Several separate towns share yellow (Beni Mellal) and red (Casablanca ) whereas the capital Rabat has Tiffany Blue.

Destined not to be Moroccan taxis. (c) Oncf-lesrailsdelavenir.com.

The youngest Grand is far from being a teenager, the eldest being over forty and the government wants a more modern transport approach. Step forward Dacia. With a scrappage scheme offering a subsidy of 80,000 dirhams (approximately 8,000 Euro’s) the jump from a large wheelbase, comfy if basic interior and diesel powered old Mercedes to a Lodgy is marked. Loyalty to the star is strong although the strength of Renault’s sub-brand is gaining.

Five years have passed since Mustapha Chaoun, then Secretary General of Morocco’s transport professionals stated that the approximately 50,000 taxis operating in the country were in need of updating. The Somaca (Societé Marocaine de Constructions Automobile’s) plant just outside Casablanca has been making various forms of Fiats, Austin’s and even Opel’s from 1959 – from 1995, the Fiat Uno, Palio and Sienna models. Renault muscled in and by 2005 held a majority share in not only the Somaca plant but invested in a much bigger facility just outside Tangiers.

Opened by King Mohammed IV and everyone’s favourite fugitive, one C. Ghosn in 2012, and continues to grow. The old Somaca has an 80,000 per year capacity; Tangier’s can shift 340,000 Dacia’s and with dedicated links to the port, exports them globally. The plant generates its power from a mixture of wind power and burning tons of crushed olive stones. Even the ash can be used as a fertiliser. That most precious commodity in a desert state, water, gets recycled by reverse osmosis which I’m led to believe is not the latest trending You Tube viewing. Tangier’s plant is heralded as being the world’s most energy efficient facility – that measurement must cause headaches.

In general, the more long in the tooth taxi driver will favour his Merc over the locally made Lodgy. Having served much time and many miles with such hardy machinery, easy parts access and should a repair be necessary, could easily be performed in a souk corner. The idea of taking your taxi to a dealer being anathema to such dyed in the wool aficionados of the olde world.

This, or the old Merc? (Source: cars4rent)

But of course old is indeed just that – the past. The younger Moroccan taxi driver will be more than satisfied with a modern, spacious, economical and Internet connected-ready car of today for that is probably all they know and aspire to. There can’t be many twenty-somethings aching for a classic car anywhere in the world in which to earn their crust. Where does the USB fit?

The last vestiges of the old Merc taxi world are slipping by. Dacia (or with that subsidy, maybe a Renault Traffic van…) will no doubt rule the roost in swiftly passing time. Should you wish to try and get one last ride in, to our eyes, a German delicacy of the automotive world, best book an autumnal (pandemic allowing) flight to Northern-most Africa, pronto. The next cab along will have an altogether different flavour.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

14 thoughts on “Lecker Aufs Land”

  1. Morning Andrew

    The first image could have been taken at a Mercedes Benz Club UK event I think? It’s also no wonder that those with older Mercs can’t get the parts they need as they all seem to end up in North Africa.

    It seems inevitable that Dacia will be the taxi of choice sooner rather than later with the benefit of local manufacturing. Perhaps Mercedes are missing a trick by not offering a smaller version of the Vito or a Citan Crew van as an alternative.

  2. Not so long ago all these taxis were Peugeots, mostly 404 and some 504. Since the Moroccan climate should keep the W123’s biggest enemy at bay (corrosion), these taxis should last forever, particularly if the owner was lucky and got a car with taxi pack-reinforced door hinges and locks, reinfirced seat franescand upholstery and so on.

  3. Good morning, Andrew. You paint a very evocative portrait, which brings to mind the distinctive smell of hot vinyl upholstery mixed with cigarette smoke that pervaded the ancient W123 taxis. We actually travelled in Lodgy taxi last year in Marbella and, while perfectly serviceable, it felt more like a van with windows and seats than a ‘proper’ car, with lots of creaks and groans, even though it was nearly new. Its difficult to imagine one still in service at 300,000+ kms, but they may prove to be deceptively robust. It least it had good air conditioning, which was often lacking in its predecessors, turning them into mobile saunas.

  4. I’ve always wondered where old Mercedes end up as you never see them on scrap heaps. W123’s were the taxi of choice in York in the late 1980’s and the rattly MB diesel noise takes me right back there. A few years ago I changed trains at Barrow in Furness and wandered out into the station yard where I was pleasantly surpised that all the waiting taxis were W201’s, the youngest must have been 15 years old at least. Last time I went back they were random diesels from different makers, the days of a specific makers holding apparant civic monopolies on taxis seems to be over.

    1. Yup, they didn’t buy them because they were fun to drive. Same with the taxi drivers in small towns in Crete back in 1971 – they all seemed to have just returned from a stint working in Germany after making just enough to buy a new Mercedes W115 taxi. Myself and four others of varying nationality were thoroughly ripped off departing from a town to a seacoast resort by one such owner. He knew there was no other way to get to Agia Galini once the buses for the day were over. The town itself was an amazing affair of one long street, incredibly dusty, down at the heels and looked right out of a Hollywood Western set except for a shiny new beige Merc taxi parked outside a barber shop, poised on the brink of its career as a mechanical mule. Twenty minutes later I was haggling wih a currency exchange man in Agia Galini who insisted my British sterling Thos Cook traveller’s cheque was denominated in dollars not quid. One presumes Morocco is not so venal, because for half a century I’ve felt not the slightest urge to revisit Crete.

    2. In the late Nineties I had a collection of consulting jobs that had me travel to the airport in the morning on four days a week. Our local taxi company was a Greek who bought used Mercedes taxis and drove them until they were ready for export to the not-so-far East. He had one particular W124 200 D with an odometer that had stopped odometering at 974.000 kms a long time ago and except for a slight rumbling noise from the propshaft and some jerky automatic gear changing the car looked felt used but nowhere like the use it had gotten. Its taxi quality heavy duty MB Tex interior was essentially unworn and if it hadn’t been for the heavy smoking residues it wouldn’t even have been smelling. That car had the full taxi kit with enormously large ashtrays for at least a kilo and a half of cigarette butts high up on the door trim, heavy duty door hinges and locks and that incredibly robust special MB Tex that looked and felt (and wore) like elephant skin. At that time Mercedes even built special engines for the taxi trade with reduced power (on a 200 D or 220 D!) for better longevity.
      At that time every larger Mercedes dealer had bolt on body parts like doors, front wings and bumpers pre-painted in RAL 1015 (taxi beige) readily available for shorter repair times and they also had beige courtesy car to keep their taxi customers on the road. Taxis were also sold at prices that cost Mercedes real money to subsidise.
      Small wonder they owned the trade.

  5. Many thanks for an entertaining read, Andrew. Learning about the colour coding of Moroccan taxis was a particularly amusing lesson.

    There’s a gentleman operating a (petrol-engined!) W126 taxi here in Hamburg – I never got to ride in it, but I talked to the driver, years ago. He must’ve been in his 60s back then (so older than 70 today) and explained that he only keeps on driving the taxi for fun. I must assume his job was/is his way of life.

    A couple of years ago, there also was some company by the name of Phaeton Taxi, who ran a fleet of you guessed which VW. Again, I never used their services, and they didn’t last long, but I did like the concept of a Phaeton taxi.

    Even good old Germany isn’t the domain of the Mercedes taxi it used to be. VW Tourans have become quite popular (though each and every time I talked to taxi their drivers about them, they would complain about the twin clutch transmission’s reliability), as have the Mercedes B-class and, particularly, the Toyota Prius Plus. The latter seems to be driven by the happiest taxi drivers, on the basis of my non-representative research. I’ve yet to come across a Prius driver who has anything but praise for that car’s reliability.

    All that being said – and despite the very chintzy interior – I try and ask for an E-class on those rare occasion when I need a tax myselfi. Seating and ride comfort are simply in a different league.

  6. Yes, the Prius (Plus or not) feels like is state of the taxi drive here in Germany – and it is not that good anymore here in old G.

    Last time I had a drive in a taxi, I had to go to pick up our car at the workshop, the driver was driving his Prius like Prius-driver drive their Prius. After a while is said “I know we are not on the Nürburgring, but you could at least drive as fast as all the others, I have an appointment on christmas eve – at least I would get to the garage before they close for today”. He was not amused.
    Meanwhile I was listening to music I don´t like and watch him wiping through the menu of all the displays this car offers. I think that was the last time I drove in a taxi here in this town, unless I´m forced to do so because someone is holding a gun to my head…

    In the good ol´ days when a taxi driver drove a Benz, it was a pleasure to take a taxi. At least all the professionals at the wheel knew where you were going and didn’t need directions. These days you dealing with digital naives – the reason why they like the Prius so much…

  7. In 2018 I spent two days in Casablanca during plane stopovers between Brazil and Europe. I will never forget the W123 with only one taillight (the other one was on bare lamp) on the road between the airport and downtown, or any of the hundreds of W123s doing their taxi job while releasing shale oil plant-like fumes.

    There were already some red Dacias but the old Benzes would outnumber them at a 10:1, maybe 15:1 ratio. I haven’t tried them other than a first-gen MCV that took me out of Lisbon’s Bairro Alto at 2 AM, opening our way through a crowd of drunk youngsters, so I can’t really judge whether the Dacias are fit for the job.

    As for Casablanca, when you cross the street, you’re a living target, not to mention the cattle running through the streets or the drivers that insist in honking whilst the lights are still red. So far, the most chaotic transit I’ve ever been to, beating Lima and downtown Sochi.

  8. I love Merc taxi spotting even abroad, although most are in taxi beige. Sadly, I doubt spotting Dacia’s in a few years time will hold the same appeal.

  9. I travel quite a bit to Barcelona for work and the Prius is top dog there, taxi-wise. And not merely amongst the cabbies – it is my choice too, when the alternative is a usually a diesel Seat. The Prius is quieter, more comfortable (as much as anything because you are not subjected to the driver’s not necessarily skilful gear changing) and who needs stinky diesel in a city centre? One enterprising chap had converted his Prius to LPG (you can tell by the click of the valve opening when the engine cuts in), which at current prices must be giving him the cost equivalent of 90 to 100mpg. Why wouldn’t you, if it was your job?

    Old Merc central these days has to be Albania, where about 50% of the cars on the road seem to follow the star. Whether they have all been paid for is perhaps another question, but let’s not indulge too much in stereotyping. Plus, I was delighted to see, two Jaguars (XJ40); even as an habitual kitty fancier myself, this struck me as quite a bold election.

    We were there about 5 years ago on motorcycles. It is a commonplace that driving in Europe tends to become progressively more “free form” as you venture south; you adapt to the local habits as you travel, doubly so on a bike if you don’t have a taste for hospital food. However, a 5 hour ferry ride from Brindisi eastwards (arriving in the dark, too) does not afford any chance to adapt; you have suddenly been catapulted across the Indian Ocean and touched down in Columbo. And you have to buy insurance locally; some geezer in a hat near the port snaffles 25 euros off you for one weeks’ cover, evidenced by a gold embossed bit of paper that you cannot read, while beggars pick at your sleeve. Humans are very adaptable, however; I don’t think I have ever ridden so carefully or so slowly.

    Shortly after crossing the border into Greece we were stopped for a document check by the Police; they just couldn’t understand why we had been to Albania. But I can highly recommend the old Ottoman town of Gjirokaster generally and The Hotel Gjirokaster in particular, if ever you should be passing. Nothing was too much trouble; when we left very early (ie 5.30) in the morning to get a few miles in the bag before the heat became too scorching, we were served by the proprietor’s father delicious homemade almond cakes and a fabulous jug of “tea” that appeared to have been just scythed from a field (it stood about 18 inches high). The old boy very proudly pointed up to the hills above the town and into his chest to indicate that this was from his land. Quite an experience from a night that a search of Booking.com tells me cost me 31 euros.

    To bring this ramble full circle, I own a 1967 Mercedes “Fintail” saloon – affectionately known as The Greek Taxi. No explanation required.

    1. Albania started replacing it’s taxis for Fiat Tipos, Opel Astras, Škoda Octavias and also various Dacias. Though all other cars on the roads are still Mercedes – wonder how long will those run since I don’t think they ever change lubricants or filters on them.

  10. “Scrappage”? Are you sure?

    I bet you one of my Michael Sedgwick books that those old Mercedes falling in the Moroccan “cash for clunkers” scheme will have a new-new-life further south, in black Africa, where old Peugeots from the 1960s and 70s live forever.

    I have been in several plus 30 years old Mercedes Sedans. You can feel the superior quality in those cars, even if they have more than 1.000.000 Km in the odometer. I experienced such a high mileage Mercedes in a Taxi in a small village in Northern Spain, 20 years ago. The 1.000.000 Km car was just starting to show some signs of age, but was perfectly serviceable and comfortable. I wonder if it is still running in northern Burgos.

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