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Little Classics Feature: 11 January 2014

The Face of London Cabs over the Years

London Taxi for HireThis week Nissan revealed the new face for its redesigned London Taxi - A vehicle backed by the London Mayor’s office, Transport for London and other key organisations as an important addition to the future of public transport in the capital.

With new styling, aimed at taking on characteristics of the iconic “black cab”, the result has been greeted with mixed response. Our view is it will probably be a very efficient, useable and reliable vehicle. However, it looks like a bug-eyed van with a rather misplaced nod to the much loved classic cab.

Before we get all misty-eyed about our iconic cab though and worry about the potential future ugliness of our distinguished and stately cabs, let’s just take a look at the history of our beloved black cabs.

Where it began

Horse and cart – c.1600

Hackney carriages appeared in London just over 400 years ago, when the wealthy would hire their personal carriages out to cover running costs. It's this heritage that gave the name Hackney Carriages, with ‘hackney’ originally coming from the Norman-French word hacquenée meaning a horse for hire.

By 1823 a French carriage called the cabriolet was introduced, which would often have its names shortened in conversation, starting the common name of ‘cab’.

Walter Bersey’s taxis - 1897

Walter Bersey’s taxisLondon’s first non-horse-powered taxis were electrically powered taxi by Walter Bersey, the then manager of the London Electrical Cab Company. Only 25 were originally introduced in 1897, with a further 50 by 1898. However, despite their benefits, they were costly and unreliable with them being withdrawn by 1900.

Early motorcar carriages - 1903

One of the first petrol powered cab in London was the French-built Prunel in 1903. Alongside this some British makes attempted the market including Simplex, Rover and Herald but these appeared in small numbers.

Unic cabThe number of cabs in London remained painfully low until 1906 when the General Cab Company set up 500 cabs built by Renault.

At the same time the rules for motor cab design, the ‘Conditions of Fitness’ were introduced. These new rules would put an end to many early cabs and prevent some new manufacturers entering.

Over the next few years the French remained dominant in the London cab business, with the Unic, introduced by British dealers Mann and Overton. These remained almost unchanged for the best part of 20 years.

Beardmore Marks I to VI - 1919

Production of the Beardmore Taxi MKI began in 1919 in Paisley, Scotland. This reliable vehicle became known as The Rolls-Royce of taxicabs. By 1923 the MKII was launched, based on an all-new chassis. After further changes to the regulations for taxis (Conditions of Fitness), the Mk3 was launched, boasting improved economy.

Beardmore Motors moved production from Scotland to North London in 1929 following a management buyout and removal of William Beardmore from his own company. Having settled in London, the Mk4 Paramount was introduced in 1932, which only really had one key update; a new 2-litre Commer engine and gearbox. The vehicle was further updated in 1935, with a longer wheelbase, creating the Mk5 Paramount Ace. It was followed in 1938 by the Mk6 Ace, which had only minor changes.

The arrival of Austin - 1929

1929 saw Austin enter the London cab market when taxi dealers Mann and Overton raised their head again by helping finance a new Austin built cab, based on their existing 12/4 car. The LL revision was then launched in 1934, creating a cost effective and reliable cab, which would start to push all competitors out the market.

Nuffield Oxford Taxi: 1947 - 1953

The Second World War saw huge changes in the vehicle production market. However, the first new cab to be successfully designed and launched was the Nuffield Oxford Taxi, also called the Wolseley Oxford Taxi. However, in 1952 Nuffield was merged with Austin as part of BMC formation. One year later Nuffield’s cab was binned in favour of continuation of Austin’s own FX3.

Austin FX3 – 1948

Austin FX3The new Austin FX3, had launched in 1948 being built by Carbodies of Coventry, yet financed jointly by Carbodies, Austin and that old favourite Mann and Overton. Once launched it soon dominated the market, especially with the above-mentioned axing of the main competitor from Nuffield.

Beardmore Mark VII - 1954

Beardmore Mark VIIBeardmore had come out of the war as a company selling and servicing Nuffield Oxford cabs, which was promptly knackered when BMC axed the model. This was the nudge Beardmore needed to return to production. In 1954 they launched the Mk7 Paramount, with traditional coach-built bodywork and a Ford Consul engine. With production ending in 1966 the cab never really gained ground on the Austin, having produced less than 700 vehicles.

Austin/Carbodies FX4 - 1958

Austin FX4 London CabIn 1958 Austin launched the FX4, now commonly recognised as the classic and iconic London black cab. With a 39 year run the FX4 saw numerous updates and tweaks, but no major reengineering or replacement due to the associated costs. In 1982 Carbodies Ltd bought the production rights to the FX4 from Austin, producing the vehicles under the new name of London Taxis International Plc. The final variant, the Fairway, ended production in 1997, ending a 75,000 production run.

Metrocab - 1987

The Reliant branded MetrocabThe most recognisable attempt to take on the famous FX4 is the Metrocab, brought about mainly by no new replacement being put forward by London Taxis International. Metro-Cammell-Weymann (MCW) launched the glass-fibre bodied Metrocab in 1987, powered by a Ford Transit diesel engine. The Metrocab’s life was not smooth, going from MCW to Reliant, to its peak with Hooper, and finally Kamkorp, who ceased production in 2006.

LTI TXI, TXII, TX4 - 1997

In 1997 the iconic FX4 shape was remodelled into a new modern shape and vehicle in the form of LTI’s TXI, utilising Nissan’s reliable TD27 engine. This was closely followed by the TXII, moving over to a Ford Diesel unit – a move that turned out to be less reliable than the previous Nissan power. In 2006, the TX4 was launched, retaining the same styling, but updating the engine to the Italian VM diesel engine.


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