The London Cab - The most Iconic form of Public Transport.
There are some things that are unmistakably British. Football, Queen, Corgis, Land Rover, Clarkson Hammond and May, the winner of the World Wars, and the colonization of around one-fifth of the Earth's surface. Those symbolize Britain as a whole. However, most things that are synonymous with Great Britain come from its capital city, London. The Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth, and perhaps more iconic than all of them, the London Cab.
The London Cab had always been an integral part of London's public transportation system, along with the Double Decker bus. Loved and respected by people all around the world since its launch during the seventeenth century, it belongs in a special place in passengers' hearts, relied on and used by millions of residents and tourists every year.
The Hackney Carriage
The London Cab's history spans back all the way to the seventeenth century, before even the automobile was invented. Back then, a horse-drawn carriage was used as the combustion engine had not been invented yet. It was called the Hackney Carriage. No one really knew where the term Hackney came from, but some historians suggested that it had come from the French word "hacquenée", when translated means "horse for hire", or literally meaning "ambling nag". Another idea could be that the term came from the Hackney region in London.
The first Hackney cabs were large and luxurious, but scaled down horse carriages. They were first introduced during the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1. The idea of a taxi came about because wealthy Londoners couldn't keep up with the rising costs of owning horses, coaches and drivers, so they decided to capitalize on them by hiring them out to lower class citizens as a means of public transport. In the year 1625, around 20 were available for hire, operating out of hotels and inns.
In 1634, the first taxi rank had been established as Captain John Bailey, an owner of four hackney carriages brought them in front of the Maypole Inn. A tariff was charged for travel to various parts of London, drivers had to follow a strict set of rules and regulations, and carriages being painted in a distinctive livery for the sake of recognition from the surrounding area by potential customers. Today, the term Hackney Carriage is still used to describe taxis in London.
The popularity of the Hackney Cab continued for the next 200 years until a man named Joseph Hanson designed and patented the Hansom Cab. It was a two-wheeled horse drawn cart designed to be able to go faster than most Hackney Carriages at the time, while at the same time keeping the driver and his occupants safe. The Hansom cab was lighter, wider and shorter than its predecessor, which meant for better handling thanks to a lower center of gravity.
Another re-invention of the Hackney Cab came from neighboring France, when a faster, two wheeled carriage called the Cabriolet. It had many similarities to the Hansom Cab, but the term "cab" or "cabby" was derived from its name, Cabriolet, as drivers would usually refer them to that.
Somewhere during the end of the 19th century, the cab had undergone a revolution. Instead of using horses which would tire out a lot, needed to be fed regularly, and would throw away its visually displeasing and pungent waste on roadsides, the cab was now powered by electricity. Walter C Bersey of the London Electrical Cab Company had developed the Bersey cab, named after its developer. Londoners were looking ahead into the future as a result of that innovation, all thinking that the future will be electric.
The Bersey taxi had zero emissions, and were one hundred percent electric. Soon after the debut of the electric taxicab, they would earn the nickname Hummingbirds after the distinctive sound they make. 25 Bersey cabs were introduced, and they would generally replace horse-drawn carriages. Unfortunately, it was too ahead of its time, as they were too expensive to run, very unreliable as battery technology had just been introduced, heavy as batteries at the time were massive, would take forever to fully charge, and in some cases, would tend to catch on fire.
The public had lost faith in the Bersey cab in the 1900s due to its problems and shortcomings, and all Bersey cabs were withdrawn from service as a result.
In 1903, instead of using electricity, London cabs would use internal combustion engines, as they were more reliable and were less prone to problems. The first examples of engine powered cabs in London were the Prunel, built in France. Some British manufacturers also joined the trend to make a quick buck, such as Rational, Simplex and Herald. However, they were all sold in small volumes and were not as common as the Prunel on the road.
However, the first World War had come about. Production of the London Taxi had came to a unexpected halt, as manufacturers would immediately switch to military developments in order to assist Great Britain during the war. Further development of the London Taxi had also been halted till around the 1920s, when new designs started to come about and roam on London's streets once again.
The biggest taxi dealership at the time, Mann and Overton, sponsored two manufacturers, Austin and Morris to create a new and more efficient and cost effective variation of the London Cab. That sponsorship had given birth to the Morris Oxford in 1947. However the Austin FX3, released one year later had created the template for the familiar London taxi.
The Austin FX3 had a more iconic look, looking more like a car rather than an engine powered horse carriage. The design of the FX3 was thought to influence future cabs to come, and is still considered to be the look of the traditional London taxi. After the end of World War 2, the taxi business bounced back thanks to the FX3 being cheaper, more reliable and more cost-effective compared to pre-World War 1 cabs.
Austin continued to dominate the London Cab market with its best selling FX3. Despite tough competition from rivals and their offerings, the FX3 continued to become the go-to model for London's rapidly growing fleet of cabbies. Thanks to rapid sales, Austin had released a 2.2-liter diesel variant for the FX3. In 1958, its replacement, the FX4 was released, and would become a common sight on London streets for five decades straight.
The FX4 had become the best known taxi in history over its long life. Produced for 39 years, the FX4 was offered in a wide variety of engines, from the 2.2-liter Austin engine carried over from its predecessor, the FX3, all the way to a Nissan TD27 diesel engine found in the 1989 Nissan Fairway.
The FX4 featured Ackermann steering geometry, allowing the car to make narrow u-turns, suitable for the crowded and cramped streets of London. Early FX4s were built with small rear stop taillights and roof mounted turn indicators, nicknamed "bunny ears" because of the way they looked. Its interior was draped in a vinyl black color, with an altered partition for more legroom for the driver.
Production rights of the FX4 were sold from Austin to a company named Carbodies. The old Austin engine was replaced with a Land Rover 2.3-liter Diesel engine, as the old Austin plant had been just recently sold to India. There were several improvements compared to Austin's FX4, such as power steering and full servo brakes. However, there was a drop in quality as performance and reliability was poorer. Some people replaced the Land Rover diesel engine with a Mazda 3-liter diesel engine, which improved performance, but was noisier and caused cracks to form in the chassis.
After selling the production rights to the FX4 again, from Carbodies to London Taxis International, formed by Mann and Overton, the Fairway was introduced in 1989, powered by a Nissan TD27 diesel engine, which made it faster and more reliable than the FX4. The Fairway was the greatest and latest variant of the FX4. It featured a full wheelchair access in some models, as the kerb side of the passenger door were made capable to open 180 degrees, along with being able to reconfigure the interior easily for wheelchair use.
The Fairway allowed LTI to expand into overseas markets, along with moving into provincial UK markets they had not been able to tackle outside London, in response to the British parliament and local authorities insisting on wheelchair accessible cabs. The Fairway is still on the road today, usually for special purposes such as weddings. And in 2011 and 2012, a heavily modified FX4 was driven 70,000 kilometers (approximately 43750 miles) around the world through more than fifty countries, setting world records such as the highest altitude reached by a taxi, along with the longest distance ever traveled by a taxi.
In 2006, the Transport Ministry of London ruled that all taxis in London must comply with Euro 3 exhaust emission regulations. The newest engine, the Nissan TD27 engine found in the Fairway had only complied with Euro 2 standards, with older engines performing even worse. However, most owners were reluctant to get rid of their very reliable and economical FX4s. As a response to the backlash, the STT Emtec Clean Cab Turbocharger and the Van Aaken exhaust gas re-circulation system were developed and installed. The conversion process costed around 2,000 pounds, so most owners either had to give them up or pay the price. Most owners chose to pay the price in order to keep their beloved FX4s.
In the 1990s, Mercedes-Benz attempted to break into the London taxi market with the Vito van. It had room for six passengers and two 12 volt power sockets, which was a luxury in automobiles at the time, the Vito was popular for executive travel. However, it did not feature the iconic shape of a London Taxi, as it was a re-purposed V-Class.
In 1997, the TX1 was released, ending production of the FX4 after 39 years. It was the biggest step forward in the history of London taxis. Its design combined the unmistakable silhouette of the traditional London taxi with huge advances in usability and refinement. The Nissan TD27 diesel engine had found its way into the newer model. In 2002, it was replaced by the TX2, powered by the Ford Duratorq engine found in the Ford Transit and Land Rover Defender. The improved interior allowed certain addition to be made to vehicles such as Cabvision, a digital screen integrated into London taxis.
The TX2 was succeeded by the TX4 in 2010, after the London Taxi Company had been acquired from Chinese auto manufacturer Geely. It features a new grille, an updated interior, updated from and rear bumpers, internal headrests as a result of EU regulations, and a redesigned rear trunk. The Nissan TD27 had been replaced with the VM Motori R 425 DOHC diesel engine, rated at 101 horsepower, mated to a Chrysler 5-speed automatic transmisison, or a Eaton FSO manual transmission. The TX4 had also found its way to new, international markets thanks to Geely's wide network. The international version was powered by a 2.4-liter Mitsubishi engine, rated at 150 horsepower.
The latest variant of the TX4 is now compliant with Euro 6 standards, and will be the last of the engine powered London cabs.
The electric London Taxi makes a comeback after an entire century of inactivity, as manufacturers are now switching to electric power as a result of the new Taxi Private Hire regulations which bans new diesel engines and requires zero-emissions capability. At the moment, only two electric taxis are on sale today, the Ecotive Metrocab and the LEVC TX.
The Ecotive Metrocab was unveiled in December 2013, mostly electrically powered, but paired to a 1-liter petrol engine acting as a range extender. Prototypes were first shown to the press in 2014, and a small fleet of vehicles were running under ComCab in 2015. However, the London Taxi Company claimed that the Metrocab had breached their trademark, as both looked similar in shape. Today, the court case is still ongoing.
Its competitor. the LEVC TX comes from the original London Taxi Company, the builders of the old FX4. The cab is built on a unique platform, underpinned by an aluminium chassis built in the UX. The LEVC TX's parts come from China (32%), Mainland Europe (32%), the US (4%) and the UK (32%). It's fitted with a 33 kilowatt-hour battery pack built by LG, and powers a 110 kW Siemens electric motor for traction. Its range extender, a Volvo 3-liter engine achieves 36.7 mpg on petrol power alone.
The London Taxi had always been an unmistakable symbol of Britain since the 17th century. Its iconic shape stands out from the rest of the crowd, easily identifiable from a mile away in a crowded street. With a rich history from horse-drawn all the way to electric, it is the oldest forms of road public transport to date, and has always been the Londoner's go-to choice when it comes to public road transport.
The London Taxi has always been a driver's favorite because of its heritage and reliability, especially with the iconic FX4, spanning production for over 39 years, with some even still on the road today. Its smooth ride, practicality and usefulness and iconic shape had found its way to a special place on every cab driver's hearts.
The taxi system had also been pioneered by the London Cab, with the first one being established in the 18th century out of four horse drawn Hackney Carriages. With newer models being more technologically advanced than ever along with being electric, it will stay for generations to come.