All the Fun of the Fare
An unmistakable symbol of ‘Britishness’ for over sixty years, the London taxi has been re-imagined for the digital age
The Mini. The Routemaster bus. Ten years ago, Royal Mail released a set of ten British design classic stamps. Along with the pair of four-wheeled idols were the deities of the skies, Concorde and the Spitfire. But one British transport hero was missing. And this easily recognisable shape has put as much of a stamp on global culture as any of Royal Mail’s superstars. Roll forward, the black cab, the Hackney Carriage, or the plain old London taxi.
The Austin FX4 is, of course, the archetypal black cab, but it was far from the only version of London’s lolloping landmark. Built from 1958 to 1997 (and sold by Austin until 1982, then by Carbodies, whose association with the black cab goes back to the late 1940s), it was certainly the longest-reigning taxi on the streets of the capital. The FX4 superceded the Austin FX3 of 1984, and was then itself replaced by the TX1, TXII and TX4 from London Taxis International.
And while it’s true to say that it wasn’t as culturally influential as the FX4, the millennial TX1 was touched by iconic genius, too. Penned by Sir Kenneth Grange, the celebrated and prolific industrial and product designer created another British transport idol, or at least part of one – the nose cone on the equally abundant 1970s and 1980s InterCity 125 train. As for other taxi pretenders, we won’t even mention the square-edged Metrocab…
It’s the FX4 that captured our hearts, though, and those of the stars. Beloved of celebrity owners as diverse as Stephen Fry, Kate Moss, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Stanley Kubrick, Carry on Cabby actor Sid James, the Happy Mondays’ Bez, and Sir Laurence Olivier, even when it was replaced by the TX1, the newcomer just updated its predecessor’s seminal silhouette. The FX4 set the black cab template, entrenched it in popular culture, and was a hard act to follow.
But, just as the car industry embraces the electric age, the black cab has to accept it, too. As Bob Dylan sang, ‘Times They Are a-Changin’, and the streets of London (and those of other major global cities, such is the black cab’s far-reaching popularity) are abuzz with the latest in the London taxi line, the range-extended electric TX. Yep, even British transport icons have to plug-in and be zero-emissions capable in 2019.
Made by the London Electric Vehicle Company (LEVC, formerly The London Taxi Company and London Taxis International) at a 37,000sq m factory at Ansty, five miles northeast of Coventry, around sixty TXs a week roll off the production line. A wholly-owned subsidiary of the Chinese carmaker Geely, the LEVC plant is the newest car factory in the UK, and is the only one dedicated to building electric vehicles.
As you’d expect with £500m of investment since 2014, the 2019 TX is as high-tech as the FX4 was old school. The diesel engine is out, and in its place is a 31kWh lithium-ion battery pack and 110kW electric motor. Supplementing them is an 81bhp Volvo-sourced 1.5-litre, three-cylinder engine which is only used as a generator to charge the batteries. The rear wheels are only driven electrically. All that translates into 20g/km of CO2, an electric range of 64.5 miles on the WLTP cycle, and a combined distance of 303 miles. Plenty more moments for those ‘guess who I had in the back of my cab’ stories…
As Geely owns Volvo, it makes sense to share parts, and the TX cabin quite obviously cribs the Swedish manufacturers’ infotainment screen and steering wheel. And that’s a very good thing. It’s the most upmarket taxi interior in living memory. With room for six, USB ports, a panoramic sunroof giving views to almost equal the open-top tourist bus, and a rapid-charge time of 30 minutes to 80 per cent battery capacity, there’s lots for cabbies and passengers to like. Wheelchair access (first introduced on the 1989 FX4 Fairway), spookily silent running, 25,000-mile service intervals and a digital age take on the familiar silhouette also bring the black cab bang-up-to-date.
Hailed as ‘the glory of London’, the black cab has provided inner-city mobility for over six decades, and is a firm British automotive favourite. Not limited to cabbies, drivers who lack The Knowledge can also buy one if they have the £57,099 fee. The black cab has clocked up millions of miles from London to Kiev and from China to the Czech Republic, and as the world shifts to more climate-friendly transport, it has reinvented itself again. You could even say it’s come a fare way down the road… Sorry. TAXI!
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