London minicab history, distilled down

An ongoing story and historical record of the London mini cab, vehicles, drivers and passengers.

For centuries this iconic black hackney vehicle has been an important part of the public transport system in London and although time has seen the introduction of other forms of public transportation, for example the bus network, rail network and the Underground or “Tube” the black cab is still one of the most cherished and relied upon commuting options for residents and tourists alike in the UK’s capital today.

Their un-mistakable appearance and long service have made the hackney carriage one of the most iconic symbols of London, so much so that taking a ride in one is often considered an attraction in itself, worthy of many a tourist Facebook post.

The earliest recorded private hire vehicles in London date back to the 17th century in the shape of a horse-drawn carriage. In order to ensure passenger safety, the UK government enacted legal Conditions of Fitness in 1679, which required all such carriages to have been formally inspected before drivers could charge the fare paying public. These requirements have changed and developed in the ensuing years, but they are still enforced to this day by the Public Carriage Office of London.

After the horse, the first motorised London private hire vehicles were introduced towards the latter part of the 19th century (1897) were electrically powered vehicles such as the Bersey, which was so quiet that it was soon nicknamed the “Hummingbird”. Mainly due to range limitations, it was replaced by a petrol-powered Prunel in 1903, built in France. Then a trend started where many British and foreign car manufacturers produced vehicles that met or exceeded the Conditions of Fitness, companies such as Renault and Vauxhall to name but two. From 1930 to date all London black taxi vehicles have been built by UK manufacturers such as Winchester, Beardmore, Morris and Austin, with the most popular being the Austin FX3 and FX4 models.


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The Austin FX3 was first introduced in 1948, a three door vehicle with a 2.2 litre power-plant and manual gearbox. One of the most notable design features of this vehicle is its highly convenient rear-hinged doors. In excess of 7000 of the FX3 were sold within a ten year period, with the car eventually being replaced by the FX4 model in 1959. Largely similar, the FX4 had one additional luggage compartment door, featured fully hydraulic brakes and much improved driver instrumentation, as well as the now famous “bunny ears” turn indicators.

The FX4 was re-christened the “Fairway” after a local company took over production of the now iconic vehicle. To date Fairway still manufacture about 80% of all purpose build private hire cars in the United Kingdom.
As time and design moves on, the Fairway came up against a new competitor in the London black taxi vehicle market (1987), with Metropolitan Cammell Weymann introducing the “Metrocab”, a much more modern design with a lightweight fiberglass body, power steering, disc brakes and efficient wheelchair access. Today this vehicle holds a significant market share. During a production run of about forty years the FX4 model became the second longest surviving British vehicle, second only to the much-loved Land Rover. In 1997 it was replaced by the TX1, a thoroughly modern car that continues the iconic shape with many of the traditional styling cues. This new minicab is, as you would expect, a significant step up providing better accommodation for both driver and passengers.

The expected service life of a London hackney cab is between 10 and 15 years and after retirement some end up in the garages or showrooms of classic car collectors as private vehicles.

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