News : Classic Black cab – hail one while you can!

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Andrew Elphick

FX4 making a star appearance in the Ipcress Files
FX4 making a star appearance in the Ipcress File

This year might be you last chance to hail a FX4 – so flag one down while you still can! Transport for London’s new 2012 air quality strategy (launched as an integral part of the Low Emission Zone – LEZ – initiatives), infers all traditional ‘Hackney carriage’ taxis will be subject to a rolling 15 year licensing plan. Effectively any Taxi registered before 1997 will have the orange roof mounted glow of ‘TAXI’ extinguished when its annual vehicle licence renewal is due.

So after 53 years of sterling service will the iconic FX4 finally vanish from our capital’s streets?

Production of the TX4 continues in the UK and China
Production of the TX4 continues in the UK and China

Well nearly… Even though the successor to the Austin FX4 hire car (London Taxis Intermational’s TX1) appeared almost 39 years to the day at the 1997 British motorshow, (production ending that same month in October 1997 to be usurped by the new fangled TX1 production line), some FX4’s slipped the net – whether cancelled orders, or dealership back lot unsold stock, with five 1998-, one 1999- and one 2000-registered Fairways currently licensed. While 4099 FX4/Fairways are legal and touting ‘FOR HIRE’ on London’s streets (the oldest a 1986 model), come 2013 just seven survivors will be left in captivity. These fascinating figures can be found here.

Of course, you still need to pass the annual inspection (£101 for the application and inspection fee, £53 for the licence – the square white plate), so old age, accident damage and pure uneconomical repair will wither this number further. So if you happen to be in the capital, grab a cab, demand an unnecessary U-turn (to marvel at the famed 25ft turning circle), play spot the BL parts bin while engaging the driver in conversation. And ask those all-important questions: will your personal welder retire, is a bed of nails more uncomfortable than a Fairway drivers seat, and are chrome bumpers better than plastic ones?

Interior of the Carbodies FX4 is a delight for BL-parts spotters
Interior of the Carbodies FX4 is a delight for BL-parts spotters
Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

47 Comments

  1. don,t forget the metrocab the austin taxis challenger!! made at the metro cammell works in birmingham!! not many metrocabs around thses days!!

  2. I’d love to see plenty of these flood into the private market for minicabbers 🙂

    I know it won’t happen but, hey

  3. I presume less stringent rules apply in other cities of the UK?

    As recently as 2002 I used to regularly see a 1970’s K-suffix-plate cab in Birmingham, obviously owned by an enthusiast, gorgeous chromework etc, so I guess if it still passes the test there was no upper age limit.

  4. It’s a credit to it’s makers that they’ve lasted this long. It’s always sad when an icon like the FX4 has to retire, but hey, they’ve had a good run!
    On the flip side of the coin, maybe it will give a boost to FX1 sales?

  5. @Dickie524

    Similarly Belfast has a fair few (usually GB-reg’d) FX4s still on the go.

    Though many are used as ‘taxi-buses’, running set routes but can pick up as many passengers as they can fill (a hangover from the bad-old-days when a bus service to some areas wasn’t gauranteed!) which can get a bit erm-cosy when you are in with 4 other strangers!
    The turning circle astounded me when the last stop was on the opposite side of the road, just turned it right round and parked up!

    Many of the ‘rank’ hire drivers use TX1s now, occasional TX4.

  6. @Adrian

    I read it as the taxi licencing scheme would exclude vehicles > 15 years old.

    However, it will still be possible to drive a private vehicle of any age (and paying TfLs congestion charge).

  7. I’m surprised that there were that many left I can’t recall seeing many in London. The once omnipresent FX4s have long since disappeared from Edinburgh’s streets, of more concern is the increasing tendency to use Vitos instead of TX1-4s.
    It would be a crying shame if black cabs were to go, a Vito just isn’t the same, in fact I’d rather see German standard beige E-classes, a couple of years ago Berlin still had a fair number of W124s plying the street, and the odd million mile W123 to remind us how good Mercedes used to be.

  8. It just applies to licensed Taxis within London, if you have an FX4 in London and use it as a private car then it’s no different to any other private car.

    Seeing the mention about the 25ft turning circle, this isn’t unique to the FX4. It’s a requirement for ANY hackney carriage in London. Beardmore, Austin, TX1, TX2, TX4, Mercedes, Metrocab, they can all do the same.

    And yes London has the strictest rules for Taxis, so you may well see them in use elsewhere. In London only a purpose built taxi can be used as a ‘Taxi’ (as opposed to a private hire car ‘mini-cab’). In most other towns and cities cabbies can use a car, but if they use a purpose built cab then they can keep them longer than a car. Each local authority has different rules though.

  9. The ‘rank’ hire taxis seem to be buying Peugeot Partners in Taxi spec to replace the FX4s.

    The Merc taxis of Europe seem to have been replaced by fleets of Avensises.

  10. The cynic in me is thinking, is not all about raising demand for new vehicles and boosting the economy? My theory is: Take that 1986 FX4. Its been built already and assume its allowed to go for another 15 years rather than being taken prematurley off the road no matter what it belches out in that time is not going to do as much damage as building a brand new taxi of any type to modern spec’s (I am just guessing here and would love to know if anyone knows if my theory is true).

  11. A bit of a shame to see them go.

    Stockport still has plenty of mid 1990’s FX4’s, & 1 or 2 even older cars used as minicabs.

    New York eventually lost it’s iconic Checker Marathons after an age limit was introduced.

    Ford Crown Victorias seem to be standard there.

  12. Sadly also the Crown Vic is going to disappear from NYC’s streets as well eventually now that they have sanctioned a taxi version of the the Ford Transit Connect, in preparation for a new Nissan-designed purpose built cab coming later. Manhattan will never look quite the same 🙁

  13. Kevin makes a good observation.

    Crown Vics are no more, NY to get some Qashcow lookalike or a Transit.

    Police crown vics are also no longer made, interceptor variants of the Taurus are the proposed replacement.

    Lincoln Towncar is also no more, the successors are a smaller saloon or a crossover.

  14. Hardly surprising though that the Crown Vic is going – it is, at the end of the day a 1970s Yank Tank clothed in an anodyne 1990s-style body. Scary to think that all American cars were once built to that formula – huge, lumbering big-block V8 powered saloons riding on marshmallow suspension, bench seats, column shift, and body-on-frame construction.

    Interesting though that finally in the US, they are showing a willingness to downsize, the current Ford Fiesta is now the biggest selling compact over the pond – the sales figures look impressive till you see how small they are in comparison to the F150 pick-up!

  15. It’ll be sad to see them go. I wonder if there’s room for a small heritage fleet, similar to the Routemasters that still run parts of the 9 and 15 routes in central London?

  16. I have two 94 Nissan engined FX4 taxis which we use to advertise my English language centres here in Northern Spain to fantastic effect. They cost peanuts to buy and generate far more publicity than any press advertising. They’ve got well over 400 miles a-piece and yet need hardly any maintenence.I get far more looks and attention driving one than in my new Evoque, for sure, and when I’m too pissed to drive home my Spanish wife loves trying to drive it home, whilst I snore happily in the back. I recomend one to everybody as a fun second car!

  17. Sad as it is to see the FX4 go , like most things it has had its time. The iconic London Taxi should be supported more in this country than it presently is. The company is struggling to sell the current model due to the current economic climate and the fact that some Taxi operators are allowed to buy and licence a van derived conversion ; ie Fiats or Peougeot’s .The next time you ride in one of these so called ‘ van/cabs’ just take a carefull look at the lack of protection if you were to be involved in a rear end shunt. The answer is prescious little. The current model TX4 is still produced in Coventry with separate chassis and body making for a very sturdy construction.Local authorities should think long and hard before allowing the van coversion types onto the streets and support the company and its British workforce in Coventry.

  18. It’s a shame to see them go but London must address it’s awful air. The new Routemaster is a missed opportunity being diesel hybrid, gas turbine hybrid would have been better and cleaner.

  19. Dolomite fan – agreed – a Gas turbine bus would have been a great opportunity to flambeau London’s cyclists…

  20. “Because some Taxi operators are allowed to buy a van derived vehicle” Surely the British Taxi should survive and prosper because its a good product, not because Taxi operators are forced to buy it. Thats how the Trabant and Wartburg survived in East Germany!

  21. Gas turbines were tried in railway locomotives & only worked efficently when running long distances at high speed.

    Start stop passenger work tended to loose the gains made while running at a steady speed.

    I guess conditions in London would be even more this was.

    The gas turbine fitted racing cars performed on oval circuits but not so well on tracks with slow corners.

    The lack of engine braking tended to cook the brakes & would take a long time to get back up to speed after turning.

  22. OK no gas turbines but I was thinking of it more as a generator effectively running at a pretty constant speed. Alternatively a CNG powered conventional reciprocating piston engine would still be better than diesel.

  23. ““Because some Taxi operators are allowed to buy a van derived vehicle” Surely the British Taxi should survive and prosper because its a good product, not because Taxi operators are forced to buy it.”

    Sadly a van conversion will always be cheaper than something purpose designed for the job, cabbies will always buy what’s cheapest unless they’re forced to buy something else.

    The LTi cabs give better mpg around town (what they’re deigned for) whereas most of the van conversions have their optimum fuel economy out on the open road, not to many of those in large cities!

    The reason the Checkers and Crown vics (the crown vics btw were mostly retired police cars) have been done away with is NYC’s taxi authority have decided to follow London’s lead and make all their taxi’s accessible to wheelchair users. The FX4 btw was wheelchair accessible in 1959!

  24. Fx4’s and the Tx’s are generally banned from any private hire/minicab work to distinguish the differences between the two markets and licence conditions. The ones you are likely to see are the unplated privately owned transport.

    T

  25. @Tony, Private Hire companies in Belfast run a few TX4s.
    Though they’re nowhere near as ubiquitous as the Octavias and Superbs.

    @Dennis, I thought the wheelchair accessibility wasn’t til the mid 80s, when they could open the door 180 degrees and the partition could be made S shaped?

  26. This only affects the older FX4 models, the current TX4 models which comprise most London taxis these days are still very much proper London cabs, so it’s not the same as the Routemaster which is clearly completely different and of another era to current low floor double deckers. I’m sure LTI will appreciate the extra replacement business too.

  27. “@Dennis, I thought the wheelchair accessibility wasn’t til the mid 80s, when they could open the door 180 degrees and the partition could be made S shaped?”

    A wheel chair was a tight squeeze and not all could be fitted, but then NONE of them will go into the rear foot well of a saloon car. 😉

    But yes come the 80’s they put more thought into it and came up with ramps and restraints.

  28. I live in Loughborough and you see plenty of the Ford Tourneo (basically a Transit) taxi conversions. It makes plenty of sense for a taxi driver or firm in a University town.

    Cheap to finance/buy

    Can carry 8 passengers plus driver

    Ruberized/plastic floor is easy to mop the vomit out in the morning!!!

    Wheelchair adaption is fairly simple plus it doesn’t eat into seating capacity in the same way as a London taxi

    Wide parts availability at a reasonable price

    http://www.cabdirect.com/vehicles/vehicles/index.cfm?id=3&vid=364

  29. @24 gas turbine hybrid electrics are much more efficient in high power applications than diesel hybrids. Compact turbine units can be quickly spun to maximum rpm (where these engines are incredibly efficient) and will only switch on when needed.

    The Jaguar’s CX75 is one example of how to do it. The battery storage provides the power at lower speeds and the gas turbine charges the pack when needed. At high speeds the gas turbine takes over to generate the electricity needed to propel the car. As usual, regenergative braking is used to help slow the car and charge the battery pack.

    I think they tried the same with APT back in the 70’s but I’m sure they abandoned the idea due to the heavy grade of diesel they used (and probably still do) clogging up the blades.

  30. Sorry to hear the disappearing FX4’s, I had already noticed this. I had an early (1964) FX4 BLL 298 B which I ran as a private car in the early 80’s, the type with the “rabbit’s ears” indicators, small back window and tail lamps from a Triumph Spitfire, huge fun. I spent ages watching old episodes of “Minder” trying to get right “Kings Cross, mate” in the Cockney patois, very difficult for a Geordie!It had brown leather interior and tip up seats in the back, the dog went in there, but the cab was extremely spartan and noisy, and you couldn’t get the seat far enough back for me (6′) because of the partition. It had the old BMC 2.2 diesel, noisy, slow but torquey, reliable and fairly economical. However, if anybody is thinking of getting one as a private car they are a really practical, yet highly individual family car, it also did posh wedding duty for my sister-in-law, and was simple and easy to work on.
    However my oddest experience occurred when waiting at our local station to collect my wife when two extremely drunk girls suddenly climbed in the back and gave the address, with the clear indication that they did not intend paying for the fare with money! Trying to explain through their drunken haze that it did look like a taxi, but wasn’t really a taxi, and then my wife appearing from her train, was the stuff of comedy. (Yes, I’m still married!)
    I ran it for a couple of years in bangernomics style, had huge fun, but the body was pretty rotten by then and so I scrapped it – the scrapyard even used it as their lunch cabin for a while!
    Happy days, David

  31. My partner has a 15 year old black taxi which he can no longer use as from Dec 2012 . We were hoping to give it to my son to use for his DJ ing but wondered if the TFL new rule of a particulate filter applies or even if a 15 year old cab cab be used at all for private hire .

  32. D’oh! Bugger! Who in their right mind would discontinue England’s famous FX4 taxicab? I got to ride in some while my parents and I were visiting the UK. I found them more comfortable to ride in than my Toyota Corolla.

    • Time marches on, things always change.

      When I’ve been to the US I’ve been dissapointed to not have a taxi that was a classic checker, a Ford LTD or a Crown Victoria. Ended up in some SUV, a Chrysler Voyager and a Toyota.

      Even the public hire taxis and taxibuses of Belfast, which usually use London castoffs, have replaced the old FX4s with TX1s.
      One of my aunts friend’s husband used to have a small garage fixing FX4s for the Belfast taxibus drivers, passing the yard of their house there were usually a couple of cab bodyshells or engines lying about.

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