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The TX4: A British Motoring Icon

Well, the 2012 London Olympics are ticking along nicely and (Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, Oi, Oi!) we have picked up a medal of each colour so in the pool. Those who watched the opening ceremony would have noticed a little British motoring icon popping in here and there, especially during Rowan Atkinson/Mr Bean’s fantasy while playing Chariots of Fire. The Mini, Mr Bean’s favourite form of transport? The long, sleek Jaguar? The Rolls-Royce? No – this icon was the London Taxi, also known to the locals as the Hackney Cab.

The Hackney Cab’s local name dates back to the days of horse-drawn carriages, where the taxis tended to have just one or maybe two horsepower and left the sort of exhaust that one trod in rather than breathed in; hence the standard job of “crossing sweeper” who had the job of keeping the roads clear so that ladies with long skirts could get across without getting messy. Since the Industrial Revolution when London started mushrooming (the era highlighted in that opening ceremony), London has needed its taxis and the horse-drawn type lasted until the popularisation of the internal combustion and on until 1947. Very, very briefly, electric taxis ticked around London, but these were overtaken by the motorised type. Possibly, we’ll see a return to the electric version one day. The term “hackney carriage” refers to any taxi that is licensed to cruise the streets looking for passengers.

The iconic black London taxi currently puttering around London is the TX4, one of several taxi designs put out by a very specialist marque with a very unoriginal name: the London Taxi Company. The TX4 has the classic retro styling that give London taxis their distinctive look, which is based on the Austin FX4, another taxi design from the sixties. We all know what a London taxi looks like: the classic goggle-eye headlights, and the body that looks like a Mini crossed with a Land Rover – take the basic Mini look but give it the more upright lines and longish bonnet of a 4×4. The TX4 is not built for aerodynamics, but seeing as it’s built to cruise around an urban area rather than go flat out on the open road, it doesn’t have to be.

Under the bonnet of a TX4, you’ll find a VM Motori R 425 DOHC diesel engine that has a maximum power output of 74 kW at 4000 rpm and has a torque curve that peaks at 240 Nm when the engine gets to 1800 rpm. These specs are comparable to a number of private vehicles in the midsized range, meaning that if you ever filmed a chase scene in a thriller involving a London taxi (probably been done somewhere), the taxi can plausibly keep up with the average car. Most TX4s have a five-speed automatic transmission, but a very few come with a four-speed manual. The TX4 complies with Euro IV emission standards, which is one reason why the London Taxi Company went straight from TXII to TX4 – they wanted to refer to this standard and to have a link with the older FX4s. The TX4 also features ABS brakes, seating for five and a very tight turning circle.
The classic London taxi is black. However, there isn’t a rule about this, and the colour is more a tradition, like it is for top hats. The brochure for the TX4 lists eleven colours: traditional black (of course), white, four shades of blue (including Godiva blue; see below), three shades of grey, red and “spice”.
The TX4 is still made in Coventry, where it always has been. Coventry is one of those very old English towns. The best known legend of Coventry is the story of Lady Godiva, who, the story says, asked her husband to lower taxes on the locals. He said he would on the condition that she rode naked through the streets of Coventry. She did, having arranged for the townsfolk to stay indoors while she did her famous streaking act… and they all did, apart from a tailor named Tom who couldn’t resist looking and gave us the phrase Peeping Tom. The Coventry link is what gave one of the shades of blue its name: Godiva blue. One of the other shades of blue available is a reference to the sporting colours of a famous institution: Oxford blue.
More about the London Taxis can be found at the official website