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Celebrating the new Black Cab | Axon’s Automotive Anorak

13th May 2021
Gary Axon

Last week I had cause to visit the West End of London for the first time in almost twelve months. Walking around the usually vibrant Capital, with the pavements, retail outlets (where open) and roads all still exceptionally quiet, it was a real pleasure to reacquaint myself with the familiar surroundings and London landmarks that I had previously taken for granted over so many years.

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The London backdrop of red double-decker buses and black taxis added to the refreshing sights (though rather less so the increasing number of dreary silver Toyota Prius minicabs and Ubers littering the Capital’s streets), with the black cab population drastically changed since I was last ‘in town’ immediately post the first lockdown last year.

When I visited London in late June 2020, the majority of ‘traditional’ black cabs plying the Capital’s streets for business were still the familiar LTI/LTC TX4 models, the agreeable and craftly-designed successor to the iconic Austin/Carbodies/LTI FX4 of 1958–1997. 

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First introduced in 1997 by Coventry-based LTI (London Taxis International) as the TX1, production of this new TX London taxi survived a healthy 20 years until 2017, modified with more efficient engines and clever facelifts for the subsequent TXII of 2002–06. Its run ended with the LTI/LTC TX4 cab, built between 2007–17, with LTI ultimately joining Volvo, Lotus and Polestar as part of the expanding Chinese Geely Automobile empire from 2008 – the late TX4 taxis were built in China until 2019 under Geely’s domestic Englon (sounding phonetically similar to ‘England’) sub-brand name.

With Geely’s welcome cash injection – plus a significant change in Transport for London’s (TfL) Taxi Private Hire regulations coming into force on 1st January 2018, banning the registration and use of all-new purpose-built diesel-powered taxis, such cabs now requiring a strict zero-emissions capability – in 2017 LTI/LTC replaced its previous TX4 cab with an all-new aluminium platform purpose-built taxi: the TX. The LTC company itself also changed its name to LEVC (London Electric Vehicle Company) to reflect its new model’s new zero emission hybrid power train.

Launched as the TX5 (with its nomenclature quickly changed to just ‘TX’ immediately ahead of the first customer vehicle deliveries in 2017), the new LTC/LEVC black cab (other colours are also available!) tallied precisely with TfL’s new taxi regulations, this all-new model using the latest hi-tech all-electric plug-in hybrid range extender technology.

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From nowhere, in just a few short years (particularly allowing for recent pandemic lockdown breaks), LEVC’s latest TX taxi has become a far more commonplace sight on London’s roads than the previous LTI TX it replaced, now dominating the scenery and adding greatly to the pleasure of visiting and exploring the United Kingdom’s capital city (from the rear seat, as well as externally, as I discovered when I briefly got caught in the rain and hailed a new TX to spare me from taking a soggy walk from The Strand to Pall Mall).

As the styling of new vehicles has increasingly become homogenous, indistinct and bland (especially SUVs, which mostly look the same and are becoming difficult to tell apart from one another), the new LEVC TX taxi really stands out as an uncommonly discerning, intelligent and appealing piece of modern design. It has a uniquely British ‘look’ that cleverly combines both tradition and future-focus in one appealing, stylish package, adding up to arguably one of the best looking and thoughtfully-designed new vehicles currently built anywhere in the world.

National identity was once a prevalent and marketable feature of all cars, with most vehicles’ origins being obvious through the character and execution of their individualistic designs. A rustic and austere Citroën 2CV or Renault 4, for example, could only have been a French creation, with the stark ‘Bauhaus’ functionality and efficiency of a Volkswagen Beetle or Porsche 356 being Sehr Deutsch. The style and elegance of a classic Alfa Romeo, Maserati or Ferrari reflected Italian brio and grace, and the larger-than-life flamboyance and confidence of a 1950s Cadillac, Plymouth or Edsel was instantly recognisable as a product of the optimistic United States of America. 

Today though, be they from Paris, Pforzheim, Pisa, Pittsburgh or Peterborough, most new vehicles look essentially the same with almost any trace of nationalistic character and personality eliminated. Look at a current VW Tiguan, for example, and it could just as easily have originated in Japan, France, South Korea, the USA, almost anywhere, rather than being obviously German. The same goes for virtually any current new car you care to think of.

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The latest LEVC TX cab is a refreshing exception to this stereotypical ‘global box’ design approach, however, thanks to its unusually canny evolutionary design, helped by its striking British bulldog stance, its traditional ‘formal’ upright grille, restrained profile, chromed wheel rims and general formality that all combine to make this taxi both of-the-moment, yet so traditional and ‘frightfully’ British.

The TX craftily reflects the dignity and majesty of a traditional British coachbuilt saloon, as once created by such past masters as Hooper, Barker, Mulliner Park Ward, Freestone and Webb, plus many more. It’s sprinkled with a generous portion of the heritage found in such exceptional current and past British ‘stiff upper lip’ motoring marques as Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Daimler, Armstrong-Siddeley et al, with an English gentleman’s Bristol or Lagonda being a tad too racy for this prim and proper formal limousine set.

The LEVC’s appealing retro-modern design also recalls the Hackney Cab roots of the new TX’s predecessors, with elements of previous iconic Austin and Carbodies FX4/TX taxi cabs also subtly evident in the new model’s execution. There’s the large upright grille flanked by ‘suggested’ circular single headlamps, plus the raised waste line feature in the back doors just fore of the rear wheels, as found on the 1958 Austin FX4 cab (plus the late 1950s Rolls-Royce Phantom V, Armstrong-Siddeley Sapphire, and several other contemporary British ceremonial prestige four-door British saloons).

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As part of the early 21st Century fad for retro-modern cars (as exemplified by the New Mini, VW’s New Beetle, plus the latest Fiat 500, Alpine A110 and Ford GT), the LEVC TX taxi (and its ‘civilian’ Shuttle and recent LN5 van siblings) excels as an outstanding piece of design, instantly recognisable to anyone from anywhere in the world as being a legendary London black cab, even if they have never actually seen one in the metal before, with the same recognisability applying to the equally original new 2012 Routemaster red double-decker ‘London Bus.’  

So, if you’ll please forgive the puns, all hail the new LEVC TX as it truly is a very British handsom(e) cab.

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