Back to black

Pillar boxes were once green, but they were changed to the familiar red to make them more visible. So why is it that London’s Black Cabs are – well black?

The name ‘black cab’ apparently originated as a slang term within the London private hire trade, whose members had appropriated the term ‘cab’ to describe their Nissans with the ubiquitous aerial on the roof with an old plastic bag protecting the paintwork, it was the official term the Public Carriage Office used until 2000 for the taxicabs they licensed.

Regulations by some British provincial taxi licensing authorities specify the vehicle’s livery to denote it as a vehicle for hire. The Public Carriage Office’s Conditions of Fitness has never specified that a London cab has to be a specific colour, in fact, pre-war cabs had coach-built bodies and were painted in a variety of colours.

After World War II the famous Austin FX3 was introduced, they were supplied with factory-fitted steel bodies, and these were painted in a standard colour of black, due to post-war austerity it was the cheapest colour to supply. Different colours were offered at extra cost, but few, if any buyers were prepared to pay for them and so black became the standard colour for London taxis.

Its successor the FX4 was offered in three colours; black, white and carmine red, though black remained the choice of almost all buyers, many of whom were fleet owners.

In the 1970s, Mann and Overton, the FX4’s sponsors and dealers asked the maker, Carbodies to supply more colours. These were not taken up by fleet buyers, but when the finance regulations were relaxed at the end of the 1970s, more cabmen opted to buy cabs instead of renting them and chose from an increased range of colours.

Now London cabs are found in all colours, including special advertising liveries, but in the opinion of this writer, all cabs should be black to differentiate them from the plethora of alternative private hire vehicles.

Incidentally Back to Black is the second and final studio album released in October 2006 by the late singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse whose father Mitch just happened to be a London cabbie.

Your ride is here, get in by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

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