Drive Your Own London Taxi

More in a series of London Taxis that aren't black. Here's an ad for British Telecom, a sponsor of the 2012 London Olympics. I regret to say that the squiggle on the read door is the logo of the 2012 games, which is cropping up all over London now.

I wonder how many of the readers who say they like my posts on London taxis imagine themselves tootling around town in one–but behind the wheel, instead of sitting in the back?

The nice people at London Taxi Exports can help you with that; they’ve been refurbishing London Taxis and shipping them around the world for over 15 years.

American readers who want to import taxis will be happy to hear that the US doesn’t have any problem with you driving a vehicle with the steering wheel on the ‘wrong’ side of the car. On the other hand, they won’t allow you to bring in a car that doesn’t meet modern standards having to do with emissions or with reaction to impact. But if you import a classic car–over 25 years old–then your vehicle will be exempt. The cars London Taxi Exports handles are what you might call mature vehicles, but completely rejuvenated, and painted to the customers’ specifications.

Would you be comfortable getting your investment advice from somebody you picked because their name was on a taxi?

The last time I rode in a taxi the driver, who was remarkably spiffy in a camel jacket and a paisley cravat, said he didn’t like the garish paint jobs you see on taxis nowadays; for him, black was the only proper colour. I think I’d prefer a black one as well, if I were going to buy one, but I do like to look at the variety of ads on the taxis going by.

I’m not sure I’d give much credence to that particular driver’s opinion on anything other than taxis, though. When he asked where I lived before I moved to England, I answered “California” and he asked “What part of California? Miami?” Right. And when I said I’d lived near San Francisco, he said he wouldn’t want to live there because of the terribly cold snowy winters. He might have mastered the Knowledge but his experience of the world outside London was…limited.

This one's advertising beer...

And while black may be the only proper cab colour, London Taxi Exports sent a cabriolet version (open top in the back) in pink to a Boston hotel just the other day. Before that, they sent out a couple of taxis to a California vineyard. They’ve supplied cars for celebrities but would never divulge names, of course, and they ordinarily don’t meet the famous buyers in those cases, but only someone acting on a buyer’s behalf. In any case, if you see a London taxi in the US, it’s more than likely that it’ll have a London Taxi Exports plate on the back. (But I’m going to start calling them LTE to save typing.)

And it’ll be more than likely that wherever you do see a private driver tootling around in a London taxi, that the driver will be female. Almost all of LTE’s UK buyers and most of their overseas buyers are women. Their web site reminds prospective buyers that a taxi is “built like a tank and virtually indestructible”; the cars may not have airbags, but they’ve got “acres of solid metal” between oncoming vehicles and the kids in the back–up to 6 kids, too. Or up to six adults for that matter, plus any bulky sports equipment, or maybe one of those enormous jogging strollers (UK: pushchairs). And all London taxis have childproof locks as a matter of course, or perhaps the cabbies think of them as passenger-proof locks. In any case, you can’t open the doors of a London taxi as long as the thing is moving.

Bertolli's Olive Oil advert on a taxi going through Parliament square; the tents in the background belong to protestors.

Another reason women like them, according to LTE, is that it makes a mom look cool “on the school run”, that is, taking the kids to school, which is apparently a competitive sport among the mothers in this country. I’m guessing that this is an outgrowth of the paparazzi habit of snapping celebrities in unguarded moments, such as when taking the kids to school; the tabloids are forever showing this supermodel or that actress looking chic or–horrors!–looking frowsy in front of their kids’ school. A recent study found that 1 in 6 mothers gets a new hairdo–average cost £50 (over $80)–for the first day of school, just to look good in front of the other mothers. One in five buys a new outfit, with the average mom (UK: mum) spending about £60 (almost $100) on “new clothes, shoes or accessories” to look good “at the school gate”. Over half said they wouldn’t dare go on the school run without makeup, and fully three-quarters said they wouldn’t be seen dead dropping the kids off if they were wearing the same outfit as the day before–that’s the moms, not the kids. The kids wear uniforms. I think if I were one of those moms, I’d wish I could just wear a uniform and skip all the bother.

And if I dropped the kids off in a London taxi, it wouldn’t be to impress the other parents; I think the thing I’d like best about driving a London taxi is the turning radius (UK: turning circle): 25 feet. My Volvo’s turning radius is 33.5 ft. If you need more than 25 feet to turn in, then you can’t drop fares off at the Savoy; that’s why London taxis are designed with such a tight turning circle. I’d love to have that kind of maneuverability, and I don’t count on my car to impress other people–which is a good thing, because I drive a Volvo, and Volvos are terminally uncool over here.

Anyway, if you’ve always wanted your very own London taxi, now you know where to get one. And after you’ve made your purchase from the nice people at London Taxi Export, you can join the London Taxi Owner’s Club (website under refurbishment). And if anybody really does buy one, be sure to let me know!

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “Drive Your Own London Taxi

  1. Malcolm

    It’s strange how ex-London cabs have gone steadily upmarket. When I was an art student back in the 1950s ex-cabs were strictly for the impecunious and the forerunners of the hippies. I shared a flat with several others who were … let us say, ‘outside the general economy’ and one of us had an ex-taxi–in which one of his friends used to sleep in order to share our bathroom and kitchen facilities. Shame they’ve become chic.

  2. Candida

    Stephen Fry drives an ex-taxi at home in Norfolk. I think that takes them beyond chic.
    But I also think you’re wrong about Volvos: almost all of the modern ones, where they gave them jellymould curves and tried to make them look like all the other cars on the road, are very uncool, because they represent Volvo caving in and losing their nerve utterly. (Like the appalling things Ford did to Saabs until they finally made the brand so lifeless it couldn’t be resurrected by them or anyone else.) To many of us, the old, square, built-like-a-box Volvos have real retro chic. And every other car instinctively backs away if you come down a narrow lane in one of those. Except, perhaps, an ex-taxi.
    The school run stuff makes me very glad that I live in the proper country, where the four-wheel drive vehicles at the school gate tend to have mud all over them and a faint aroma of calf nuts. The statement vehicles round here are VW campers in homegrown paint jobs, and I don’t think those mums spend £50 on their dreads, never mind their threads!

    • The whole school run thing leaves me baffled! And I wish we lived in the real countryside, like you; we’ve got horses across the road and it all looks very rural as long as you don’t look a little closer in and see the A road that separates us from that field.

      But as for Volvos, we were pretty surprised when we got here in 1999 (still the boxy era for Volvos, I think? We’re still driving the 1998 model we bought used back then, anyway, and it’s boxy) to find comedians getting laughs by just mentioning Volvos, generally talking about older drivers going too slowly. In the US (at least when we left), a Volvo was the stereotypical car for yuppies and, to a lesser degree, for ex-hippies; for ex-hippies it was the car you naturally upgraded to when you gave up your VW bus (which is pretty much what we did, that is, we kept the VW for a while after we got our first Volvo). We asked our British friends and found that, yes, we were driving a most unfashionable vehicle. Fortunately, fashionability isn’t what we look for in a car!

  3. I’d love to drive one of these, but I think I would want it in a colour. Maybe that lovely gold in honour of the Queen’s golden jubilee? The turning radius alone would sell it to me.

  4. I love black cabs. And I love free stuff.

    If you fancy the chance to win £100 of free black cab rides check out the new app by Hailo. All you have to do is like the Facebook page to enter! hailo.to/7wVMc

    No strings attached and the odds are great! Good luck!

  5. marconi

    I am in Riyadh and there is a company using London-style cabe here:

    http://www.londoncabclub.com/our_news.html

    technical specs here:

    http://www.londoncabclub.com/thecab.html

  6. Pingback: The Penny Post Weekly Review ~ All Things Jane Austen! « Jane Austen in Vermont

  7. Bonnie

    AH, in my planning ahead, maybe my next car will be a London Taxi … any chance they have air conditioning?

    • Modern London taxis have airco, but whether the ones that are importable (at least to the US) would have it, I dunno. If the car has to be 25 years old, then you’re looking at a 1986 taxi as the latest model you could import, and I don’t know whether they had airco then, or whether it can be retrofitted. Write to them and ask!!

  8. I was going to try and buy one but was told it was impossible.

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