“Guess who I had in the back of my cab this morning? The bloke who was in the front before I launched from the traffic lights!” I think it’s safe to say that this uber-taxi is a rather…
Words: Dave Smith, photography: Bruce Holder
Ah, the FX4 London black cab. It’s iconic. After all, it was in production for nigh on 40 years, during which time it became as much a part of London’s street furniture as the Routemaster bus and psychopathic pigeons. You’re making a movie and want to establish the fact that the following scene is set in London? Have the character stepping out of a black cab. You want to get anywhere in London? Hail a black cab. You want to look at the back of a head that’s stuffed with ‘the Knowledge’ of London streets, even though the front insists on reading a “newspaper” that refuses to use words of more than one syllable in its headlines? Grab a black cab.
But we’re so used to seeing old Austin black cabs in … well, black, that when one appears in any other hue, it comes as a shock. It’d be like seeing Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in yoga pants. And yet, the colour of this FX4 is the first of many, many surprises…
It was built at the tail-end of the 20th century by David Barnes, from Stevenage, and it all began when someone gave him a 1975 Cadillac Sedan De Ville. The body was stinking rotten, but it had a solid separate chassis and half-decent running gear, so how about a hot rod taxi?
Starting with a 1977 Austin FX4 taxi body, David whacked four inches out of the roof, and modified the whole body to fit the altered Caddy chassis. The floors, boot floor and sills are all new, all steel, and all shifted to suit – you may notice that the rear seat is a little way forward of where you’d expect it to be. Those big arches are steel, too, covering up those chunky Progressive alloys. The front and rear bumpers are ‘glass versions from a later Metro taxi, and the whole lot is dosed in the shade of yellow found on late-model VW Beetles. Inside, there are the comfortable leather seats from a Granada Scorpio, while the dash is filled with gauges from AutoMeter and a Triumph Stag.
David described the build as “quite involved,” adding that “it’s built like a tank, and handles like one, too!” It was built for cruising, showing, and for taking the kids out, not for racing, even though the 500-cube Caddy motor was no slouch. However, when that finally gave up the ghost, David headed to British American Engines for 454 cubes of big-block Chevy.
Even with 500hp of Chevy driving through a TH400 auto, it was still “just a cruiser.” A lumpy cam meant that occasionally the vacuum signal was somewhat lacking, so David fitted a vacuum reservoir from a Saab, but otherwise it was just a ride that was “comfortable, and sounded nice.” The lure of the show scene was wearing off, though, and soon, he got fed up of them, put the taxi up for sale, and never went back. As it happens, David’s family bodyshop business, Pool Motors, specialises in taxis… and that’s where its next owner picked it up from, back in 2014.
The new owner was Anthony W-M, who could best be described as an eclectic petrolhead. Living part of the year in Paris, the taxi was shipped out to him in La Belle France, where he would regularly terrorise the capital with his ‘machine de la rue.’ It also formed part of his collection of eccentric autos which he would rent out for filming, weddings, events, and even guided tours of Paris with a multi-lingual chauffeur. Let’s put it this way – one of those vehicles is a tank. Well, it’s an Alvis Fox, which, strictly speaking, is a 4WD seven-ton armoured car powered by a Jaguar straight six, but just because the military classified it as a lightweight, high-mobility vehicle doesn’t mean it’s suitable for city centres full of civilian 2CVs and Renault 4s.
That didn’t stop Anthony, of course, but as having a tank charging around the place brought back some rather unpleasant memories for Paris’s older residents, he made a terrifically British conciliatory gesture – he had the 30mm cannon barrel removed, and tied a knot in it. Yes, he paid some (presumably rather bemused) engineers to heat it up and make a loop in the middle, then refitted it…
One of the first jobs Anthony undertook was a complete overhaul of the air conditioning system. Yes, the taxi has air-con, and as Anthony took delivery of the car in mid-July, this might suggest that Parisian summers might have proven a little sweaty in a 7.4-litre chopped taxi. The following year, he spent a small fortune at a local specialist having the car’s drivetrain, chassis, brakes and electrics overhauled, then shortly afterwards spent another wad replacing the Edelbrock carburettor with a Holley Street Avenger, and a slightly more street-friendly cam.
Sadly, Anthony passed away early in 2017, and the taxi is now with his son, Alexander. “My father was a real petrolhead, and very proud of his cars. All of them just made you smile, and they all need driving, but he really enjoyed the taxi. Once you get used to it, it’s really straightforward. It is a bit heavy on fuel, but no problem in Parisian traffic – he spent a lot of time and money to make it reliable, and it is now bulletproof. It is just as happy cruising up the motorway at 70-80mph.
“The car is looking for a new owner now. I live in Paris, where parking is tricky, and I just don’t have time – I can’t spend every weekend working on the car, nor can I drive it to Dover every year for its MoT test, as my father did!” Yes, folks, the big-block, low-lid, handsome Hansom is up for sale. Stay tuned for details of where you can find it and you could be next…
1977 Austin FX4 Taxi
- 4” roof chop
- 1975 Cadillac chassis
- 1975 Cadillac front and rear suspension and running gear
- Air suspension on rear
- Progressive alloy wheels, 10×15” rear, 8×15” front
- Ford Granada seats
- Chevrolet 454 big-block, bored 0.030” (460ci)
- Eagle cast crank and I-beam rods
- SpeedPro hypereutectic pistons
- Edelbrock Performer RPM roller cam*
- SpeedPro hydraulic roller lifters
- Comp Cams pushrods
- World Products heads
- Crane Gold roller rockers
- SpeedPro high volume/pressure oil pump
- Edelbrock Performer intake
- Edelbrock Performer 750cfm carburettor*
- HEI distributor
- TH400 automatic transmission
- Custom-built exhausts
(* – as built; since replaced)