The Evolution of the London Black Cab Over the Decades

When you are a tourist visiting London, you likely want to get a photo of the famed London black cab into your vacation album.

The black cab is the epitome of London and is recognizable the world over. However, the famed piece of transportation is older than most people think, and it can come as a surprise when somebody learns that the first black cab appeared back in the 1700s.

So, prepare to dive into history relating to one of the world’s most iconic vehicles and read on to learn about the evolution of the infamous London black cab. 

The 1760s

So, the black cab did not originate in the 1760s and can be dated to around a century earlier. By the 1760s, if there was an advert for a black taxi for sale, it would have been a carriage that was pulled by a horse or horses. These vehicles could usually only house a single person and did cause a fair bit of congestion in the London streets, but the speed of the vehicles and the lower fares made them exceedingly popular amongst the people of London. As the two-seated carriage that arrived in the 1780s was called a cabriolet, the modern word for a black taxi ‘cab’ is thought to be derived from this word.


Skipping forward a bit to 1903 was when London’s first petrol-powered cab was introduced. It was built in France and appeared on the streets of London in small numbers. Skipping to 1905, this was when these French models began to commonly appear in London as the General Cab Company introduced 500 of them to their rank.

This encouraged other investors to place their money into petrol-based cabs, and so, the number of these increased rapidly.

The 1940s

During the Second World War, the majority of the men who drove the taxis were called into service and the taxi trade was one where women did not undertake the role of men.  Interestingly, many of the cabs were requisitioned by the auxiliary fire service, but they were fiercely under-prepared for this role. So, many of them simply returned to cab work, and, during this time, the trade of driving a cab went into decline.


In 1958, the infamous Austin FX4 built in Coventry appeared in London and is now the model associated with the standard black cab.

Interestingly, this is not because this vehicle is particularly sturdy, but rather because during this time, the Austin company could not simply find the money to replace it. Hence why these cabs are still around today.


In modern London, there has been a lot of concern about congestion and CO2 emissions and, in 2014, a new extended range of electric prototypes appeared. However, this cab looked decidedly different from the standard Austin model and was not deemed to be very popular. Yikes. Also, new cabs appearing on the streets of London today must be zero emissions capable, meaning that driving around London in a cab is probably one of the best things you can do for the environment when touring the city.