Tintin has been published in 70 languages. In an older version of “The Black Island”, Tintin had taken a cab and not a lift in the Hanomag truck which was the subject of my last post. In this version the Taxi is an Austin London cab.
The Austin London cab was produced from 1930 to 1939 and was in use till well after the World War II when they were replaced by the Austin FX in 1948. Austin London taxis were based on the Heavy Austin 12/4 chassis and were tailor made for taxi duties. The bodies were designed by London’s largest taxi operator Mann & Overton. These bodies were built by London coach builders.
Interestingly till 1926 80% of the London taxis were French built Unic cars. However, in 1925, a law was passed which imposed heavy duty on imported commercial vehicles. Though Unics commenced assembly operations in Britain in 1928, the cost became prohibitive. Additionally, the specifications of the London taxi were relaxed to allow local manufacturers. In such a scenario, Mann & Overton approached Austin for a new London taxi. The Heavy Austin 12/4 chassis was supplied by Austin while the bodies were built by either Jone, Strachan or Vincent in London. The body shape used for these taxis was the landaulette. Three series of these taxis were produced:-
High Lot – These taxis were higher than the older Unics and other commercial taxis from Morris and Beardmore available in London . They had a high body that allowed easy ingress, egress and sitting for men wearing top-hats and women in elaborate head gears which were popular at the time. As a result, these vehicles outsold all other taxis in London. These cars were built from 1930 to 1934.
Low Loading – These cars were introduced in 1934. Their height reduced overall by around seven inches, but the lowering was due to rearrangement of the back axle where the rear drive position was changed to under-slung from overhead. The space provided within was not compromised. The Taxi in which Tintin is seen travelling is a Low Loading Austin Taxi. These cars went on to become the most numerous cabs on London streets in the decade of the 30s. They were cheap, reliable and easily available.
Flash Lot – These cars had a raked wind screen and a sloping grille. It resembled the Austin 12 saloon cars that were introduced for private owners in 1934. These cars were built till World War II. After the war, the landaulette body shape for taxis was banned and Austin introduced th FX to replace the Austin 12s.
All these taxis were luxuriously appointed with leather upholstered seats. They had screen separating the driver from the passengers. The cars did not have a boot, as a result luggage was carried in the driver’s cabin which had only one seat. The left side of the cabin had space to carry luggage.
These taxis were powered by inline four cylinder petrol engines displacing 1,861 cc.The cylinder blocks were made of cast iron, the pistons were Aluminum while the crankcase were alloy. These engines produced a puny 27 BHP at 2000 rpm to turn the rear wheels, enough to trundle along the urban traffic infested roads of London. Notwithstanding, the maximum speed achieved by these cars was around 70 km/ h, much higher than the metropolitan speed limit of 48 km/h. Transmission was four speed with later versions having synchromesh on third and fourth speeds and finally on the second speed also.
The present London Taxis are based on the Austin FX4 which was introduced in 1958, part of the FX series that replaced the Austin 12. They are a common sight on the streets of London akin to the Ambassadors in India which may share a similar design age.