Is This the End for London’s Black Cabs?

The manufacturer behind London's famous black cabs goes into bankruptcy

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Getty Images, Scott Heavey

The London black cab taking part in the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games in London on Aug. 12, 2012

The gleaming black cabs that grace the streets of the British capital have become a London icon. From the London Olympics opening ceremonies to Spice Girls music videos, the black cab is a sign of all things British. But the long-standing reign of these vehicles may be coming to an end.

Manganese Bronze, the company that has been making black cabs since 1948, has declared bankruptcy, putting nearly 300 jobs at risk. Talks to secure the funds needed to save the ailing manufacturer have ended in failure. The company, based in Coventry, England, has had a difficult year. In October it was forced to take 400 cabs off the roads after discovering a steering fault. In a statement, Manganese has said that the group will continue to operate during the bankruptcy process and would make a “speedy” resolution of the recall a top priority, according to a report in the Daily Mail.

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The possible demise of the cabs’ manufacturer marks the end of more than a century of the historic vehicles’ presence on the streets of London. While motorized taxis have plied the streets of London since the beginning of the 20th century, the black cab as we know it was introduced in the late ’50s — a vehicle that featured fully hydraulic brakes and signature “bunny ears” turn indicators. It quickly became famous for its ability to maneuver through the narrow, congested streets of the British capital, with a turning radius of just 25 ft. — a requirement for city vehicles that dates back to 1906, when cars needed to be able to navigate the minute roundabout at the entrance to the Savoy hotel.

The car’s ability to negotiate London’s small avenues has made it a particularly attractive option for celebrities trying to avoid the eye of the paparazzi. Model Kate Moss and actor Stephen Fry reportedly own their own personal black cabs, as does the Queen’s husband, the Duke of Edinburgh. Arnold Schwarzenegger even ordered a fleet of black taxis to be transported all the way to California.

The iconic London black-cab model, the Austin FX4, entered service in 1958 and is the longest surviving British vehicle after the Land Rover. It was replaced in 1991 by the TX1, a more modern car that reflects the shape of the traditional FX4. But Manganese Bronze no longer has a monopoly on London cabs; with drivers now also allowed to use the Mercedes Vito, a six-passenger minivan, the company has failed to turn a profit since 2007.

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John Russell, the head of Manganese, has vowed to keep the troubled group’s meter running but warned that it was in a “very uncertain situation,” according to the Daily Mail. Today there are more than 20,000 licensed black cabs serving the streets of London.