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London black cabs heading to U.S.

London taxis will be painted yellow to meet U.S. cities' taxi rules.
London taxis will be painted yellow to meet U.S. cities' taxi rules.

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LONDON, England -- London's famous black cabs are hitting U.S. streets this month for the first time -- but many will have to be painted yellow before they can take passengers.

A fleet of yellow London cabs will roll out next week in Chicago, and more are planned for New York.

At least 125 of the British cars have been sold in the United States to taxi companies and private buyers, including Hollywood star and would-be California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Entrepreneur Larry Smith, owner of London Taxis North America, hopes to have more than 3,000 of the cabs on U.S. and Canadian roads within four years.

Andrew Stoppelmann, vice president of the Bronxville Taxi company in Westchester, New York, said he ordered two of the British cabs to boost his fleet of 22 Ford Crown Victorias.

"The London taxi has an aura about it that we are confident will appeal to customers," he told the UK Press Association.

"The drivers are very excited about their arrival too -- some of them are already practicing their cockney accents."

Hundreds of the cars bought for commercial use will have to be repainted to meet strict regulations governing taxi colors in each U.S. city.

Smith said he decided to start importing the taxis after falling in love with them during a family holiday to England in 2000.

He bought the exclusive rights to sell them in the U.S. from London Taxis International and then spent three years and 4 million ($6.28 million) fitting them to meet U.S. safety and emissions standards.

The changes included installing air bags, redesigning the headlights, modifying the fuel system, adding anti-pollution devices and converting them to left-hand drive.

But the taxis do retain the distinctive extra headroom required under old London Public Carriage Office rules that ensured they could accommodate a gentleman's top hat.

Schwarzenegger bought one of the first cabs to be shipped across the Atlantic for his private use.

Smith said he plans to ride in one of the cabs to the California governor's mansion in Sacramento if the Terminator star wins next month's vote to take control of the state.

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