Police vehicles through the ages

Police sign on door of 1970's Police patrol car.

A 1970s Police patrol car. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Police vehicles have evolved over time with some imaginative and stylish cars used for specific tasks.

My first ‘tug’ was while speeding along in a Mini.

The Police Austin A/110 Westminster pulled out after me. Escape was futile.

He had the three litre engine which also powered the Austin Healey 3000 and there was no getting away. My collar was well and truly felt!

In reality, the large Austin was actually a heavy and lumbering old lot on cross ply tyres which the Mini could easily out smart on urban roads but it commanded respect.

It also had a blue light and that front bumper bell!

In the 1950s, the police used Wolseley 6/90 saloons (6 cylinders, 90 horsepower) with just a bell and police signs front and rear. Motorbikes were also used for traffic work.

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It was only when the motorway network first appeared, that ‘fast patrol’ cars were seen.

Local and suburban forces used ‘Pandas’ being unmodified Morris Minors, Ford Anglias, the Mini and 1100.

1960s Triumph Herald blue and white Police car at the Bath and West show in Somerset, UK

1960s Triumph Herald blue and white Police car. - Credit: Getty Images

A spirited and determined police officer in a Morris 1000 was not to be underestimated as I found to my cost once! 

Regional forces made their own purchasing decisions with M1 motorway traffic opting for load carrying Ford Zephyr estate cars with a 2.6 litre ‘six pot’.

Kent and Hertfordshire constabularies favoured the Humber Super Snipe estate while Lancashire stuck with the Zephyr but added an MGA on the Preston bypass (M6) with MGBs later.

Moffat, Scotland- June 29, 2019: 1937 Wolseley Fourteen Fifty-Six police car in a classic car rally

A 1937 Wolseley police car. - Credit: Getty Images

London, England, UK, 1976. Streetscene: two police officers with their police car in front of Downin

Two police officers with their police car in front of Downing Street in 1976. - Credit: Getty Images

Even Mini Coopers were used by West Midlands motorway patrols. Transit and Morris 1000 vans carried the emergency response kit. 

Soon the M1was becoming a race track and the police used a variety of machinery to deter speedsters despite no 70mph speed limit until 1967.

They used Sunbeam Tigers, (a V8 powered Sunbeam Alpine), Daimler Dart sportscars and Jaguar saloons. Most culprits were ‘exercising’ their Jaguar E Types. 

In 1970, the car that was born to be a police motorway patrol vehicle arrived in the shape of the Range Rover.

Fantastic load capability, superb high riding visibility, a commanding presence and the legendary ability to drag lorries off the carriageway.  

The Metropolitan Police used S Type Jaguars for patrol and pursuit during the 1960s (think of The Sweeney on TV) but running costs and reliability were dreadful so the Rover 3500 V8 and Triumph 2.5PI took over in the 1970s.

The Rover was actually as quick as the Jaguar on the limit despite less power. It was lighter and better balanced. It had superior handling especially in the wet and had less brake fade under duress so was the more capable car. I used to drive and sell both.  

This began the era of the ‘Jam Sandwich’ which evolved to the Battenberg blue/yellow/white markings you see today.

Some forces preferred big Ford/Vauxhalls on cost grounds and despite the Rover SDI being a good allrounder, its build quality was poor and they were forever off the road for repairs. 

More foreign cars came into service in the 1990s.

The first Volvo estate actually came into service in 1966 in Hampshire but what the police drivers particularly liked were the T5 Volvo estates with the 145mph capability.

This was also the time when BMWs started appearing. 

An instant legend arrived in 1990 with the Ford Sierra Cosworth. A most cost-effective 150mph 4x4 at the time of the ‘Ram Raider’, where villains reversed into jewellery shop windows.

The Cosworth was super quick and a match for any hot hatch. 

Now police use covert motorway cars so think twice before having a dice with a dark BMW/Volvo. You may find it has hidden blue lights when its too late! 

Policeman’s favourite? Almost certainly the Range Rover.