The Metropolitan Police’s Historic Vehicle Collection is home to police cars and bikes from a gentler time. We accompany it as it moves home
17 February 2012

Earlier today, there was a convoy of police cars threading its way through London. But this wasn't the usual procession of Astras, Merc Sprinters and 5-series striped up with blues-and-twos ablaze.

The pace was more sedate and few drivers would be nervous about them looming in the rear-view mirror.

The cavalcade was the Metropolitan Police’s Historic Vehicle Collection moving from the closing Hampton traffic garage to its new home near the police training college in Hendon, north London.

The collection reads like a British car enthusiasts dream, with models from Austin, Morris, Wolseley, Triumph, Rover and Land Rover. All were operational police cars when they were newer. Today their duties are more relaxed, making their ways from exhibition to exhibition.

Two years ago, Colin Goodwin visited the team. Here is his feature…

I feel like Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown, the legendary test pilot who flew many of the Luftwaffe’s warplanes at the end of the war. Today I too am piloting an old foe. It’s a 1983 Rover SD1 in full ‘jam sandwich’ livery complete with sirens and blue lights.

And what’s more, it’s still an official Met police traffic car. It’s even got its original VASCAR speed computer installed, a device that calculates average speed between two points and that was a much feared weapon in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. VASCAR was responsible for a fair bit of ink on young Goodwin’s licence.

The Rover is part of a small collection of historic police vehicles kept at the Met’s Hampton traffic garage. It includes the three cars we've come to see: a Rover P6 3500S, Morris Minor panda car and a Wolseley 18/85 in a unexpectedly stripped-down state.

Once this building, the first traffic garage built by the Metropolitan police in the 1930s, was buzzing with patrol cars and had busy workshops fettling the fleet. Today it’s shrunk in size with a few dozen BMW traffic cars and bikes and no workshop because today all servicing is outsourced.

The historic fleet itself only exists because a bunch of volunteers saved the cars (and bikes) and look after them. Passionate enthusiasts like retired traffic cop John Dorsett. ‘We really have to thank a bloke called Ray Seal, a fellow officer who realised that our heritage was about to be crushed and managed, through enthusiasm and determination, to get a small budget for assembling and looking after the collection. I, and my fellow volunteers, are carrying on what Ray started.’

Dorsett is a full-blown car nut. At home in Sussex he’s got a couple of ex-fuzz Daimler SP250 Darts, including number 26, the last of the fleet of Darts that the Met bought in the early 1960s to try and reduce the huge number of motorcyclist deaths. Darts were based at Hampton, too.

The collection is small, only seven cars plus half a dozen bikes. A small group, but with some very interesting members. There’s a Triumph 2.5 PI saloon that worked as an area car (non traffic cars, usually with big-engines, that were used to respond serious incidents over a fairly wide terrritory). A few friends had PIs when I was a kid and they were terribly unreliable, usually eating injectors. ‘So were ours,’ says Dorsett, ‘always going wrong.’

To see the best of the collection, follow the links below:

Rover P6 3500S"This is no ordinary Rover P6, it’s armour plated and weighs two tonnes. In between the seats there’s a chunky radio that today would fit into a fag packet, but that’s nothing compared to the massive stack of valve radios in the boot..."

Morris Minor panda car"I learnt to drive in a Minor and this is the first time I’ve driven one in 30 years. I’d forgotten how slow they are. If you were equipped with a decent motorbike or a Lotus Cortina 1n 1970 the little Morris wouldn’t see which way you went..."

Wolseley 18/85"If you want the full Jack Warner ‘Evening all’ experience this is the car for you. It’s even got a proper bell on it. Much nicer on the ear than the dreadul American-style sqawk that modern cop cars are fitted with..."

Join the debate

Comments
8

18 February 2012

The "Panda" Morris Minor was the best of the lot of them. I mean it was the easiest to get away from! Police records, I understand, reveal that the Morrie never caught anyone. E :-)

18 February 2012

Great article.

The shot of the workshop shows some other interesting cars. I'd love to have heard more about the Triumph, SD1 and also the Rover 800 but I guess there was only limited time and room in the magazine.

It's the little stories about issues with the cars that are interesting, like the braking issues on the SD1's and why they were fitted with Minilites (always did wonder why as a kid!).

 

 

It's all about the twisties........

18 February 2012

Would be interesting to know if the Rover P6 had power steering? I know that for a long time, the police used to specify cars without this option, considering it to be an unnecessary luxury fitment not appropriate for their officers. I think that even some of the later SD1s had unassisted steering!

18 February 2012

Sometimes (not very often I admit) I like what a copper does. These enthusiasts are the phukka guys. I am glad they get a "small budget" and I dont think that any tax payer would begrudge a few quid being spent on this collection, especially if it meant less money for speed camera's !!

20 February 2012

[quote petrolheadinrussia]Sometimes (not very often I admit) I like what a copper does. [/quote]

I am sure that these guys were the ones who exercised a bit of sense which these days is too sadly lacking (probably as in not allowed).

I wish them well with this venture, and really hope the armour-plated P6 does have power steering - I had a 3500S without it back in 1979 and it was a pig to park!

Other than that though I thought it was great if not very economical. Best feature was that if you got close behind people and flashed the main beam they got out of the way pretty quickly!

289

26 February 2014

cant see how any collection of Police cars is complete without a Wolseley 6/110 myself....

28 February 2014

One thing that struck me looking at these cars is the demise of the British car industry. My father's first car was a brand new L reg Toyota Corolla 1200 which came with such luxuries as a radio and two speakers. Look at the British competition of the time... the Morris Minor !!! Feel a little nostalgic looking at those Rovers but when you think on it, just how unreliable were our police cars? Just think how much they cost to maintain and run at a time when the police were compelled to buy British. Square that with our police cars of today, few of them have any British components in them let alone are built in the UK.

25 January 2016

My first car was an SP250, bought for £600 in 1968. I saw a picture of it on TV a few weeks ago in its Police livery with a very proud policeman standing by it, the index mark was BGT297B. I wonder if it's still on the road.

Bill

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