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..."