The day before visiting the collection I went to see the film ‘The Iron Lady’. The film showed Maggie stepping into a beige MGB GT. I’m not at all sure that Thatcher did drive an MG, but she did spend a lot of time in the back of this Rover P6. So did Wilson, Callaghan and other top politicians. A few royals, too.
This is no ordinary 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. ‘This car would have been driven all round the country,’ says Dorsett ‘so would have had to tune into various different forces’ frequences.’ Also in the boot is a fantastingly dished steering wheel that had to be used when the inch-think bullet-proof glass was fitted because there was barely any room for knuckles between the standard wheel and the windscreen.
Progress, as you’d expect from a car with only modest power and two tonnes of bulk, is conservative. Or pre-Maggie, laboured. Manual 3500S’s were popular with drivers because with their de Dion axles they handled pretty well for the time. Unlike the SD1, they had good brakes, too.
‘The SD1 had modified brakes for police use,’ explains Dorsett, ‘and special Minilite wheels were cast to reduce weight and aid cooling. We’ve got one in our museum.’ Still sidetracked onto the later Rover, the Met did run a few SD1 Vitesses, too ‘but we debadged them,’ says Dorsett, ‘because we were worried about being seen to spend too much of the taxpayer’s money.’
This P6 was in service for around 14 years which is unusually long but as Dorsett points out, the Home Office wanted to get value for money for what was a very expensive car.