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On the Road with the British Police

Like many of the officers who drive them, police vehicles have enjoyed long and distinguished careers fulfilling a variety of key roles. It’s estimated that the 52 forces in the UK collectively spend £83 million annually on procuring new vehicles - very different from the £290 spent on one of the first cars in 1913. Here we take a look at the changing face of policing on the roads – and some of the vehicles make a very arresting sight indeed.



1900. At the beginning of the 20th century horse drawn carriages were a common sight on UK roads. In London alone more than 300,000 horses were needed to keep the city on the move, pulling everything from private cabs and buses, ambulances and of course police vans.

1913. One of the earliest recorded police cars makes its debut with the Bedfordshire force. The vehicle, an 11.9 h.p. four-seater, Arrol Johnston car came complete with hood, screen, head lamps, side and tail lamps and cost the force £290 (around £30,000 in todays money).

1920’s. First introduced in the US around 1908, the Ford Model T (also known as the Tin Lizzie) made its British debut at the London Motor show in the same year. By the 1920’s they were part of a fleet of police vehicles used for a variety of tasks including traffic control. A truck version of the Model T was also in use by the force during this time.

1940’s. By this decade Wolseley was the manufacturer of choice for many police divisions. Used by the British police well into the 1960’s early records show that one of the first vehicles was purchased as early as 1920. The model 6/80 became something of a TV and film icon with appearances in The Saint, Dixon of Dock Green and many more.


1960’s - The Morris Minor was launched in 1948 and made its first appearance in the force during the 1950’s. Its versatility ensured a wide following and it was deployed as a general purpose divisional car, carrying out traffic duties and dog vans. As late as 1995 the Falklands Islands police were still using a 4-door saloon, testament to its enduring popularity.


1980’s - This decade saw the introduction of white police cars which were ordered in white to save money , usually with orange or red "jam sandwich" reflective stripes. Today, patrol cars use Battenburg markings or stripes, although many forces still use a mainly white colour scheme. Anyone remember the Jaguar XJ40?


2000 - Cars are not the only mode of transport employed by police forces all over the country. Motorcycles are used by a number of forces in the UK, usually by the Road Policing Unit and in road safety initiatives such as Bikesafe – a national programme designed to reduce the number of casualties on the roads. One of the most common is the BMW R1200RT.


Today - Police forces all over the country, like many drivers, are looking for ways to reduce their impact on the environment. Most recently Gloucestershire Constabulary has taken possession of seven Nissan Leafs – earmarked for use in urban areas.


Tomorrow – The shape of things to come? Unveiled at the National Association of Police Fleet Managers (NAPFM) 2016 motor show, this BMW i8 is a glimpse of what you could see in your rear view mirror soon.

By Tracey McBain