For the past decade or so, BMW’s have gradually taken over as the motorway patrol car of choice for Britain’s police forces.
A few other maufacturers get a look in – some Northern forces use Audis, some Southern ones have Vauxhalls and the Central Motorway Police Group has Jaguars. There’s even still the odd Volvo out there.
But likely as not PC Motorway Plod will be behind the wheel of a 5-Series Touring or an X5. Both of which are fine cars. But they’re just not very cool, are they?
It might be rose-tinted specs, but police cars seemed… better 20 or 30 years ago. Police cars like these.
Back in the Sixties, when villains decided they liked the Jaguar Mark 2, the police realised they had better keep up and bought a load of their own. Jags remained a popular choice with the force through to the Eighties.
Jaguar cop cars hit their peak with the XJ6, first launched in 1968. With its huge speed and sports car handling, it was widely regarded as the best saloon in the world. It was really rather pretty, too.
The Eighties’ Series 3 was the last hurrah for police Jaguars. As the civilian models got more expensive, so the police turned to more affordable options.
Still, a few forces stayed loyal, buying subsequent XJ40 and X300-generation XJ’s, and even the odd S-Type. More recently, the CMPG started using the XF in 2010.
Almost immediately after its 1970 launch, the rozzers started buying Range Rovers. With a 100mph-plus top speed, huge boot, the ability to keep going in all weathers and tow a lorry onto the hard shoulder, it was the perfect all-rounder.
It had no real competitors, so the Rangey held the monopoly for heavy-duty work into the Noughties. But, like Jags, it was getting more expensive. So the law started turning to cheaper cars, in particular that X5.
While the Beemer is an immensely capable car with vastly better handing than the Range Rover, it just doesn’t match the big Brit’s ability to intimidate.
Back in the late Seventies, if you asked a police fleet manager to design the ideal motorway car, it would’ve looked exactly like the Rover SD1.
It was spacious, the engineering under it was uncomplicated, it handled well and its 3.5-litre V8 engine made it very fast. It looked really good as well, which always helps.
The SD1 became the default choice through the Eighties and proved so popular that forces stockpiled them before it went out of production in 1986. Many remained in service into the next decade.
As the SD1 was phased out, a replacement was needed and most forces went for the Senator. With its egg crate grille it was hardly a looker, but much like the SD1, it was big, relatively simple and fast.
Very fast. In 24-valve form it was capable of well over 140mph, making it the fastest patrol car yet. And it would hack along at those speeds all day long.
Again like the SD1, when the civilian Senator was discontinued in 1993, the coppers built up stockpiles, with a fair few not registered until ’94. The Omega that replaced it was just as good on duty, but never had the same mystique.
Volvo 850 T5
By the early Nineties, Volvo’s range of boxy saloons and estates was looking decidedly archaic. The 850 changed all that. It was still boxy, but it was handsome and the engineering underneath was bang-up-to-date.
It wasn’t long before the landmark 2.3-litre, five-cylinder, turbocharged T5 was launched, turning the otherwise sensible 850 into a 140mph-plus rocket.
The police took an instant liking to the T5, the enormous estate in particular. With its bullet-proof reliability and foolproof front-wheel-drive handling, it became a mainstay. It only really fell out favour when BMW extracted the same kind of power from its big 3.0-litre diesel motor.
Images: Aronline.co.uk (Jaguar); Police-car-photos.com (Range Rover); Wikipedia.org (Rover); Drivestart.co.uk (Vauxhall); Flickr user undercoverelephant (Volvo)
By Graham King