40 Years of Greater Manchester Police Range Rovers
Greater Manchester Police were one of the biggest fleet users of Ranger Rovers ever, certainly on Police fleets and Geoff Taylor now gives us a potted history of the cars that force used together with some fascinating archive photos.
Words and photos supplied by Geoff Taylor
The Rover Car Company unveiled the first Police Range Rover in September 1970 at the London Commercial Motor Show, not knowing that this was to be the start of a unique relationship between the British Police Service and one particular make of vehicle.
Greater Manchester Police came into being on April 1st 1974 and was centred on the Manchester and Salford Police Force, and taking in parts of Lancashire, Cheshire and West Yorkshire. Lancashire Constabulary had taken to the Range Rover as its motorway patrol vehicle of choice and was one of the first Police Forces to use the car in 1971. Manchester and Salford Police, however, had no need of the Range Rover, as it had no motorways within the force boundary. All this changed on April 1st when the newly formed GMP became responsible for policing the motorway network around Manchester and what took place on the night of March 31st 1974 was quite incredible, especially to the officers of the former Lancashire Constabulary Motorway Group.
The officer chosen to become the newly promoted Chief Superintendent Traffic Operations of GMP was a Detective Superintendent of Cheshire Police, a man with no traffic background but, fortunately, an open-minded person. A good friend of mine, retired Chief Superintendent Brian White was a Lancashire Police Motorway Inspector on the night of the amalgamation. He left the Motorway Post at Birch Service Area in the early hours of April 1st and there were twelve Range Rovers parked in the yard. When he returned later that morning he found that all the Range Rovers had disappeared to be replaced by Mk 3 Ford Cortina’s and similar vehicles. The new Traffic hierarchy had decided that the newly formed GMP would have Divisional based Traffic Units and each one would have a Range Rover as an accident vehicle.
Later that day Brian was in a meeting with his new Traffic bosses when reports came in of a crash on the motorway, which required his attendance. The new Chief Super decided he would ride along to see what all the fuss was about. When they got there, they found a virtually unmarked Ford Cortina trying to protect the scene in lane three of the motorway and a very irate Motorway officer flew at the Chief Super over the danger he was being placed in by the removal of the Range Rover fleet. This incident, coupled with the information that the Range Rovers were specially equipped with “Transmitter 98’s” which allowed officers to switch on the hazard warning lights prior to an incident and also to switch the street lights on and off in poor visibility, lead to the Range Rovers being rapidly returned to the Motorway.
What made these vehicles so special and suited to Motorway patrol work? A Range Rover is a large vehicle and, certainly in police trim, has a presence on the road few other vehicles can match. It can carry a large amount of kit and, the police being the police, it was usually loaded right up to it’s maximum permitted weight. The elevated driving position allowed the crew to look over the central crash barrier and observe what was happening on the opposite carriageway. In GMP, officers were expected to spend their full tour of duty (apart from refreshment breaks) on the motorway and complete most of their paperwork within the car, so it doubled up as a mobile office. It was also a very comfortable place to spend a tour of duty. And then there’s that 3.5 litre V8 petrol engine! On paper it could propel the car to a top speed of 96mph, many motorway cars could easily exceed 100mph and there was no special tuning or tweaking of the engine. The more miles put on a car, the looser the engine became and a ‘tongue in cheek’ suggestion was once made to Land Rover asking they take the old engines out of the cars being sold and drop them in the engine bays of the new cars. In the days when the emphasis was on keeping the carriageway clear and the traffic mobbing, the Range Rover was unbeatable and, if used properly, had the ability to tow a 38 tonne HGV, providing the brakes weren’t locked on. Accident damaged cars were physically dragged onto the hard shoulder.
The first Range Rovers purchased by GMP arrived in April 1975 and were all registered HVM with an ‘N’ suffix, and GMP then started a system where new vehicles were purchased annually with a third of the fleet being replaced each year. The only exception to this was 1985 when no Range Rovers were purchased, so if someone offers you a ‘B’ prefix registered Range Rover and tells you it is ex GMP, don’t believe them.
The first Range Rovers were equipped to the same standard as their Lancashire Constabulary predecessors, with a large roof mounted Police sign and searchlights on the front. GMP chose the standard red stripe along the side of the car, fitted above the waistline and the Force crest on both doors. The bonnets were still white, and after complaints from officers of the reflected glare of the sun from the bonnet (Does Manchester get sun then? Ed), GMP painted the bonnets matt black and the unique GMP Motorway livery was born. The visual appearance of the two door Motorway Range Rovers changed very little from 1975 to 1984, the large ‘Lancs County’ roof sign was replaced by a “blow through” sign and then GMP decided to make their own roof bar “in house”. This was basically a ladder rack fitted with a large centrally mounted blue beacon and six rear facing lamps, four blue and two red. There were also power plugs for the removable roof mounted searchlight. On some cars the compressor and two tone horns were also fitted to the roof bar. This roof bar remained in service from 1980 to 1986, when the four door Range Rover came on the scene.
In 1984 GMP became one of the few Forces to use the Range Rover van. Five were purchased (A796 – 800 HND), two being designated Sergeant’s supervision cars, the remaining three were allowed to PC’s as patrol vehicles. The plus points for the vans were the amount of equipment they could carry, being effectively mini accident units. The minus points were that they only had two seats and, if you were double manned and came across a hitch hiker, or ended up with a prisoner, you had to call up another patrol for transport. The rearward vision was also restricted and the vans were fitted with Defender door mirrors.
GMP didn’t purchase any ‘B’ reg Range Rovers and when the ‘C’ reg arrived the cars were all four door models. Very little else changed, the livery remained the same, with a matt black bonnet, but the boot space had been reduced, so some equipment had to be dropped. However, as the car was now basically a Vogue, it was a great improvement over the “Fleetline” model it replaced. The new cars were fitted with Premier Hazard light bars and had the radiator grille painted red to help the car stand out in traffic.
Minor changes continued to be made to the fleet over the years, but nothing drastic. The ‘Rostyle’ wheels were replaced with Discovery wheels, the red stripe was dropped down to the waistline of the car and bordered with blue and white chequers, with POLICE in blue on the rear wings. The solid red rear of the car was replaced with red chevrons and the cars were fitted with Redtronic light bars.
In it’s hey day the GMP Motorway Unit had a fleet of 30 Range Rovers, two Major Incident vans and six ‘Enforcement cars (3 litre Vauxhall Senators). Some Divisional Traffic Units ran ex-Motorway Range Rovers, the Driving School had two, one on the Advanced Wing and one for Off Road Training. The Technical Communications Branch also ran a two door Classic from 1981 to 1991 (which is now in my personal care). The Driving School Advanced Wing Range Rover merits a special mention. K140 VNA was approaching three years old and coming up for replacement, when the workshops realised that the car had only covered 30,000 miles and a decision was made to put it on the motorway. At this time the Motorway Group was looking to evaluate a new light bar and so the car was fitted with a Federal Signals Vision ‘V’ shaped bar and put out on test, to be compared with a Code 3 gar and a Woodway strobe bar. The Federal Signal Vision bar was a resounding success and a decision was made that it would be bought for all new Motorway cars.
Such was the relationship between GMP and Land Rover that prototype Range Rovers were regularly given to the Motorway Group. One of the first four door cars was fitted with a fuel injection system and L470 YAC was fitted with air suspension. The request was always the same, please put as many miles as possible on the cars and see if the new system fails. The cars were passed on to the troops and used 24 hours a day and must have save Land Rover huge amounts of money in testing. In 1995 the force purchased its last order of ten Range Rover Classics, and a decision was made to remain with Range Rover as the primary motorway patrol vehicle for GMP. In 1996 ten new Range Rover P38A’s arrived starting with N461VVM, all being equipped with Federal Vision light bars. When these cars appeared on patrol the pleas from Divisional Traffic Units for the new light bars was deafening and very soon they were being fitted to Divisional Traffic Cars and Beat Cars. The P38’s were fabulous cars, but had again moved more ‘up market’ and the load carrying space had been reduced, so more kit had to go. In 1997 GMP purchased a second batch of ten P38’s further reducing the Classic fleet.
I retired from GMP Motorway Group in June 1997, and the writing was already on the wall. Officers with no Traffic experience were being put in charge of the Department and vehicles and equipment, which had been hard fought to obtain was being dismissed as irrelevant and obsolete. GMP stuck with Range Rover until 2001 when a decision was taken to purchase Mercedes ML’s for the Motorway, on the basis that they were more reliable. They weren’t and the load carrying capacity was nowhere near that of a Range Rover. They also didn’t have any ‘presence’ looking like a toy car alongside a Range Rover. Unfortunately, the damage was done and, although in 2004 a small number of 3rd Generation Range Rovers were bought by GMP, there would be no return to the size of Range Rover fleet previously seen on the Motorway Group.
I have always thought that the Traffic Department was the “shop window” of any Police Force. The motoring public would look at what the Police were using and, if the cops use it, it must be good. So why did Land Rover allow the demise of the Police Range Rover. They were basically free advertising for “the best 4x4 by far” and I would have thought that to keep the lions share of the Police market they could have been sold to Forces at cost price, but it was not to be. In my time on the Motorway Group we evaluated Isuzu Troopers, Nissan Patrols, Jeep Cherokee, Toyota Land Cruisers and several others. None of them could beat the Range Rover as an “all round” motorway car. Yes, they could do the job if restrictions were imposed on the car, like no towing of disabled vehicles, but they couldn’t do everything a Range Rover could do.
The job of patrolling the motorway network has now been given to the Highways Agency. They drive ‘full size’ 4x4’s as they carry the kit the Police used to carry.
The motorway patrol car of choice for the Police now is the BMW X5 and they attend incidents on the strip as and when required to do so. As I drive up and down the motorway network of this country I rarely see a Police Motorway Patrol. As I said earlier, GMP had a fleet of 30 Range Rovers dedicated to Motorway Patrol. How many Range Rovers do GMP now have within their fleet of 1750 vehicles these days – 3! Two ARV’s and a shiny black one for use by VIP’s and the Chief. I suppose that’s what you call progress!
The King is dead – Long live the King!!