RANGEROVER40-1

Part 1

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

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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 1
st 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 1
st 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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 3
rd 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.

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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!!



PART 2

Hampshire Police Range Rovers

We continue our 40 Year Celebration of Police Range Rovers by taking a look at the Hampshire Constabulary’s use of the car from 1972 to 2002. The PC-UK Editor was lucky enough to drive them when on the Traffic Department and gives a potted history of their use within Hampshire together with his own recollections of what they were like to use as a work tool.

 
Words and photos supplied by Steve Woodward

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One of Hampshire’s first two Range Rovers in 1972

I clearly remember seeing my very first Range Rover. It was in 1970 and I was 11 years old and I was out with my aunt, herself a bit of a petrol head, even if we were driving s battered VW Beetle. We were negotiating a roundabout on the outskirts of London when we saw a red Range Rover approaching from the opposite direction. My aunt quite literally shouted out because it was the first one she’d seen too and she was determined she was going to have one, one day. It was love at first sight for me too, it just looked so different, so big and imposing, yet somehow quite sleek, even if it did have all the aerodynamics of a breeze block! I knew nothing of its V8 Buick engine or its four wheel drive or aluminium construction, but I just knew I wanted one.

As I grew up I continued to hanker after owning one and would take every opportunity to look longingly through the windows of parked Range Rovers just to get a peek inside. The only other car I recall being as obsessed by as a youngster was the MK1 Granada Ghia Coupe and both were out of my league financially. So once eligible to take to the roads it was a series of motorcycles for me before finally getting my first car, a knacker Triumph Toledo at the age of 20. I was a poor probationer an it was all I could afford.

But of course being in the job meant that occasionally I’d get to see a Traffic Division Range Rover and I was hoping that during my Traffic attachment as a proby that I might actually get to go in one. No such luck as I spent the whole two weeks languishing in the back of a Rover SD1.

Hampshire have never been big fleet users of Range Rovers, rather the force has operated about two or three at any one time over the last 30 years. The first two on the fleet were purchased in June 1972 (GOT 996K and GOT 997K) and were eventually pensioned off in 1976. One of these cars (GOT 997K) was fitted with an experimental stem light system that was elevated via an over-sized triangular roof box, which I think was made by Ferri Plastics in Blackpool. The other car was fitted with a more conventional stem light, of the bucket variety and with a small triangular box sat behind it. This box wasn’t fitted with a blue light and it made the whole set up look rather strange. These first two cars were then replaced by three more (VCG 667N, VCG 668N and VCG 670N) all two door 3.5 V8s of course. As can be seen from the photo below, VCG 667N was also fitted with a stem light and a standard rectangular roof box behind that. VCG 668N also had a repeater light fitted to the leading edge of the bonnet which seems like a rather adhoc place to put it.

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Second Hampshire Range Rover seen at Fleet Services on the M3 circa 1975/6

In 1979 Hampshire went all yellow. It switched from the standard orange stripe to Saturn Yellow and this coincided with the acquisition of three more Range Rovers to replace the 1975 models. As can be seen from the photo below UCR 578T looks somewhat different in its new style livery, although the equipment carried has remained largely unchanged except for the addition of a large spoiler across the rear. This latest fashion accessory was being fitted to Traffic patrol cars in most forces during this period and the Range Rovers housed the standard illuminated Police/Stop signage and two red repeater lights. The yellow livery was very short lived, in fact it lasted less than two years when the force reverted back to the standard red striping as seen on this Eastleigh Traffic based 1980 Range Rover XBP 398V, which also gives a better view of the rear spoiler.

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The yellow livery was difficult to see in bright light

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The yellow livery was quickly replaced with more traditional red

In 1980 Hampshire Police suffered a terrible tragedy when two of its Traffic officers were killed when the Range Rover they were travelling in overturned. There were all manner of legal difficulties surrounding the case and it took ten years before financial settlements were made with the families. But there were also concerns that Range Rovers should not be used in pursuit situations as they simply weren’t up to the job and their role was then more strictly defined.

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The First of the new four door models arrived in 1983

In 1983 the force bought three more Range Rovers, this time the new four door model. LRV 954Y was based at Fareham Traffic and sported the now familiar stem light and rear spoiler set up. By now you are probably wondering why Hampshire bought its Range Rovers in batches of three? Well the answer is fairly simple in that traditionally the force Traffic areas have been split into three, Southern Eastern Traffic (who were the cream of the outfit), South Western Traffic and Northern Traffic. In the photo showing the Farnborough Range Rover KOR 568Y you can see a rather strange looking caged grille that has been attached to the frontal area of the car. This was an experiment to aid protection of the lights and radiator area. The next batch arrived in 1985 and were C554 BTR, C555 BTR and C556 BTR and the upgrade included the new 3.9 EFi engines which gave the Range Rover a bit more grunt, but apart from that Hampshire’s Range Rovers remained pretty static in terms of livery and equipment used.

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Farnborough Traffic’s Range Rover complete with strange grille attachment (photo Phil Jacob)

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1985 model Range Rover 3.9 EFi

I had to wait until I got transferred onto Traffic in 1988 before finally I actually got to drive one. Within a matter of weeks of getting onto the department I was heading north to HQ at Winchester with my new crew mate to pick up a Range Rover to use on Operation Roger, which was the joint Hampshire, Thames Valley, Wiltshire escort of Cruise Missiles from Greenham Common to Salisbury Plain. I could hardly contain myself as we climbed aboard, although that was tempered somewhat by the fact my crew mate insisted on driving during the escort as this was my first one. As the big V8 motor burbled into life and shook the car from side to side it was a dream come true. However, within minutes I found myself becoming increasingly concerned about the adverse body roll and asked my partner if this was normal or were all our tyres flat? It was normal and I’d have to get used to it. By the early hours we were in the middle of rural Wiltshire at the rear of the huge military convoy and had to stop to sort out some protesters and consequently lost touch with the escort for about 10 minutes. After getting going again we reached a small village with a crossroads in it and my partner took the right turn. It was the wrong way and after half a mile or so he realised, did a quick U-turn and headed back to the cross roads at one hell of a pace. He turned right back onto the main road, so fast that we actually did a four wheel drift (we are in a 4x4 remember!) and the car tipped over so far to the left that had I had my hand out of the window I could easily have filed my nails on the pavement. It was quite terrifying.

After depositing the escort up on Salisbury Plain it was my turn to drive back to Winchester. I have to confess that I found the drive both exhilarating and hugely disappointing all at the same time. I loved the noise and power from that V8 motor and the great driving position but the handling, vague steering and wallowy ride put me on edge and I never felt comfortable in it. But the fact that it was a Range Rover seemed to over ride those concerns in the end and it still put a smile on my face.

Operation Roger became a regular job for us which meant that about once every six weeks or so I got to drive a Range Rover and I slowly grew accustomed to its ways. So long as you remember it’s not a saloon car and therefore won’t drive like one you should be OK. A couple of years later and I got to drive it for a few weeks during the protests for the M3 extension where the cars off-road abilities came to the fore. i quickly grew to admire its amazing ability on the rough chalk downs and part built roads as we chased the tree huggers away from the construction site.

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The Editor watches a group of M3 protesters from the safety of his Range Rover on the chalk hills of Twyford Down near Winchester

In 1992 Hampshire had a change in policy and opted to buy just one Range Rover 3.9 EFi for the north of the county (K539 NTR) whilst us southern softies were given series 1 Land Rover Discovery 2.5 TDi’s which were not very well received and weren’t given the nickname of ‘The Tractor’ for nothing.

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We made do with the Disco’s for a number of years until 1998 when the force opted to use the new Pegasus Range Rover and brought three of the new 4.0 litre V8 models with automatic gearboxes. And for the first time we got one of them at my station at Cosham. The cars S188 NPX, S189 NPX and S190 NPX looked fantastic in Hampshire’s all new, award winning candy stripe graphics and the new Whelan AdvantEdge stem light, which was incorporated into the standard light bar fittings. It was a lot more slim line than the bucket type and obviously a lot less top heavy.

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Steve Woodward stood beside the new 4.0i litre V8 Pegasus Range Rover

I became quite an enthusiastic advocate of the new Range Rover. It was much easier to drive than the previous model and although you had to really use the auto box more like a manual just to get it going it was a superb motorway car. And of course it goes without saying it would drag just about anything from the carriageway that needed dragging. I don’t recall a single occasion when it got defeated. I’m just glad I didn’t have to foot the bill for its daily intake of unleaded fuel. It needed filling at the end of every shift with about 60 litres (so 120 litres per day on average) and is one of the few cars I’ve driven at speed on the motorway where you can actually watch the fuel gauge move towards empty!

But it was also an infuriatingly unreliable beast. We had constant problems with the air suspension. The on board computer would tell you that it had collapsed, when it was clear that it hadn’t but it meant driving it slowly to workshops where it would spend a couple of days being diagnosed as being perfectly healthy. Our car also had three new engines in just 77,000 miles, five radiators and a huge number of hoses that blew with monotonous regularity. So of course there were those who refused to take it out in case they got stranded at the roadside.

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My crew mate of the time loved it though. I mean really loved it. It was his personal toy and as a dedicated Land Rover nut he was in his element. Sadly in April 2000 at the age of just 39 he died of a heart attack. A full Police funeral was arranged and I hit on the idea that the forces three Range Rovers lead the funeral cortege. But there was a problem. Ours was in the bodyshop because we’d rammed a stolen car through a hedge and the northern car was also waiting for major repairs. We had four days to get all three cars back on the road. To the eternal credit of the forces workshop staff they managed to do just that. In fact such was their determination to help that our car was being painted at midnight the night before the funeral and they dried it using hair dryers so that the livery could be applied in time. Come the day, as sad and as emotional as it was, I have to say I felt incredibly proud to see Kevin’s funeral lead by all three of Hampshire Range Rovers. It was an amazing sight and he would have loved it.

Less than a year later S189 NPX was having warranty repairs carried out at the local Land Rover dealership (again) and they stupidly left the car outside instead of inside their secure yard overnight and the local yobs couldn’t resist slashing all the tyres and then smashing a side window, pouring petrol inside the car and then tossing a match into it. The car was completely destroyed and because our office had moaned about its unreliability so often we became the prime suspects for the arson!

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Burnt out shell of S189 NPX

In 2001 Hampshire’s Air Support Unit took delivery of a refurbished 1988 Range Rover 6x4 Carmichael Crash Tender. Purchased from the MOD the car was completely overhauled prior to entering service and looked terrific in its fire engine red paint complete with Hampshire Police graphics. It was armed with foam suppressant tanks, search lights and a whole range of other emergency equipment.

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Air Support Unit 6x4 Carmichael Crash Tender

As soon as it was put into service i drove across to the Air Support Unit at HMS Daedalus armed with my camera to take a few shots. Whilst talking to one of the crew he threw me the keys and asked if I wanted to take it for a drive around the airfield perimeter road. He didn’t need to ask twice. So off I set driving this four ton monster rather gingerly at first out onto the perimeter road It used the standard 3.5 litre V8 motor coupled to the old manual gearbox and felt incredibly unwieldy. It wasn’t too bad until I came to a dew fairly tight bends in the road and I found that it suffered from massive understeer and I was only doing 25mph. But I was intrigued. Just how fast could you reasonably expect to go in something that almost seemed to have a mind of its own. By the time I got to do my second lap I was feeling a bit more confident. But not for long because as those same bends loomed large so my bottle went and I ended up hitting the brakes. It wallowed and weaved its way through the bends with me fighting it every inch of the way. i could feel the liquid load swooshing about in the rear and the whole thing felt like it was hinged in the middle. I certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed driving it out on a proper road with traffic to dodge. The car was replaced by a Nissan Terrano about two years ago after the Range Rover’s reliability drove everyone mad. Nonetheless it remains an impressive looking, if scary thing to drive.

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Rear shot of Air Support Unit Crash Tender

Those S reg models proved to be the very last Range Rovers used by Hampshire because in 2002 the force became the first in the world to use the BMW X5 and has been using them ever since. But as good as the X5 is, it isn’t a Range Rover. OK, it’s a hundred times more reliable, it handles in a way the Range Rover could only ever dream of and it’s nowhere near as thirsty. But it doesn’t have the same presence, the same kudos, that same flag-ship-of-the-force personality that the Range Rover has.

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Farnborough Traffic Range Rover from 1983 (photo Phil Jacob)