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The Thin Blue Line
By Colin Grant Photos by Colin Grant and Andy Knott
Metropolitan Police MGC WGJ 208G
Back in 1967, as a young 16 year old, I was employed as a Police Cadet, stationed at the then-Berkshire Constabulary’s Abingdon Police station. Being a keen motorcyclist and having a passion for cars, especially MGs, (well, my Dad was working at the MG factory) I befriended the traffic patrol officers and was fascinated by their stories of fast chases in pursuit of law-breakers. There were two Police motorcyclists riding Triumph Saints and the car-based patrolmen, two of whom were very big, burly guys who drove the Police-equipped Austin A110 Westminster. This was a large black saloon with a six-cylinder engine and large armchair-style front seats, being aptly suitable for their large bulk.
After one fast pursuit the poor old Westminster expired and the car had to go away to the Police garages for a lengthy repair. This meant they had to be equipped with a loan car. They were hoping it would be another Westminster, so you can imagine their surprise, and my delight, when an MGB GT turned up in full Police trim. Watching these two big guys trying to get into the GT had the whole staff at the station rocking with laughter. After much disquiet and constant moaning they eventually got their beloved Westminster back.
But that GT had always stuck in my mind as for the time it looked amazing in its Police trim, being white in colour with Police written on the doors, front spotlight, Pye FM radio that was fitted into the glove box, blue flashing light fitted on the roof and, if memory serves me well, it had a Winkworth bell fitted. The rear seats had been removed at the Police garages as this enabled most of the necessary equipment to be carried that could be needed when they were called upon to attend an incident. This included reflective traffic cones, folding accident signs, first aid kit, blankets, a spade, broom, and on occasions radar speed detection equipment. So with these memories in the back of my mind it was a pleasant surprise for me when Nigel Guild, of MG Specialist Former Glory, rang and asked if we would like to drive a special Police MG that he had in stock.
The car in question was an MGC, registration WGJ 208G. In 1969 the Metropolitan Police ordered this car, together with 18 others, over a three-year period, to be actively used as unmarked traffic cars, utilising their powerful engines to catch and surprise those not obeying the law on our roads. This car has been completely restored to a high standard, with excellent attention to detail, and has been fully verified by the Historic Police Vehicles Register and also has a Heritage Certificate.
Inside, the Pye radio and handset are contained in the glove box, a switch for the Winkworth bell is located on the dashboard and the car’s only outside marking to make you aware it was a Police vehicle is a black plate above the rear number plate with the wording Police. This, of course, was only seen by the unsuspecting law breakers when their car was overtaken and they were signalled to pull over with the Winkworth bell sounding in their ears!
The cars were sometimes known by the patrolmen as “roller skates” because of their ability to break away if accelerated quickly in the wet. The cars were equipped with calibrated speedos which were checked after each shift on a rolling road for accuracy, and if out it would mean the speeding tickets handed out that day would be cancelled. Most of the MGCs supplied had manual gearboxes, but some were equipped with automatics. The cars had a two-man crew, so in the event of arresting a drunken motorist they would have to radio for back-up and wait for a patrol car or van to pick up the arrested suspect. The cars were loved by the young patrolmen who would drive with the hood down. Older patrolmen preferred driving with the hood up! Sadly, with the advent of performance cars coming onto the market which were better suited for the Police role, having the ability to easily carry the equipment required and being able to transport a suspect, the MGs were phased out.
WGJ 208G looks like any other sixties MGC. That is until you go to the rear of the car and see the Police sign. So you can understand people’s surprise when they had given that MGC in their rear view mirror a run for its money, only to be pulled over and booked. The interior also looks very standard until, of course, you open the glove box. Underneath the bonnet it again looks standard, albeit with a chrome rocker cover and pancake air filters. The car comes with steel wheels fitted with chrome hubcaps.
Out on the road the first thing that strikes you is its smoothness and its ability to pull away, seemingly in any gear at any speed. The torque from the six cylinder engine is just amazing. We took the car around some of the picturesque country roads that surround Former Glory’s premises at Postcombe, near Thame, in Oxfordshire.
There was a mixture of sweeping bends and a few long straights which were ideal for getting a feel for the car. As I own a modern MG TF, I found the steering to be on the heavy side but soon got used to it. The understeer did take a bit of getting used to and I did have a couple of minor moments when going into bends and can understand the criticism given by the testers of the day. But once you were aware you made allowances and drove accordingly, and I found it became a joy to drive.
Of course this car is about power, which is why the Metropolitan Police chose it, and it doesn’t disappoint. With its 145bhp, 2912cc six-cylinder engine capable of 120mph it was ideally suited to its task. I found overtaking slower traffic was a breeze, although being used to modern brakes I had to increase my normal brake pedal pressure to gain the same effect. The car’s ride was excellent even over uneven surfaces and undulations in the road. The gearbox I found to be a pleasure to use, with the overdrive operating incredibly smoothly.
My test drive came to an all too soon end and I reluctantly handed the keys back to Nigel. He informed me that the car was now sold but he had just taken in a Police MGBGTV8 that was up for sale, tempting!!
My experience had been one of nostalgia, bringing back memories from another era. I didn’t pursue my career in the Police and left after three years, deciding it wasn’t for me, taking up a career in office equipment. But the experience of driving a well-sorted MGC, particularly with the history of this one, really made my day and one I won’t forget in a hurry.
Our thanks go to Nigel Guild of Former Glory for the opportunity of driving this car. Nigel can be contacted on 01844 281222.