The Wolseley car has been associated with British police forces for many decades. During its long and distinguished period of service many forces throughout the entire country used it.
This page has two sections: the first one covers the Wolseley in Metropolitan Police service, the second one is devoted to its service in County forces.
Early fleet records from the London Metropolitan Police show that one second-hand 16.45hp Wolseley saloon was purchased by the Receiver in early 1932 for £40 which was to mark the beginning of a long service record with the police. However, on this particular website page, we are only concerned with one version, the Wolseley 6/80.
The two post-war models, the 4/50 and the 6/80, whose technical details have been fully described on their own respective pages, were used quite extensively in the London area alone.
The smaller 4-cylinder 4/50 was used to good effect as a "nondescript" or unmarked saloon for a variety of tasks, whilst the larger, more powerful and efficient 6-cylinder 6/80 eventually became the mainstay of the fleet for Wireless Area Cars and for Motor Traffic Patrol. In this regard, there were distinct visual differences between the vehicles used for these two important functions.
The Wireless Area Car handled the duties associated with the 999 emergency call system, and all other routine patrolling in each district.
The enthusiastic onlooker at that time would have seen a plain black 6/80 fitted with an antenna near the rear of the roof, and a chromium emergency gong in place of the o/s foglamp, along with a single Lucas wing mirror on the o/s/f wing. Other than these three specific external features the car was a fairly normal black 6/80 saloon.
Motor Traffic Patrol also used the 6/80, and again, each District had at least one of these operating right round the clock. The Traffic Patrol version differed from the Area Car by having additional external equipment, most noticeable of which were the two bowl-shaped loudhailers above the windscreen, and two illuminated number-plate-style police signs across the front and rear with white letters on a Bermuda blue background.
These two versions of the 6/80 therefore, formed the mainstay of the fleet, although they were supplemented by a variety of other similarly sized British makes throughout their service as police vehicles.
Apart from the external visual images of both types of police 6/80 in the London area, there were also quite a few mechanical differences compared with a civilian version.
Most police 6/80s were supplied new with an additional heavy-duty anti-roll bar across the rear axle, and not to be confused with the normal anti-roll bar on earlier civilian versions using lever arm shock absorbers, which were replaced by angled telescopics on later cars.
In the case of Motor Traffic Patrol, the standard sized tyres; 600x15 cross ply, were replaced by 670x15s, and the torsion bars were ratcheted up a few clicks to give a greater ride height.
A larger heavy-duty output dynamo was fitted, and unlike the civilian versions that had their 12v battery under the bonnet, the police versions carried two very large 6v batteries in special compartments under the rear seat. The wiring loom differed considerably from the civilian version, having many additional tributaries to cater for the specialised supplementary electrical equipment.
Inside the boot, mounted on a platform, were the two Pye units of the wireless transmitter and receiver system.
This was controlled from a special "in-house-built" tailor made switch panel fitted into the nearside glove locker aperture. A heavy cast metal microphone was carried in its cradle below the dash centre. Motor Traffic Patrol 6/80s carried a specially calibrated speedo unit known as the "A/T head" fitted on to the dash panel in place of the normal speedometer.
Both police versions carried an additional interior mirror for the Operator who was responsible for logging and dealing with incoming and outgoing wireless messages, map reading, control of the gong in emergencies, and the use of the public address system where applicable. The Wireless Area Car often carried a plainclothes Observer seated in the rear for occasions when the sight of a uniformed officer might otherwise hinder an ongoing enquiry.
Over the decades a lot has been written about Wolseley police cars, particularly by crime writers of fictional material, elevating the cars' performance capabilities in print almost to the level of a racing car, often with dramatic references to "souped up" versions as being the norm.
The opposite was the case in fact. For a start, in the 1950s the grading of petrol had by no means reached the sophistication of later years, and was known as "pool petrol" during the immediate post-war years.
If any "souping up" was done, it was to the drivers rather than their cars, by way of "Roadcraft," a system of car control invented initially by Sir Malcolm Campbell, and perfected by The Earl of Cottenham in 1934. This system of grading drivers into three specific categories greatly reduced the police accident (polacc) figures dramatically whereby each driver was required at all times:
"(a) to be in the correct place on the road, (b) travelling at the correct speed for the conditions, and (c) with the correct gear engaged."
No mean feat when you consider that the average driver would find it extremely difficult to maintain these three criteria during every mile driven even by today's standards.
In due course, Hendon Motor Driving School was responsible for spreading this System to other police forces worldwide during the ensuing years.
Even to this day, Roadcraft is the mainstay of a safe, defensive driving procedure that enables the police driver to have a distinct advantage over the civilian motorist, and because of thorough training instilled at the very early stages of his police-driving career.
The 6/80's 2.2-litre overhead camshaft engine was quite efficient in its dealings with everyday policing requirements, and it was well able to keep up with the rest of the competition.
It had one weakness however, its propensity for devouring its own exhaust valves. This became something of an ongoing irritant to the staff of the MRD (motor repair depot) who had the unenviable task of attempting to rectify a problem that was, in itself, a manufacturer's design fault.
Unlike the conventional overhead valve engine that allows its valves to rotate to different seating positions whilst running, the 6/80's two-piece valves were secured by a serrated adjustment cap that held the valve in the one position throughout its life. The continuously high temperatures around the valve seat eventually caused the valve head to weaken at one point with consequent burning of its seat, and eventual total failure.
Various steel hardening processes were tried, not the least of which was a process known as "stellite-ing" of valves produced by the TranCo group. This process did not cure the problem, but it did extend the life of the valves by several thousand miles. Various attempts to minimise cylinder head temperature were also tried.
Apart from both types of 6/80 used by uniformed crews as described earlier, many unmarked 6/80s were also used for a variety of tasks, Flying Squad, "Q" cars, Motor Driving School, Senior Officers transport, and other similar activities where recognition as a police vehicle might not have been desired.
As well as these cars, there were a number of 6/80s with (according to Met fleet records) "Morris Six conversion" and used specifically as low profile observation cars. Outwardly, they carried the bonnet and front grille of a Morris MS Six, and were often seen in either Moonstone Grey or similar light colours, but mechanically they were a disguised 6/80.
Unlike most Met vehicles, Wolseley 6/80s enjoyed a longer period of service than either their predecessors or their successors, and it is interesting to note from the records that some of these actual cars were still in service in 1961, when the fleet had already been upgraded by three versions of the later 6/90 and also the first of the Farina-styled Wolseley 6/99.
The 6/80 was truly the ubiquitous police car in many cinema productions of the 1950s, and quite a few feature films were often supported by a short "Scotland Yard" style thriller in which the main theme was one of promoting a pro-police flavour.
It is perhaps this aspect that still attracts onlookers to the model at many classic car shows, for many of the older spectators will remember those black and white films in which either Joe Wadham or Jack Silk appeared in their "police mock-up" 6/80 with a shrilling emergency gong, as equity-approved uniformed stunt drivers for a variety of film production houses, Ealing Studios, Merton Park Studios, and Beaconsfield Studios to name but a few.
At time of writing, it is believed that there are only two surviving ex-Metropolitan Police 6/80s left in Britain, NGH-929 and NXB-181. NGH-929 was a genuine (and provable), patrol car. NXB was a Hendon driving school car, not an active patrol vehicle. Both vehicles were owned by the 6/80 club founder David Barker, who restored NXB, and still owns NGH 929, which is at present undergoing full restoration.
Apart from these two specific cars there are also very many police replicas to be seen at various classic car shows.
The 6/80 was also a popular police vehicle used by many of the County Forces throughout the entire United Kingdom. Specifications of equipment varied depending upon local requirements in many cases, although the two trusty reliables, the Winkworth Gong and the Tannoy loudhailer were to be seen on many examples.
The following early 1950s photos show various examples from Bristol, Hertfordshire, Hampshire and Swansea Constabularies.
A line-up of immaculate Wolseley 6/80s from the early 1950s in Bristol, equipped with flat-backed Tannoy loudhailer in place of the o/s foglamp, and a front-mounted antenna over the windscreen centre.
A line-up of 20 Hampshire Constabulary 6/80s fitted with a flat-backed Tannoy hailer and a rectangular-shaped illuminated police box sign on the roof.
A Hertfordshire Constabulary 6/80 fitted with flat-backed Tannoy hailer in place of the o/s foglamp, and an unusual positioning of the Winkworth gong directly above the n/s foglamp. The traditional Pye roof antenna is mounted to the rear of the roof.
Another Hertfordshire Constabulary 6/80 which differs from the one depicted above, with both of its foglamps, an unusual black-painted wing mirror, and the traditional roof antenna.
A recent photograph of an ex-Swansea police 6/80 that was discovered and then restored by present day dedicated staff members. The car survives to this day.