Rover SD1 Vitesse Grampian Police highway patrol car acquired by Grampian Transport Museum in 2015 with an NFA grant of £3,851.
In January 2015 Grampian Transport Museum was successful in its bid to repatriate a former Grampian Police highway patrol car to Aberdeenshire. The Rover SD1 (Special Developments 1) was produced between 1976 and 1986 as a large, high spec hatchback with supercar lines borrowed from the Ferrari Daytona. Rover used a further refinement of their (ex Buick) 3.5L V8 engine and new 5 speed gearbox with 3 speed auto as an alternative for the first cars. Smaller engine and diesel variants followed as a fuel crisis hit the V8’s running costs hard. The car was extremely well received, winning the coveted European Car of the Year award and other accolades. The Rover also established itself in motorsport and so credibility with motorists and performance car enthusiasts was assured.
Britain’s police forces tested the car and placed orders immediately. It was the ideal compromise; a big load space and ample performance for the period. The Metropolitan Police ordered hundreds of mostly 3 speed autos and stuck with them through to 1989. The SD1 is the best remembered original ‘Jam Sandwich’, a new breed of high visibility, high speed police traffic car. In Aberdeenshire, Grampian Police (now part of Police Scotland) purchased several SD1s and Ford Granadas to control speed and road traffic incidents. The drivers all had their favourites but the SD1’s engine and massive torque won many fans and all agreed the supercar looks were a great deterrent to speeding motorists.
The City of Aberdeen underwent huge change as the North Sea oil and gas industry boomed in the 1970s. The city had good sea, air and rail connections but the single carriageway A90 required a rapid upgrade. From 1983 onwards new sections of dual carriageway were planned and constructed, the first being from Aberdeen south to Portlethen. In 1985 the town of Stonehaven was bypassed by a much longer stretch of dual carriageway and the north east had its first section of fast road.
Policing this new road was a concern as new wealth had established a flourishing motor trade in high performance cars, led by John Clark Specialist Cars which offered the Audi 100 and Quattro and the BMW range. Grampian Police ordered another SD1, one of the later high performance fuel injected versions of the 3.5L V8 known in civilian trim as the Vitesse, to patrol the bypass and area around Stonehaven. This car used the 190bhp engine and 5 speed manual gearbox of the production Vitesse along with, unusually for a police car, power steering. All other luxury items were excluded from the build to make it lighter and easier to maintain. Police spec suspension gave a higher ride height to facilitate chasing over central reservations and curbs and stiffer handling. The word Vitesse (French for speed) was removed from the steering wheel and the rear badge panel simply bore the Rover name.
On 10 December 1985 C356YST took up its station on the Stonehaven bypass and went to work. Those who were enjoying the new road remember it well. It would suddenly appear right there in your mirrors and so would points on your licence or a three month ban. The car became something of a talking point among local car enthusiasts, one commenting ‘you can’t relax until you see it going the other way’. Grampian Police ran the car until 20 July 1988 after a hard life that included three back axles and several crashes. In the hands of a series of private owners the inevitable deterioration took place common to most cars from the period due to poor rust inhibition. In 2014 it was rescued in a partially restored condition by the Channel 4 television programme For the Love of Cars, professionally restored for the programme and acquired by Grampian Transport Museum at auction at the NEC, Birmingham on 10 January 2015.
The purchase was rapidly organised and involved a visit to the restoration workshop on 30 December to ensure that this was the actual car and the build was to museum standards. Grampian Transport Museum receives many donations dedicated to adding great exhibits to the collection. Funds had slowly grown to just over £6,000 and the National Fund for Acquisitions agreed to provide up to a further £4,000. An independent valuation of £10,000 proved accurate with the hammer dropping at £9,750.
The old charger is a perfect fit to the museum’s Collecting Policy. It tells a great local story and better still the police drivers are still there and are hugely enthusiastic about its survival and return. Ian Slorach, who drove the car nearly 30 years ago, was at the museum the day after its arrival to give it a test drive round Grampian Transport Museum’s road circuit, commenting ‘over a career in Traffic this was my favourite car, a real police car. I loved driving it.’ Ian has even offered to be its designated driver at future public engagements!
Mike Ward MBE
Grampian Transport Museum