Six of the best TV police cars

by Keith Adams
13 March 2014 3 min read
Six of the best TV police cars
1963 Jaguar Mk2 Photo: Jakub

We love our police shows — with ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ famously introducing the genre back in 1955. Viewers were soon hooked on idea of the trials and tribulations of others, being beamed directly into their homes, and the format was a success. But it wasn’t until the arrival of ‘Z Cars’ in 1962 that the addition of police cars turned the police drama into a winning formula. And in tribute, here are some of our favourite British police cars from almost 60 years of the best dramas to hit the small screen.

Z Cars: 1962 Ford Zephyr

Ford_Zephyr Redsimon

The use of Ford Zephyrs and Zodiacs in this groundbreaking police drama was no accident. Ford used its considerable marketing nous to place its cars in the show, fully understanding from TV’s nascent years that showing its cars in the hands of the law was a very good thing. At the time the show was being aired, Wolseley was still very much the police car of choice, but Ford’s lusty six-cylinder engine, and excellent handling, helped make it a firm favourite with forces across the country.

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Inspector Morse: 1963 Jaguar Mk2

Jaguar MkII Inspector Morse

Set in Oxford, and superbly acted by John Thaw, ‘Inspector Morse’ was as far removed from your average police drama as it was possible to get. Slow-paced, intricate plots, and a roll-call of top-end actors, made this show a rare treat. His car was pretty un-typical, too. He ran a 1963 Jaguar Mk2, in 1980s must-have red, but topped off with a deeply uncool vinyl roof, and for 33 episodes, his car was a definite landmark. Early episodes saw it regularly being crashed into, but as its value went up, ITV clearly couldn’t stomach the continued repair costs. An absolute icon.

Dempsey and Makepeace: Ford Escort XR3i Cabriolet

Ford Escort Dempsey and Makepeace

OK, so the dynamic duo of the lovely Glynnis Barber and Michael Brandon will never make the pantheon of all-time great police shows, but there’s no denying that if you’re an aficionado of the 1980s, Dempsey and Makepeace captured the excesses of Margaret Thatcher’s decade in all their gory detail — the fashions, the attitudes, and most importantly for petrol heads, the white Ford Escort Cabriolet. To be truly cool, it should have been a Golf GTI, but somehow, the sharp-looking, but wheezy-engined Escort suited this sharp-suited and ultimately wheezy show perfectly.

Ashes to Ashes: Audi UR-quattro

Ashes to Ashes Audi Quattro

Dempsey and Makepeace might have been the perfect media-distorted contemporary snapshot of the 1980s, but ‘Ashes to Ashes’ blew it away for over-the-top, shoulder-padded, spike-heeled, tyre-squealing nonsense. Detective Inspector Gene Hunt — who we’d all come to love in the 1973-recalling ‘Life on Mars’ — made a reappearance alongside super-elegant Keeley Hawes in this coma-induced, time-travelling, semi-comedy set in 1981 (and made in 2008). And for three series, we were treated to some wonderful action in his Tornado Red, warbling, drifting Audi quattro. Of course, this two-door sports car was a completely illogical choice for a middle-ranking detective’s mobile office —  but who cared? It was just so cool.

The Sweeney: 1975 Ford Consul GT 

The Sweeney: 1975 Ford Consul GT 

Without doubt, this was the greatest piece of product placement Ford found itself involved with during the 1970s. Week after week, Inspector Jack Regan and Sergeant George Carter would find themselves chasing the worst of London’s underworld — usually in beaten-up Jaguar S-Types — in their striking metallic brown Ford Consul GT. Even better, the car was an integral part of the opening titles, overlaid by one of the best theme tunes ever.

Spender: 1992 Ford Sierra RS Cosworth

Spender: 1992 Ford Sierra RS Cosworth

A very unlikely combination — Geordie hard man, Jimmy Nail, a Ford Sierra RS Cosworth, and the mean streets of Newcastle shouldn’t have looked good on the small screen. But the moody malevolence of the principal character, and his turbocharged police car, were beyond cool, even if they only made for three series and 20 episodes of the hard-hitting drama. Perhaps, the producers couldn’t forgive Jimmy Nail for his rendering of Rose Royce’s ‘Love don’t live here anymore’. I know we can’t…

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  • Paul Shaw says:

    The sentence “the dynamic duo of the lovely Glynnis Barber and Michael Brandon will never make the pantheon of all-time great police shows” pretty much proves that the author of this article is rather clueless. Dempsey and Makepeace was a hit across all three of its seasons and enjoys a strong following even now.

    • James Mills says:

      Paul, seems you’re more of a fan of Dempsey and Makepeace than the author, Keith Adams.

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