There is no avoiding either the long or tall arms of Ford’s automotive ‘fuzz’!
The build and preparation of specialist vehicles is exceptionally lucrative for several carmakers, as Iain Robertson discovers at a secret Essex facility operated by Ford Motor Company, where he sampled two of the firm’s latest weapons against crime.
You might believe that, with a perpetual high-performance push by the vast majority of vehicle manufacturers, allied to a perceived shortage of beat officers and law changes that make the archetypal car chase (as epitomised by numerous ‘cops and robbers’ TV shows) an immoral pursuit, some forces had simply given up. Following a day-long trial at a former RAF base test facility in the Essex countryside, I can tell you that some crooks might be better advised to pursue an alternative career.
Mind you, not helped by ‘red mist’ visions of officers on reality TV programmes, or the devil-may-care attitude adopted by ‘The Sweeney’, official police vehicle survival rates have led to expensive local rentals, if not replacements. It is little wonder that local authority budgets are placed under constant pressure, especially when police car parks are packed with Range Rovers, Discos and camera vans and there are scarcely enough officers qualified to drive them, let alone man them in the first place.
It is very easy for observers to eyeball the reflective ‘Battenburg’ liveries of high-end Audis, BMWs and Mercs and then question their associated high-end material costs, reflected unsurprisingly in brand reputations. There is a sound reason for these prestige models appearing on the Home Office authorised vehicles list, as higher trade-in valuations (residuals) help to obviate the initially higher list prices, although it is worth noting that all vehicles modified-for-purpose still carry a hefty premium. While Ford and Vauxhall products tend to be a default option for most emergency services fleet operators, for use as panda cars, criminal movements and pool transport, at the performance end of the scale, Ford has its ST line and Raptor pickup truck options now available.
A few decades ago, helped immeasurably by UK-based production facilities that it no longer operates, Ford supplied its Escort RS2000 model (a sportier variant of the time) to a number of UK police forces, including the London Metropolitan, Liverpool and Glasgow services. As a flexible, agile and relatively inexpensive but speedier alternative to the signature panda car, it was not the only upmarket Ford to feature on the police’s official supplier list, as Granada GTs and later iS models served purpose most successfully.
Today’s Focus estate car in ST trim has a 150mph turbo-petrol potential, even laden with equipment. It is also acceleratively quick, compact and agile enough for fast road duties. Putting an example through its paces on a slalom course, complete with a packed boot and, just for fun, with the ‘blues and twos’ in strident use, proved outstandingly conclusive.
The beefed-up sports suspension is virtually unscathed by repeat, high-speed lane changes, despite having raised the car’s notional centre of gravity. Crisp and satisfyingly weighted steering responses are matched by minimal body roll and high levels of mechanical grip, thanks to electronic chassis vectoring control. The ST’s stability at indicated speeds of up to 110mph, even in a slight and typical airfield crosswind, is excellent.
The current Focus estate car is also spacious, comfortable and durable enough for a pair of burly police officers, with a very practical load area, suitably racked-out for all-purposes tasks. However, if more room is needed, the Ranger Raptor fits the bill to perfection. As road tax is not an issue to a Home Office national service, its inability to satisfy the normal retail demands of a one-tonne crew-cab pickup becomes irrelevant. Yet, its well-protected load deck provides abundant space for bulkier items, while a deck cover and glazed hardtop option provides additional weather protection and an even greater surface area for reflective panels.
In the meantime, the four-door cabin access provides more room for occupants, while flipping the rear seats can increase the carrying capacity for more specialised equipment. The Raptor is eminently practical, not just for police forces dealing with outlying communities, especially in largely rural areas, where its off-road strengths come into their own. Its punchy diesel engine and automatic transmission are an ideal match for a workhorse, while the Raptor’s aftermarket suspension system and big boots afford it an off-road capability that is among the very best. Of course, these modified vehicles are still expensive items but they are also eminently saleable in post-service roles.
Conclusion: Critics need to stop wincing at the relatively high costs associated with our nation’s emergency services transport and consider their further-reaching benefits, aspects that Ford covers most competently with both its Focus ST and Raptor pickup truck models.