June 2018 – 1973 MGB GT V8 Police demonstrator
GOF 88L was commissioned by BLMC Fleet Sales and put onto the production line at the MG Car Company in Abingdon on 30th January 1973. It was registered to the Austin Morris Group with its Birmingham registration just three days later on 2nd February. The car number shows that it was the twelfth post-development (pre-production) MGB GT V8 produced, seven months before the eventual release of the model for general sale, and it was supplied to the Police for evaluation as one of only two V8s painted in BLMC Police White (sometimes known as Bradford Police White after the first force to use that specific shade). One other MGB GT V8 was prepared in Police White for the October 1973 Motor Show and was later passed on to the Police for evaluation.
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Police workshops fitted the car with a Ferrie Plastics triangular roof box incorporating a blue rotating beacon, two-tone air horns, radio and other equipment – a calibrated speedometer had already been fitted at the factory. A test report in the 13th August 1973 issue of Police Review praised the aerodynamic qualities of the roof box, reporting that “… top speed was unchanged and the difference in the acceleration times were so small … the roof sign had no detrimental effect on performance”.
GOF 88L spent time with Sussex, Staffordshire, Thames Valley and West Mercia Police forces, Police Review having stated that “It is so perfect for Police work that it could have been designed specifically for the job”.
Police officers who tested the car offered differing opinions, some referring to it as a “roller skate”, while Horsham Traffic Officer Fred Ward referred to it as “lethal” and Brighton Traffic Officer Bernard Vousden said “I road-tested this vehicle on the A23 from Brighton to Crawley and found it a bit lively and overpowered for the design of the BGT. It certainly altered the handling characteristics on cornering. It could have been lethal in inexperienced hands”.
It wasn’t all bad news though. Traffic Divisional Inspector George Wotton, having already tested the earlier 6-cylinder MGC, commented that “This was a completely different animal, having had a Rover V8 slotted in, which I understand presented less of a problem to the designers than the straight six. The B V8 went exceptionally well whilst the handling did not seem to be compromised. Although not to be recommended, we found that on a level road one could engage top gear and pull away without undue clutch slip, it had so much torque”.
Another V8 demonstrator was commissioned later in 1973 for the Earl’s Court Motor Show although very little is known about this car.
However, only three MGB GT V8s were actually ordered, all allocated to Thames Valley Constabulary. These cars were painted in MGB colours of the day and were used as unmarked ‘Q’ cars, the only clue to their ownership being a cord-operated POLICE STOP sign mounted in the load area, which rose up into view in the tailgate window, illuminating as it did so. The only people who saw the sign were those being stopped for speeding or other offences!
GOF 88L was decommissioned later in 1973 and, following some attention in the MG factory’s Paint & Finishing department, was sold as a private car in late September of that year. The car has had another twelve owners since then and has been located in such diverse places as Manchester, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, various places across Scotland and, for part of the 1980s, at an address known only as ‘BFPO Ships’.
Following many years in Scotland, the car returned to the relative comfort of the South in August 2009 and is now in my ownership in Hampshire, gaining the somewhat obvious nickname of ‘Bill’.
The previous owner to me had a roof box made from GRP and collected the Police radio and other equipment, much of which came from an ex-Police officer. I have since sourced some other items, including the original type of Ferrie Plastics triangular roof box, an ex-Police fire extinguisher and early 1970s Hyatt handcuffs.
A lot of work was done at the end of 2009 and during 2010 to improve the safety and general roadworthiness of the car and then it was time to concentrate on the bodywork over the course of the first quarter of 2011. This consisted of new front wings, sills and castle rails, front valance and miscellaneous bit of welding. All this was topped off with the correct BLMC Police White paint, much whiter than the shade used in a previous respray, which looked almost cream when the car was parked near other Police cars. A reconditioned gearbox was also fitted at this time.
Owner: Malcolm Bailey
Make/model: MGB GT V8
Month/year: January 1973
Colour: Police White
Engine size/type: 3500cc V8
Top speed: 124mph
Gearbox type: 4-speed + overdrive
Area: South Hampshire
Date purchased: July 2009
Pet name of car: “Bill”