Wednesday November 6, 2019
For the past 71 years, Land-Rover has been associated with serving the public – police, fire, ambulance, coast-guard, mountain rescue – and, of course, the AA and the RAC.
However, when the Automobile Association began using LRs in 1949, some of their members had a very important concern - how could the driver behind the wheel of such a vehicle readily acknowledge a car bearing the AA Shield.
Generations of motorists abided by the slogan ‘If a patrolman does not salute, stop and ask the reason why’.
These could range from’ sir - you might like to know there is a speed trap 300 yards further along the road sir’ to ‘Madam, are you aware that your nearside wheel has fallen off?’
The Association began deploying motorcycles in 1920, and by 1946 they acquired their first four-wheeled vehicles.
The pair of Bedford vans formed their new “After Dark Rescue Squad”, which was in duty between 1800hrs and 0600hrs.
At that time, a garage offering a time service was a rarity, and the AA’s new service proved a success.
By July 1949, the AA replaced the Bedford with LR Series Is, which were based at their Bayham Street depot in Camden Town. Here is some 1951 priceless footage of the AA control room in action
The reasoning being the updated fleet was the Land-Rover was regarded as better-suited for London; less cumbersome than the Bedford and with a 4WD capacity for towing duties.
The Night Patrols did not attend accidents or to stricken cars at the home of a member - but this still left considerable scope for a typical shift.
Seventy years ago, there were a mere four million cars on the road in the UK, but one problem was that so many vehicles had been ‘laid up for the duration’ of WW2, resulting in a spate of ill-maintained Austin, Fords, Singers and Vauxhalls on the road.
The Land-Rover’s equipment included a tailboard-mounted vice, jerry cans of oil, water and petrol, a wheel brace and a slave battery for jump-starting.
The patrol’s own tools were carried in an ex-army ammunition box
The London Night Patrols were so successful that they were copied in Birmingham in 1951 and Leeds in 1952.
The transfer from motorcycle-sidecars to four-wheeled transport would not be completed until 1968 - but those pioneer AA Land-Rovers were instrumental in this change of policy.
As for the “AA salute”, this was last seen in 1961 – ‘what is the world coming to?’, muttered various Humber and Wolseley owners.