Blog : When you need to get there fast…

…reach for the SD1 keys!

Ben Adams

Police Rover SD1 about to join the M11, with its driver about to do something quite heroic...
Police Rover SD1 about to join the M11, with its driver about to do something quite heroic...

The eighth of May 1987, a pretty ordinary day for most of us, in fact anyone living outside London may not have even know what had happened. Remember this was before things like Twitter and Facebook and if you had seen it you wouldn’t have text messaged your mate because even if you were lucky enough to have a mobile phone it was the size of a brick and had no text messaging facility on it!

But for one young lady and four exceptional police officers it was a day like no other. Aliza Hillel was in the Cromwell Hospital, her body had rejected a Liver transplant and she desperately needed a new one. One was found but it was in Hull and outside the body the organ wouldn’t last long, even packed in ice. But how to get it from Hull to London as quickly as possible?

A decision was taken to fly it to Stansted where it would be met and taken to the hospital but fog delayed the plane and it arrived at Stansted with less than 1 hour to get to the Cromwell. Essex Police were even allowed to drive straight onto the runway to meet the plane to try and save time. London Ambulance Service did not have a helicopter of its own and there was no time to organise one privately and no ambulance could cover the distance in the short space of time. So a call went to the Met and Officers McIntyre, Fordham, Crossland and McCabe, were despatched, during breakfast (!) to meet the Essex Police Car at J7 of the M11 motorway. Crossland and McIntyre were at the wheels of two Rover 3500s, although recently discontinued by Rover the Met had stockpiled them as they were very highly regarded as high speed pursuit vehicles. In some circles people even doubted the ability of the 2.7 unit to be as quick as the venerable 3.5 (a similar comment was made in 2001 with the ZT190s!).

The Rovers and their drivers had a daunting task ahead of them. They had to do 27 miles in 34 minutes, a tall feat at any time, let alone on a Friday afternoon. A Police Helicopter was also out of the question as just 2 days before one of them had suffered a major engine failure and the entire fleet was grounded for safety checks. The fate (and future) of Aliza Hillel fell to four blokes and two Rover 3500s.

But Scotland Yard had one ace up their sleeve or rather 50 aces. They had just set up the Command Control Centre and despatched around 50 officers with radios to many of the major junctions along the inner city route to help keep junctions clear. At the end of the Mall the cars were even given special permission to go anti clockwise around the ‘Wedding Cake’ maybe even Lizzie herself was keen to be of some help?!

The deployment of officers on the ground proved to be excellent as they were able to keep the Control Centre abreast of traffic conditions, as the cars approached Knightsbridge the congestion worsened and they diverted onto South Carriage Drive, the drivers needed all the help they could get, as this was way off their normal patch and well before the days of Sat Nav and GPS systems. All the ‘equipment’ they had was an A-Z!

Well as we all know they did make it with around 5 minutes to spare. Aliza Hillel made a full recovery and all concerned took part in a special Police Camera Action show made in 1996.

The lead car, A738 UJD also went on to achieve further fame when in 2010 it was being taken to a Community Event at RAF Northolt as an emergency radio call asking for assistance nearby, Sergeant Roberts as an advanced driver immediately took to the wheel of the Rover, by now 26 years old but still fully serviceable as well and using ‘blues and twos’ soon arrived on scene (probably quicker than an Astra diesel!) he and his colleagues managed to arrest one suspect at the scene and then two others nearby.

As we pass the 25th Anniversary of ‘The Liver Run’ lets all remember just how good these cars can be and how being quick can make the difference between life and death. I am not sure that we could rely on a modern day patrol car to deliver the same results in such hard driving conditions, the computer could throw a paddy and put the car into ‘limp’ mode which is neither use nor ornament in an emergency situation!

For more information on The Liver Run there is a brilliant write up with fantastic maps here.



Keith Adams


  1. Great to see that again! These cars were not Vitesses though, they were specially built 3500SE models (carbed engines but Vitesse spec brakes and modified suspension). Lovely V8 noise on that video, especially when they go through the Barbican tunnel! Brings back memories of the Police spec 3500 manual I owned from 1986 to 1989, A880SHU, it’s good to know that the car in the video is preserved and in use.

  2. I thought this was on the site before?

    Still a great episode of Police Camera Action, they showed it in near-real time. Like an episode of 24. With SD1s. 🙂
    Great going and they saved a life out of it!
    If you’re going to transplant critical organs, might as well do it in style!

  3. Could you really beleive that the politically correct public service ethos of todays modern police service could do the same now? They would need to do a risk assessment first and this course of action would be rejected out of hand!

  4. It’s easier to hit targets by sitting at the side of the road with a camera van or a ANPR car than it is to organise an urgent organ run across London at rush hour.

  5. @ Will M.

    It was on the site before, but as its the 25th Anniversary this month I decided to do a write up, with a bit more background information concerning why they used the SD1s and not a helicopter. Since then it also came to light about the lead car being used in a modern day chase so I felt that deserved the limelight too!

  6. @Ben Adams
    Sorry, wasn’t a criticism by any means!
    Always great to get more insight into the story, it is a fascinating operation (from the CCC/police point of view!).
    I’ll bet some motorists were amazed in 2010 to see the lights and be giving way to an SD1 🙂 “What year is this!…”

  7. Fantastic video. I had fun trying to identify all the cars that they went speeding past!

  8. Bloody awesome. Love the noise of those V8s. Interesting how nothing changes – miles and miles of M11 coned off for no reason, and trucks in the other 2 lanes driving at the same speed.

  9. I saw this for the first time a few years ago on ITV4 on an updated version of Police Camera Action with a young guy presenting it more and Alastair Stewart sort of stuck in the backgroud saying the odd part.

    After the usual repeated scenes of night vision from the Police helicopter chasing blobs and joy riders that was the best part of the series back then.

  10. For many reasons this is a great watch… Life saved, great car, phenomenal driving skills and fantastic team work from every single person involved in getting those two cars there within time!

    Also nice to learn that the car lives strong and gave some lowlifes a run for their money in 2010… That is WHAT IT IS ALL ABOUT! 🙂

  11. Absolutley brilliant. Took me back to a Saturday in the late 70s. Doing the usual Saurday afternoon shop in Gloucester. Suddenly Police motor cycles and Pandas appeared from nowhere, controling traffic and people. Then all hell broke loose as a Police Motorway pursuit type Rover came through at amazing speed escorting an ambulance that was hanging on for all it was worth. The skills were self evident, using all the road one way systems the lot. So obvious here were two guys totally on top of their job giving everything to save a guys life. It was magnificent to watch and when they were through the crowd just broke into spontaneous applause and cheering for the remaining Police. Two minuts later it was all back to normal. No one who saw it could ever forget. Heard later it was a motor accident on the M50 near my home, as i recall the guy did not make but two very skilled guys gave it the best they could.

  12. @14 I live in Gloucester- its been a long time since I saw a Police vehicle driven at real speed during daylight within the City itself – I guess that Health and Safety has probably put paid to such antics. The old V8 engined Freight Rover 400s when used in anger were really something to behold- they were indecently quick and, I suspect, probably packed something rather warmer than a standard 3.5.

    That said, not so long ago I used to live in an urban part of town- and would often be woken by cops valve-bouncing down the road in the small hours- usually about 2 gears too low for the speed, and deploying the sirens despite their being a supposed ban on their use at that time of night in residential areas.

    Great write-up, Ben. I’ve always wondered why the hell the Police went to all that trouble when a helicopter would have been so much simpler- now I know.

  13. I’m another person with a strong emotional link to an SD1. I personally think that despite all their, ahem, ‘character flaws’ they’re one of the best cars ever made. They have soul. It’s awesome to see them in action in this vid, and I’d have liked to have seen the look on the crooks face when the 26 year old SD1 pulled up to nick him- odds are on he thought Gene Hunt would have been behind the wheel!

  14. I bet that car got a through going over in the shop after that run. On acceleration that sounds so lovely with that gutteral roar of it’s engine.

    While today there is likely more backup to use a helicoper, what kind of car would they have in a UK police fleet today that would/could be used in a similar situation?

  15. Up until quite recently Leon, the best would have either been a Volvo or BMW 5 Series. But now the UK Police have come back to British made saloon cars they have the option of an XF, I’ve seen one of these beautiful cars ‘make progress’ down the A38(M) and it was simply breathtaking.

    Going back to helicopters for a moment, I cannot find any evidence that suggests that the Cromwell has a landing pad. Therefore even if a helicopter had been available it would have had to land some distance away and there still would have been a need for a fast car.

  16. “Looking at a map I was wondering why they didn’t use the North Circular.”

    Because on any Friday it’s one long car park – even in the 80s as I well remember.

    Lovely Rover V8 engine note, top driving. People will forget that there was no ABS, Traction Control, VSC or other electronic aids and it was all down to the driver.

    Incidentally, got overtaken by a marked XF on the M40 a couple of weeks ago. I was doing 65, he was doing almost twice my speed at a guess.

  17. I’ve heard there’s another episode with classic Rovers in – it was called Don’t Look Back In Anger, aired 15 November 1997 – not aired since then.

    You probably could get a copy of the above episode on DVD off Optomen for (according to my media studies student friend) £50-£100, but then you couldn’t broadcast it publicly etc. under Copyright Design and Patents Act 1988 (I’m no legal expert here.. just quoting what I’ve been told!)

    However, to use clips from the episode above (stills) would constitute fair use on here, I think.

    Anyhow, shame this episode hasn’t aired since November 1997, it was a pretty good one, if you like classic British cars it’s one to see, but a shame it’s not repeated much nowadays.

  18. @Russell Wheeler

    I agreed right up until the moment they gave an SD1 to his boss (Supermac) and his arch enemy DCI Litten. Gene Hunt doesn’t follow the pack and needed to be seen as different to those 2 officers.

  19. Classic Rovers featured in both Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; and the sequel, Smiley’s People. Alec Guinness is seen driving a yellow P6 in the first and a brown one in the second (I couldn’t properly make out the badge but I think the brown one was a 2200).

    I’ve just been watching the box sets of both, quite a lot of period vehicles seen- although in TTSS the Czech part was a little unrealistic, with the same beige Talbot Alpine seen in various locations, and no Eastern European cars at all, apart from an FSO (which, happily, gets crashed trashed by the Russian army).

  20. I go both TTSS & SP recently & kept a close eye on the street scenes.

    I also spotted the Alpine too, just a few Ladas, Skodas, FSOs, Wartbergs etc would have helped.

    The Czech street scenes were shot in Glasgow according the IMBD.

    At least in Smiley’s People the budget was big enough to film in France, Switzerland & Germany.

  21. Fantastic video…

    One thought though? If a helicopter could not be used was any thought given to using motorbikes?

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