There are few positive things to say about the M1 motorway, especially the bit that runs through Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire.
When it opened 60 years ago, the three counties’ police forces teamed up and chose one car to patrol the new motorway. Their choice was a Ford Zephyr, converted to estate form by Farnham, and powered by a 1.7-litre petrol engine. It may not have been the fastest car on the roads, but it could cruise all day in comfort.
The last remaining model was reshaped during a serious accident, but the tireless work of the Ford Heritage trust has restored the car to its original standard, and they left the keys in the ignition.
Taking to the road in the 60-year-old Zephyr, freshly restored and gleaming under the Bedfordshire sunshine, was an experience to savour. Gloriously outdated, the throttle, brakes and steering were really just items used to suggest to the car the rough idea of where it might want to head. A bench seat with a large steering wheel mounted low down, made entry and egress tricky, while the column mounted gear shifter was in entirely the wrong order. Still, however vague, cramped and slow it is by modern standards, the Zephyr still has a presence that the modern Mondeo can’t match.
While the M1 has gained variable speed limits, crash barriers, a central reservation, bright LED lighting and the delights of Toddington Services, the latest Mondeo also adds countless safety features missing from 1959. It also houses a petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain, allowing the Mondeo to run for a while on pure electricity while producing zero emissions. With the backup of a petrol engine, it’ll also run all day without needing to recharge.
“The Ford Mondeo hybrid pulls away silently, produces zero emissions when running on electric and does not require plugging in to recharge,” said Owen Gregory, Ford of Britain fleet director. “Factor in the estate’s extra space and this becomes the idea M1 motorway mile muncher for families and police fleets alike.”
The Mondeo does have the advantage of merging with the flow of traffic on the M1, but with Police writ large on the side and a blue light on top, it’s entertaining to watch cars that appeared speedily in the mirrors suddenly slow and stay behind. It makes driving quite relaxing, allowing you to focus on the smooth petrol-hybrid engine that sips at fuel on gentle runs along the M1. It’s a large car, so there’s plenty of space, including the boot that’s now required to swallow a seemingly endless supply of cones, lights, safety gear, and much more. It might lack the kerbside appeal of the Zephyr, but it makes perfect sense for law enforcement.
“Just as cars have changed over these past 60 years,” adds Chris Smith, Highways England’s assistant safety coordinator for the East of England, ”we’re continuing to improve the motorway network to keep journeys smooth and safe for the millions of drivers who depend on them every day.”