On patrol with the NRMA
Across the decades, the NSW NRMA’s patrol vehicles have been almost as iconic as the men who drove them.
The first mention of ‘patrolmen’ in the NRMA’s membership magazine, Good Roads (the forerunner to today’s Open Road magazine), appears in the February 15, 1924 edition, where it was explained that one of the NRMA’s expanded services to members would be: “competent uniformed guides… who will render assistance to members on the road and protect cars whilst parked”.
A recruitment drive was already underway and the first NRMA guides appeared on Sydney roads shortly after.
According to the NRMA’s annual report for 1924, the fleet had expanded to eight men including the head guide and they patrolled the main tourist highways during weekends and holidays, “for the purpose of rendering mechanical first aid where necessary and affording general information to members”.
A photo published in the September 15, 1924 edition of Good Roads shows four guides on Douglas motorcycles that were built in Bristol, England. Images from later in the 1920s also show patrolmen on Harley-Davidsons and Indians, built in the USA.
Through the1930s, motorcycles continued to be the primary transport for the NRMA’s patrolmen. Historic photos suggest the fleet constituted a mix of Douglas, Harley-Davidson and Indian motorbikes.
A little over a year after World War II began in 1939, the NRMA did its bit and fitted out two bicycles that could serve as patrol vehicles in Sydney’s CBD. This was ostensibly to conserve petrol for the war effort, but the pushbikes more likely served as a morale-building exercise for the public.
Post-War records show that as of June 30, 1950, the NRMA employed 71 patrolmen and nine tow-truck drivers.
An NRMA report mentions “the panel vans introduced for radio telephone work”, which are most likely Morris Commercial J-Types, or J-vans, first manufactured in England in 1949.
The report also mentions cycles and a fleet of Jeeps that were repurposed Ford-built Army vehicles, suggesting all three were in service during the 1950s.
On July 13, 1960, the NRMA added the first Morris Minor 1000, five-hundredweight (254kg) payload panel vans to its patrol fleet that would gradually replace the 150 J-Types.
The NRMA’s relationship with Morris ended three years later, however, when in July 1963 the organisation decided to switch to Holden EH panel vans, citing patrolman safety and the need to carry more equipment.
In 1966, the NRMA put up some of its Morris vans for sale. The Open Road advertisement pointed out that: “Interior fittings have been removed and the vehicles have been resprayed. They are registered and road-worthy.”
The NRMA’s switch to Holden vans was the start of an Australian partnership, one that would endure for more than 15 years.
The 1970s were boom years for ‘Australia’s Own Car’, when Holden produced some of its most stylish and recognisable models, including the HK – first to bear the famous Monaro nameplate in 1968 – and the HQ that ushered in a new look for the 1970s.
Panel van derivatives of every model, up to and including the WB in 1980, saw duty as NRMA patrol vans.
The NRMA’s mix-and-match approach to patrol vehicles during the 1980s reflected the increasing number of imported cars available in the Australian market.
Although the NRMA initially continued with Holden WB and Ford Escort panel vans, it debuted its first Japanese patrol vehicle with the Toyota HiLux SR5.
Motorcycles also made a comeback in 1987. Dubbed ‘Jambusters’, they could filter through heavy traffic to reach members broken down in the city.
In the 1990s, the NRMA resumed its relationship with Holden and ran primarily Holden Rodeo utes for its fleet until the early 2000s. The Rodeos then made way for Toyota HiLuxes and Ford Falcon station wagons.
The addition of an NRMA Batteries mobile service in the 21st Century also saw NRMA-liveried Hyundai iMax vans join the fleet and in 2020 the NRMA struck a deal with Isuzu to use its D-MAX utes.
Photos and information courtesy of the NRMA’s Open Road magazine.