HomeEventsBritain’s first motorway turns 60

Britain’s first motorway turns 60


England’s first “motorway,” basically the British version of an autobahn or interstate highway, is the M1, which connects London to Leeds. It’s first segment opened in 1959 but its full 193 miles of pavement weren’t finished until 1999.

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the route’s opening, Ford of Britain and Highways England staged a photo op featuring two of the M1’s favorite police cars — favorite, that is, with the police, not necessarily with motorists.

The cars were a 1959 Ford Zephyr station wagon, the only surviving police car from the motorway’s first year, and the new 2019 Ford Mondeo estate hybrid.

“With the original stretch of the higher-speed trunk road running through Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire, the three counties’ police forces decided on a standard car to carry equipment quickly,” Ford and Highways England said in a joint news release.

M1 motorway, Britain’s first motorway turns 60, ClassicCars.com Journal
Ready for the chase

“They picked Farnham’s conversion of the popular Ford Zephyr saloon into a versatile estate… Forty years on, fleets are prioritizing fuel efficiency and the Ford Mondeo large family estate now comes as a petrol-electric hybrid for the same price as the diesel only equivalent.  It offers the driving range and freedom of a traditional combustion engine with the efficiency and refinement of an electric powertrain.”

E.D. Abbott Ltd. was a coachbuilder based in Farnham, Surrey, that was founded in 1929 and, after the war, converted Ford sedans into station wagons.

“Cars have changed beyond recognition in the last 60 years, and the motorways they drive on have too,” added Chris Smith, Highways England’s assistant safety coordinator. “Our first motorways had no speed limit, no safety barriers and many cars, which were not designed for motorway speeds, ended up on the hard shoulder.

M1 motorway, Britain’s first motorway turns 60, ClassicCars.com Journal
Ready for the chase

“Today’s motorways are packed with technology to help people on their journeys, with variable speed limits to help smooth out stop-start traffic and signs and signals to warn drivers about changing conditions on the road ahead. On smart motorway sections, such as on the M1 between junctions 13 and 16, we’re making better use of the hard shoulder by making it available as an extra lane of traffic.

“Just as cars have changed over these past 60 years, 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.”

Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


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