Some of the AA's extensive collection of historic breakdown vehicles
The AA has a collection of more than 30 heritage vehicles representing many different periods in the history of AA roadside services.
Some of these historic vehicles are in museums but most are roadworthy and are maintained by enthusiastic volunteer patrols who take them to shows around the country.
The AA was formed in 1905 to combat police persecution of early motorists – a group of cycle 'scouts' was established to patrol some of the most frequently travelled roads of the day.
Early AA cycle scouts used their own bicycles, for which they were paid an allowance. Before the introduction of uniforms in 1909, the scouts had to provide their own clothing too.
By 1909 there were AA cycle scouts operating all over the country, including Scotland.
1912 was the year the AA began to be motorised – solo motorcycles were introduced, initially for Inspectors.
The first motorcycle combinations, known as Road Service Outfits or 'RSOs', were issued in 1919. The sidecar made it possible to carry a tool kit along with cans of petrol, oil and water.
Early motorcycles were from manufacturers such as Chater Lea, Triumph and BSA.
Some of the AA's collection of motorcycles
For several years after the introduction of motorcycles there remained a significant number of patrols on bicycles – by 1923 there were 274 AA patrols with motorcycle combinations but still 376 cyclists.
By 1938 the patrol force had grown in size and motorcycles now dominated – 1500 patrols on motorcycles compared to 860 still relying on pedal power.
During these pre-war years of expansion, AA patrols – whether using pushbike or motorcycle – were largely based at the once-familiar AA roadside boxes. Patrols could not be contacted when away from the AA phone box and would set out on a standard route, stopping to help any members they came across in the course of the day.
After the war BSA motorcycle combinations soon became standard issue, but work patterns remained essentially the same with patrols continuing to work standard routes from an AA roadside call box.
This system became increasingly impractical though as motoring became more and more popular and so two-way communication was introduced, initially using radio telephones in 1952. This spread rapidly across the country and the whole AA fleet.
The AA first deployed Land Rovers in London in 1949 and these were among the first four-wheel vehicles used by AA patrols anywhere.
Land Rovers proved to be extremely rugged and versatile, and were soon introduced to other parts of the country, especially remote areas such the Highlands of Scotland.
An early AA Land Rover
With the need to carry more equipment and spare parts as roads got busier, the AA began a gradual switch to vans from 1962 onwards. The last motorcycle combinations were taken out of service in 1968.
The AA used a wide variety of vans during the 1960s and early 1970s but it's the Austin Minivan which most people seem to associate with the AA during this period. An early example of an AA Minivan still exists as part of the AA heritage fleet.
The fleet also includes two Mk 1 Land Rovers, an Austin Minor van from the late 1960s, and a Ford Escort van from the 1970s. The 1980s are represented by the unloved (in its day) Morris Ital.
The AA began its ground-breaking Relay recovery service in 1973 and the biggest vehicle in the current heritage fleet is one of the original Bedford J3 transporters.
In 1994 the AA introduced the Vauxhall Brava – the first specially-designed standard-issue patrol vehicle, the Brava had a unique body pod specially made for the AA. The very first Brava introduced is still in the AA's ownership.
Having stopped using motorcycIe combinations in 1968, the AA soon returned to using solo motorcycles in major cities. In 1972 a special AA 'Flying Squad' was set up using 500cc Triumph T100Rs.
The T100s were fitted with panniers containing a compact range of tools and equipment and a heavy duty battery for boost starting. They were eventually replaced by 750cc Triumph Tigers with fully protective moulded fairings, used mainly in the London area.
The AA continued to keep a small number of motorcycles on its fleet, mainly for use in cities, with BMWs finding favour as British manufacturers fell by the wayside. Motorcycles were in AA service until the late 1990s, with the final model used being the Honda Pan European.
In 2008 the AA returned to two wheels, initially with a trial in London using a range of bikes including some Vectrix electric scooters.
The trial was successful and AA patrols can again be seen on two-wheels as well as four in large cities across the country.
(2 June 2014)