With plumes of spray swarming behind, the headlights of another vehicle were coming into view, accompanied by flashing blue lights.
The approaching vehicle was a liveried Volvo V70 T5 in full police specification. Mine was also a Volvo, but was considerably larger and heavier than the police car. As I hit the brakes – at least 100 metres before the V70 – the police car whizzed past my six-metre long, two-and-a-half-tonne hearse.
This was the first time I had driven a hearse, and it was certainly the first time I had experienced one at 100mph. My instructor, sitting alongside me in the front passenger seat, had already confessed that his demonstration lap before I got behind the wheel was the first time he had driven a hearse too.
Peter Cody, special vehicles manager at Volvo, said UK companies buy between 200 and 300 limousines and hearses every year, which accounts for up to 70% of production for Volvo and coachbuilder Nilsson.
The hearse, based on the S80, is priced at £68,000 and uses a 200bhp 2.9-litre engine twinned with a four-speed automatic gearbox. Both the limousine and hearse have beefed up suspension and the gross vehicle weight is 2,680kg and 2,750kg respectively. The limousine is priced at £64,000 and interiors of both vehicles are similar to SE spec S80s.
Volvo's other special vehicles were available for testing, and it must be every schoolboy's dream to drive a police car accompanied by 'blues and twos'. Although the V70 T5 is a familiar sight on Britain's motorways, the Volvo police car range now extends to the V70 XC, the S60 in T5 or D5 guise, petrol and diesel S40 and V40s and the D5 version of the V70.
Cody said that while police forces and ambulance services had been ordering diesel versions of the S40 and V40, there had also been a positive initial response to evaluation of D5 versions of the V70 and S60.
The larger police vehicles have a reinforced chassis, upgraded battery and fuse box for police equipment, preparation for police radio and extra radio suppression measures and a brake wear warning system.
Performance from the 250bhp T5 engine is rapid, and the V70 is relatively easy to handle at high speed.
Volvo's ambulance came to prominence following a feature on Fleet NewsNet in 1998 on the V90 – a stretched version of the 960 converted by Wiman. This has since been replaced by a converted S80 and Cody claims its popularity as an alternative to the traditional van-based ambulance is increasing.
Designed to meet the tough response time targets for serious injury accidents, the S80 ambulance is available in 170bhp or 200bhp petrol versions, with the D5 common rail diesel also now available. The 200bhp version can also be ordered with four-wheel drive.
Volvo and Wiman wanted the patient compartment to be 'as safe as the back seat of a Volvo S80' and the ambulance is the first whole vehicle type- approved ambulance on the market.
Behind the wheel on the test track the rain has stopped, but the road surface is still wet. The ambulance is lively under acceleration, although the firm suspension seems to have been engineered for stability rather than patient comfort.
However, the steering feels more positive than the finger-light steering of a standard S80, and despite being tall it makes a fine effort at containing body roll. As for the patient, there is room for a stretcher and there is also a seat alongside, fitted with a seatbelt. Cody said safety was often a main concern for organisations choosing specialised vehicles and his aim was to ensure customers had the benefit of safety features fitted to Volvo cars.
After my experience in the hearse, I would be hard pressed to think of a safer vehicle in which to transport anyone on their final earthly journey.