How The American Police Car Has Changed | WheelHouse


The Fox Body Mustang, The Plymouth Belvedere, The Flathead Ford These are some of the most bad-ass and revered names in hot rodding, but you might be surprised to hear that they were also, *Music* Woop Woop, That’s the sound of the Police Cop cars? Police cruisers play a large role in American society and pop culture as their place in films Television and the news have cemented the black and white rides in our collective consciousness. *Movie Scene* It’s got a cop motor, It’s got cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks. Here’s how some of America’s coolest cars were put in the line of duty The first police car ever used was in Akron Ohio. It was bought by city authorities in 1899 The Collins buddy company made a car for around $2,400 adjusted for inflation and the first police car cost 65 G’s in today’s money. Two four horsepower electric motors powered the battery run vehicle the police car had a blistering top speed of around 16 mph and a 30 mile range suck on that Tesla. It also had headlights and a cell for captured troublemakers it was the first horseless police vehicle ever used in the US and it could fit 12 people or a Squad of officers. It’s a squad car! it carried the whole squad! Akron Police used for the squad car to transport large amounts of officers to problem areas before then They had to use horse-drawn wagons, or walk the invention of the squad car changed police mobility overnight the 15 year stretch of prohibition from 1918 to 1933 is when police departments really started to see the necessity of the squad car Outlaws hoping to make easy money running hooch would use hopped up automobiles to transport and maybe get in a few shootouts along the way The police couldn’t rely on vehicles like the Akron squad car or contemporary gas-powered cars like the Model T They were completely obsolete at this point There was an arms race between the police and organized crime to see who could have the fastest car and the gangsters were winning Turns out crime does pay in full for some pretty sweet rides So all these police departments needed a fast car to match these guys But the Depression had wiped out their budgets So it also needed to be cheap fast and cheap don’t really go together But Ford had a solution the model 18 this model V variant was particularly Attractive with its savage (for the time) flathead v8 under the hood This is the same engine that early hot rodders used in their builds. And now the police have it too The arms race was a little more even police can now keep up with the moonshiners and do their jobs After prohibition ended booze runners still built up their cars but started taking them to the track instead in NASCAR was born after world war two, improved radios communications Meant you could put an officer in a car with a radio and patrol a much wider area When police would walk a beat you could just run up and grab an officer if he needed them but now that they were in cars it meant that they needed a way to let people know there was police inside and to help civilians easily identify them the police started experimenting with paint schemes most cars arrived to departments in just black or white finishes the officers decided to add the the officers decided to add the opposite color on top of whatever they got to complete the look white or black paint is also really cheap so that helped the end result is the standard scheme we know today the black and white the contrast helps it stand out and it’s instantly recognizable as a police vehicle So why are cop cars in Britain so brightly colored by comparison? Many European emergency vehicles use something called battenberg marking super high visibility paint jobs that minimize the risk of road accidents and alert the populace to the presence of emergency responders they basically do the same thing as our black and whites but in a flashier way Our cops wanted to be distinguishable without completely standing out but in Europe They want everyone to know they’re a cop from hundreds of metres away Back in America, it’s the 60s and police cars of the era are reflecting America’s obsession with speed And one company was dominating the police market: Chrysler. How’d they rule a segment? A little bit of friendly competition Even though selling cars to the police makes up a small amount of business for manufacturers landing a big sale to a well-known law enforcement agency like the NYPD or LAPD can pay off huge dividends in free marketing after all if a car is tough enough for the cops then it’s probably tough enough for you, too Chrysler loved pitting its brands against each other in the 60s they did it in NASCAR and they would do it with the police car market too Plymouth and Dodge were akin to jealous children Whatever one got the other one wanted even more it was a never-ending battle for Chrysler friends because whoever got more sales got more money for their projects tit for tat warfare ensued as they both raced to net the same customer groups, including the police 1965 Dodge Polara pursuit used the 413 cubic inch max wedge v8 that pulled quarter miles in 15 seconds which was very impressive for the time four years later a monstrosity was born the 1969 Polara pursuit rolled around with a 375 horsepower seven point two liter 440 Magnum engine and was an absolute tank. This was one staunch puppy It was the same Polaris suit that held the record for the highest top speed of any Chrysler cop car at the company’s Chelsea proving grounds oval 147 miles an hour. That’s an impressive speed for an American 4-door today but especially for one from the 60s similar to the 69 Polara the Similar to the ’69 Polara, the 1970 dodge Coronet was powered by the very same hard to kill Magnum 440 engine The Coronet featured an aggressive grille and headlights set that made it look like it. Wanted to eat you alive in 1968 Plymouth revamped their styling and the Belvedere pursuit was born Big, clean, and super mean, the Belvedere was a rear-wheel drive law enforcement machine The police version of the Belvedere sedan had a winning combination of power and affordability For police in cities and large towns it was almost perfect combination The Belvedere police package was so capable that it caught the eye of muscle car enthsusiasts The police were getting this badass street king and the public wanted it, too so in 1968 Plymouth took the cop car’s engine and performance parts and then jammed them into a two-door shell to create a top-shelf belly variant, the Roadrunner Even though Chrysler was running the cop car game that didn’t stop other companies from trying Even AMC was attempting to break into the market the most successful of their police cars was the Matador enforcer But perhaps the most surprising was the AMX javelin. Wait, what did I just say? The AMX javelin was a cop car? Yes. Yes, I did the Alabama State Patrol was in a budget crunch and needed to save money on its upcoming patrol car order So smaller cars were being looked at AMC was looking to promote sales any way they could And police service especially for javelins would offer great public exposure So AMC made a huge price concession to make this sale happen All Alabama police javelins were fitted with a sick rear spoiler normally available only on the javelin amx model But not for functional reasons like improved high speed handling Instead it was actually needed in order to display the state trooper markings on the rear end of the car That would otherwise be unreadable due to the deck lid’s extreme angle Not just any car off the road can be a police car There are many specifications that must be met by the manufacturer and extra equipment that is added to the vehicle The car has to be able to sit for hours in various conditions yet take off screaming at full throttle in a moment’s notice All while being durable enough to endure and function high-stress conditions and at high speeds This makes these cars heavy I mean REALLY heavy police versions are on average about five hundred to a thousand pounds heavier than their civilian siblings even still these cars proved to be extremely capable machines It would be a crime not to mention the Ford Crown Victoria Arguably the most iconic cop car of all time For years the Crown Vic and the Chevy Caprice were battling it out to be the top cop car in the u.s They were deadlocked in a proverbial fight to the death. The ultimate rivals destined to fight forever But then all of a sudden the Caprice was gone Chevy ended production in 1996 because of internal financial struggles and demand for more SUVs so now the Vic had no competition That’s not the only reason it became the ubiquitous police cruisers we know today the v8 packing 2 ton unkillable workhorse police force icon earned the respect of enthusiasts and law enforcement alike for its dependability the Crown Vic became the de facto cop car for so many years because of its body on frame construction The Vic could take all kinds of abuse from cops and criminals and keep on truckin any energy spent damaging the body Wouldn’t damage the frame meaning the car could perform repeated pursuit tactics like the pit maneuver over and over and be just fine But you want to know what wasn’t two tons and can catch about anyone? The Ford Mustang SSP years of underperforming overly heavy sedans left the California Highway Patrol wanting a faster car so in the early 90s They started testing the Chevy Camaro But camshaft and engine failures at high speed drove the CHP to reach out to Ford for a capable lightweight pursuit vehicle The SSP proved to be quick and useful in the hands of police across the country and ended up being used in over 60 law enforcement organizations this notchback Mustang 5.0 could reach 60 miles per hour faster than george costanza to tell us he’s an architect I’m, uh, I’m also an architect the stiffer than stock frame and upgraded suspension made the Mustang SSP a favorite for use in drag racing these days the SSPs have been largely retired from police and government work Only a few law enforcement agencies still keep them in their stable. Get it? Mustang…horse The Crown Vic is still in use all over the country, but it’s slowly being phased out These days we see a new breed of police car more and more often straying away from the long favored four-door sedan platform SUVs and even trucks are showing up in highway patrol fleets and in police departments all over the country in 2012 Dodge released a special edition of a 1500 RAM for police work, which let’s face it Is pretty badass Ford wasn’t far behind in 2018, releasing the first ever pursuit rated police pick up to hit the market These trucks though barely measure up to the success of the Ford Explorer which now makes up about half all law enforcement vehicles in the u.s The Explorer interceptor’s all-wheel drive and available with Ford’s turbocharged EcoBoost engines With police having to carry more equipment than ever before the fast, spacious and state-of-the-art SUVs are taking over with no signs of slowing down Even though many of the v8 police sedans are disappearing Modern police vehicles still reflect car culture at large and the changing needs of the police. So next time you break the speed limit Double-check that these cruisers aren’t your rear-view. They might not be the fire-breathing muscle cars They were in the 60s, but they’ll have no problem keeping up We look at the lesser-known stories in the car world every week here on wheelhouse. So smash that subscribe button So you never miss an episode. What’s the biggest ticket you ever got? What’s your favorite weird cop car? Let me know in the comments I read all of them Even if they hurt my feelings if you want to know more about the Crown Vic check out this episode of up-to-speed Or check out this episode of science garage on superchargers because blowers are awesome wear a seat belt. See you later