(welcome our newest contributor, VinceC, formerly known here as Bill Mitchell) While the early 1970’s spelled the end of the muscle car era, police cars were able to keep performance alive a little longer. Despite the ever tightening emission regulations, 1970’s police cars were some of the most powerful cars of the decade. This was primarily done by using good old fashion cubic inches; as the saying goes there’s “no replacement for displacement.” However, by 1978, the changing automotive landscape lead to the end of the big-block performance oriented police cars. GM was the first to abandon their large engines. 1976 was the year Chevrolet said good bye to the 454, as did the Buick, Olds and Pontiac to their 455 engines in both civilian and police roles. Ford and Chrysler managed to keep their 460 and 440 on the Police options list, but 1978 marked their last year.
While this was the end of the big block squads, it also marked the beginning of a new era. It was the beginning of new smaller sized, smaller displacement police cruisers that had to function with much less horsepower. This eventually led to the development of more well-rounded police cars to compensate. Even though power was on the downward tumble, handling, braking, fuel economy, ergonomics and other aspects of the cruisers improved as time went on.
Furthermore, 1978 was Michigan State Police’s inaugural year for police car testing. They performed an extensive standardized test battery on police package cars; this test became the benchmark test for the industry. Police car tests existed previous to the MSP testing, such as the tests performed by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept. These test procedures were essentially done to determine if the car was capable of passing the minimum standard set by the police agency and also focused on estimating overall operating costs of the vehicle.
The Michigan State Police tests were different. While they did have some minimum standards, the test results were weighted based on performance. Cars with better performance received an advantage where a portion of the bid price was adjusted lower for better performance. This meant that the car with the lowest adjusted bid price had the best performance for the dollar. Since the inaugural test, MSP has tested police cars on an annual basis.
In 1978, MSP like many police departments of that time had moved beyond the traditional full-sized squads of the past. Formerly police fleet operators had a belief that a long wheelbase was necessary for high speed stability. By the 1970’s, it was realized that a squad car did not require a long wheelbase to be a competent highway patrol car. MSP was one of many departments that had moved away from the traditional full-size cars to the (slightly) smaller intermediates. For the 1978 test they looked at several intermediate cars and GM’s newly downsized full-size cars, which were actually smaller than the older style intermediates from Chrysler and Ford.
From Chrysler, two cars were tested, a Dodge Monaco equipped with the E68 400-4bbl and a Plymouth Fury with the E86 440-4bbl. Ford provided a Ford LTD II equipped with a 400-2bbl engine. Although Ford still produced a 460 Police Interceptor V8 in 1978, this engine was limited to the full-size Ford. The 400-2bbl was the largest and most powerful engine for a Ford LTD II police car. From GM, there were three entries. A Chevrolet Impala, powered by the LM1 350 4bbl, a Buick LeSabre with a Buick 350-4bbl engine, and the Pontiac Catalina with a Pontiac 400-4bbl.
After the smoke all cleared, here are the end results:
Looking at the results, for me two cars stand out. First is the obvious, the 440 powered Fury is by far best performing squad. No other car in this test comes close to its acceleration or top speed. The second is the Chevy Impala. While the Impala doesn’t look like much on paper, it did very well in all categories. The Pontiac Catalina performs well too, but I chalk up the 400’s lack of high end horsepower to its slower 0-100 mph time and top speed. The Chevy small block generally did well with high RPM performance, even in a de-smogged setup. The big 400 Powered Monaco was about equal performance wise to the Pontiac, while having a faster top speed, but worse braking.
Both the LTD II and the LeSabre were disqualified from the MSP bidding for not being able to make the minimum 0-100 mph time. MSP still performed full testing on disqualified cars, for other agencies who had different requirements. The LeSabre’s Buick 350 engine was a torquey low-rpm engine not all that well suited for high speed police use. It also had the by far worst braking of the GM B-bodies. The LTD II was the heavy weight of the bunch and had the worst brakes. The 400-2bbl, while torquey, doesn’t breath well at high RPM due to restrictive 2-bbl carb. Surprisingly, despite this, it did have a very good lap time, and even out ran the quicker Pontiac around the track.
The Fury Squad was powered by the E86 440, pumping out a very respectable 255 hp in 49 state trim, or 240 hp in the California emissions setup. This was a “cop motor” as Elwood Blues would say and it lived up to its reputation. Civilian Mopar B-bodys were limited to the 400-4bbl, while the much weaker 195-hp E85 440 was available in the larger Chrysler C-bodies. These Mopar B-bodies truly were the end of an era, but maybe it wasn’t all such a bad thing. They had strong acceleration which was great for Highway Patrol cars chasing down speeders, and they were fairly durable for the times. But they weren’t all that well balanced.
Car and Driver was able to perform an instrumented test on a 1977 E86 powered fury. While they claimed the 60-90 mph acceleration was very strong, they didn’t walk away impressed with the overall performance. The police Fury had steering that offered more feedback than the typical Mopar of the day, but they also complained of heavy oversteer, and only saw .69g of lateral grip on the skid pad. The stiffly sprung rear axle was easily upset on rough roads, under hard braking and on hard acceleration which caused serious losses in traction. Not exactly the description of a performance machine.
On the other hand, the Impala with its 350 under its hood had a big power deficit compared to the 440 Plymouth, but the Impala also weight over 400 lbs less. This resulted in the Impala having the second fastest acceleration, the second fastest lap times, the second strongest brakes, and the third fastest top speed. On top of that, the Chevrolet was tied for best fuel economy, 50% better than the abysmal 10 mpg 440 Fury.
A this time, Chevrolet was not nearly as heavily involved in the police car market as Chrysler and Ford, and so Chevrolet Police cars got the same engines as the civilian cars. Chevrolet just didn’t sell enough police cars to have to justify getting emission certification for a police only engine. But then again, the LM1 was the same engine the Z/28 owners had to contend with, so maybe it wasn’t all that bad. Chevrolet did make improvements to the rest of the car including a heavy duty frame, metallic impregnated brake pads, larger oil capacity, quick ratio firm feel steering, and a police tuned suspension setup.
Car and Driver also got their hands on a 1977 Chevrolet Impala 9C1. This wasn’t a factory press car either, they tested an actual in service 1977 Impala squad. Sylvania Police department allowed Don Sherman and Rich Ceppos to perform an instrumented test on one of their cruisers, under strict supervision. The LM1 350 was reported to be as smooth and quiet as the one any ordinary Caprice, and it knocked off a 0-60 mph time in 9.6 seconds while it stopped from 70 mph in 166 feet. Not bad considering it had 300 lbs of police equipment. What really sold them on the car though was the driving dynamics. Handling was said to be even better than a factory F41 car, and they called the police suspension F41+. They called the Impala 9C1 the most sophisticated handling American sedan and claimed on bumpy roads it behaved more like a BMW than a police car. Unlike the Fury, C/D walked away impressed, and even provided instructions on how civilians could order a 9C1 spec Impala.
Although looking back the Chevrolet Impala did pretty well in police testing, it was not widely used by police departments during 1978. The vast majority of the police cars sold were the Plymouth Furys and Dodge Monacos. Most state patrols were trying to get the last of these big-block Mopars before they were gone for good. Those who did try the new B-body GM’s tended to favour the Pontiac Catalina, likely because they believed the larger displacement engine was better for police use. Eventually the B-body Chevrolet would become the mainstay in policing, and by the late 1980’s would even go on to dominate in MSP testing.
So what do CC readers think of the MSP testing results? Michigan State Police chose the Plymouth Fury as its police car of choice. What police car would you choose? I think you know what my choice would have been.
MSP to this day still uses the big single red “gumball” on the roof as their trademark, but they’ve since been upgraded by Whelen to use LED arrays now instead of the old rotating incandescent beacons.
I think gumball is perfect for aerodynamic and visibility reasons, and it fits all the roof.
What’s the reason for the little sideways bar on the hood with STOP lettering? Seems like, even if it lights up, it would be hard to see due to its size.
When I was in Michigan last year, I was surprised to see the Gumball lights still in use. Pennsylvania (where I grew up) ditched the gumballs decades ago in a quest to be less obvious in traffic.
Fortunately, I didn’t get to see any of the Michigan gumballs up close and personal!
The link is interesting — especially this part:
“…MSP Precision Driving Unit has found that vehicles with a full overhead light bar accelerate slower than vehicles with a single overhead light.”
Wow, I’d love to see the results of that test. I wonder how much acceleration is lost due to the increased drag. Fuel economy I can see, but acceleration? I’m surprised there’d be a noticeable difference.
Welcome to the artist formerly known as Bill Mitchell 🙂
Interesting. My dad always the cheapskate bit his cars from police auctions. First one was a 70 AMC rambler wagon 6cyl. Green. It rusted pretty quickly. Nextcwas a 73 AMC ambassador. Green again with a 360. My dad liked this one. We got it in 78 and I remember it was quick. Then a 75 torino wagon. Silver woodgrain. Has 351C. Was also quick. Then an 81 Fairmont baby blue 6 cyl. Then finally an 84 LTD LX. 5.0. Dark blue. Was super quick. The LTD lasted a long long time and ended up with 450k before it was time to go bye bye.
Were those green AMCs from Cleveland?
Toronto… Although they were police auctions not all cars were patrol cars. My dad avoided the patrol cars. Some were detective cars or any other purpose other than marked…. the LTD LX was listed as a ‘police intercepter’.
In ’79, I bought a ’73 x-cop Ambassador. It was green also, with a 401. That car hauled pretty good and most people thought it was still an in service cop car. This invited a lot of youthful mischief which I will not elaborate on.
The 401 ultimately ended up in a Gremlin, which is a story for another day.
In a way, I DID choose. I bought a used California Highway Patrol car, a 1978 Dodge Monaco with California 440, code E86, after driving a 1977 Plymouth Fury with the same engine on duty. The California-spec engines did not have Electronic Lean Burn and were easy to tune for higher performance, which I learned from our department mechanic and from friends at CHP Motor Transport. The Carter Thermo-Quad was tweakable, too, though futzing with carburetors takes more skill than messing with spark advance and advance curves, both mechanical and vacuum. Fuel economy improved along with performance; emissions testing in my area of California is only at change of ownership.
The legend among big-block CHP cars is still the 1969 Dodge Polara but by the mid-70s, power steering, air conditioning, improved suspension (rear antiroll bar, in the late 1960s exclusive to Los Angeles Police Dept.) and disc brakes made for a more pleasant and safer car for all-around use, though the midsize Fury/Monaco was more cramped inside particularly for involuntary passengers (less knee room than in a Volaré/Aspen) and changing spark plugs on that 440 shoehorned into the smaller engine compartment could result in foul language and skinned knuckles. I cut down a spark plug socket, leaving just enough for mounting on a 3/8″ breaker bar, just for that Monaco.
You’re lucky that you reside in an emissions-testing-exempt locale ! I’m frankly surprised that Mary Nichols , Jerry Brown , et al. , haven’t closed that noose yet .
Never-the-less ; you’re right-on regarding the lack of the dreaded ‘Electronic Lean Burn’ fiasco —- Ca Emissions engines didn’t get that pile of 5h1t system until c.1980 . The only downside was that ‘N95’ cars had *all* of the requisite smog junk , whereas the ELB cars were sans *any* smog junk .
The 1969 Polara was thee supreme Pursuit model . I’ve seen a beautifully restored example at a few shows . That car even has its original-issue “Exempt” licence plates !
Its Certified Speedometer ( 140 MPH ) is interesting in its layout ; there’s no “0” after the numbers ; “140” is displayed as “14” .
Here it is , as featured in Hemmings Motor News : https://www.hemmings.com/magazine/mus/2007/05/1969-Dodge-Polara-CHP/1451907.html
It’s too bad that Chrysler’s Q.C. was really in the dumps by the late 70’s , ‘A38’ models not-with-standing ; their reinforcements , welds , cast iron K-member insulators (1973 & up B-bodies) , etc. , etc. , certainly helped , but …
The R-bodies were deplorabe ; just absolute garbage in Ca Emissions trim !
49 models got the E58 360 , whereas Ca models got the COPD 318 Four Barrel .
Those piles wouldn’t even hit 100 MPH !
LAPD’s Rampart Division held on to a 1972 Matador through 1986 ! Fourteen years is a long , long time , esp for a patrol / pursuit vehicle doing duties on the dog5h1t streets of Los Angeles .
My choice for the 1978 model ?
Tie between the then-new Impala / Caprice 9C1 with the LM1, and the A38 Monaco or Fury with the 225hp 440 .
Chicago PD switched to Impalas in ’78, from the 76-77 Dodge C bodies. Gas mileage was main factor.
Guess where some of the used C’s ended up? Hint: “We are on a mission from God!”
I would pick the Pontiac. A shipmate bought a retired New Jersey State Trooper Pontiac, just like the one in the test.
That car saved our lives 1 night, when a gang of sailor hating rednecks in Norfolk, tried to kill 4 of us riding in that car.
It was a harrowing experience. After slow rolling through 3-4 red lights, the the last light before I-64 was too busy, and we had to stop. The rednecks in the pick-up truck were able to catch up to us. They smashed all the windows out with chains, except for the windshield. Before they could drag us out of the car, the light turned green, Doug the driver, was able to stomp on the 400 Poncho and get us to the interstate, where we had a windy drive in the night, back to the shipyard.
Prior to playing Frogger through those red lights, we called on the Poncho to maneuver 8 ninety degree right turns in a residential area, trying to loose the pickup.
We almost did, except the pickup cheated. We stayed on the pavement, the pickup cut across lawns to keep up with us.
The police later told us it was a good thing the light turned green. 3 of the 6 perps were wanted for attempted murder and assault charges. Luckily witness’s at that last stop light got their license plate number.
Yep, I pick the Pontiac
Good lord! They attacked you with chains? I didn’t realize people actually did that!
I can understand why you’d have a sentimental attachment to the Pontiac. And I’m glad you got out of there in one piece! How did you run into these ne’er-do-wells?
The last RWD ‘bubble’ police Caprice (1991-96), although quite speedy with the Corvette LT1 engine (and the only police car with performance that eclipsed the vaunted 1969 Dodge Polara 440), had a high-speed handling issue with cops regularly losing control and crashing.
IIRC, the solution was mainly to add a rear spoiler. I wonder if this was the only case where a rear spoiler actually had a functional purpose on a street sedan, rather than just being ornamental in any other application.
I have never heard anything about problems with the handling on the Caprice police cars. In fact if anything, they generally seemed to be preferred to a CVPI of the era. The only safety issue I know of with the 91-96 Caprices was related to brakes. In 1991, they came with ABS as standard equipment. Cops hadn’t had cars with ABS before and didn’t know how to use them resulting in at least one fatality. Training on how to use ABS was provided, the problems went away.
It might have been connected with the ABS issue. Cops loved the LT1 Caprice because they were the fastest cars they had gotten since the ’69 Polara, so I suspect most of the issue was related to the cops, as you say, not being used to their handling characteristics at speed and simply driving way over their heads. At least that’s what I thought at the time and there really wasn’t anything technically wrong with the car, itself.
But I do recall specifically that part of the fix (whatever the root problem) was the addition of the rear spoiler to existing and future police package cars.
I’d choose the Buick — just for the distinction of having a Buick police cruiser.
But seriously, I’m intrigued by the Buick police package — I never knew that LeSabres were available with a police package, and I’d love to know the characteristics of the law enforcement agencies that ordered them. Given the rather lackadaisical 350, I’m guessing they may have appealed to suburban jurisdictions that were unlikely to need highway pursuit capabilities — and that liked the added cachet of a Buick.
I also wonder for how long the LeSabre was available with this package? I’d be surprised if it survived beyond 1980.
After 1980 or so, GM said only Chevy could sell police package cars. Read it somewhere, but if someone could verify?
I’d imagine Flint MI would have had Buick cruisers?
There were 9C3 package (police with civilian appearance package) Grands Prix during the W body era. Monte Carlos as well.
North Carolina’s ALE (Alcohol Law Enforcement) had Grand Prixs (or Grands Prix) in the early 00’s. Unmarked, but with full light setups inside the car.
Olds Buick and Mercury was favored by the Missouri Highway Patrol back in the day, until they couldn’t anymore
You beat me to it Roger. I was just going to say that Missouri State Patrol used Buick Lesabres in 1979. I think the police package was last offered in 1979 for the Buicks. Keep in mind some small towns and small depts used non-police spec vehicles as patrol cars to save money.
I double checked. It looks like MSP tested a Buick until 1981. 1980 version also had a 350 Buick V8, and was even slower to 100 than the 1978 version. In 1982, the tested a 252 V6 Powered Lesabre. So I would suspect that Buick offered the package until 1981.
From the MSP results they might as well have tested a REAL Buick with a real Buick V6!
hello Eric , back in 1983 , in my area 20 miles west of Philadelphia , my township used 1978 Buick Lesabers . They were all dark Blue and every one of them blew out the ring and pinion or the spider gears in the weak 10 bolt rear axle.We had a stack of them at the gas station that I worked at that did the maintence on all of the cars.The following year the dept switched
Oh, Fury all day long. At the end of the day the 440 answers every question someone might ask about a police car.
Actually, the 440 is the only thing that might get me into one. I never liked this generation of B body sedan (1971+). The bodies felt cheap, the interiors were definitely cheap and they got rusty fast. Back when these were just ordinary used cars you could get all of the Mopar mechanical goodness in a 66-70 B body or in a C body for about the same money, and nice gently used C bodies were available and cheap.
I wonder how many ex-cop ’78 Furys ended up as parts donors for an originally 318-powered and marshmallow-suspensioned hardtop coupe or convertible a decade older.
As a young MP, most of our cars were intermediate B body Plymouths w/ 360s. Pretty unremarkable performance, but they did stand up well to 24 hour hot seating. The cars worst fault seemed to be cold engine drivability. Due to hot seating patrol units for weeks on end, that problem was only noticeable on reserve cars like the ERT (Emergency Response Vehicles) that were parked until needed.
After 77, my department drove either Impalas with the 350 4 barrel or, cringe, LTD 2’s or later the downsized LTD’s. The Fords were slow and handled like mush, the Impalas were fast (good one could burn rubber for a block) and handled great (I took a 30 mph double-s on ramp once at 110 and made it, the guy I was chasing landed in the freeway median). My favorite Impala I drove til it had 160,000 (hard!) miles on it.
Slightly disappointed that the tests didn’t include jumps, multi-storey car parks, collisions with market stalls and ease with which vehicle could be used to force another off the road
You’re a loose cannon, Osella! Turn in your badge!
Hahaha, thanks for the laugh Osella and Paul!
I never knew LTD II’s were THAT fat! Damn!
Per Ford marketing “A lighter, trimmer LTD for 1977”! 😉
Great article!! Hey, do you have a link to the article that independently tested the Impala? I’d love to read that.
Glad you liked it. C/D archived that article, from July 1978:
Test should have said “Chrysler Corporation B body with 440”, since the Monaco/Fury were merely badge jobs at this point. And some still wonder why Plymouth brand died?
Seriously. I never knew what to call these pre-internet. I wasn’t alive when they were being made but I imagine their existence was basically fleet only like the final Crown Victoria and Grand Marquis, where most people seem to simply refer to them as Panthers or Police Interceptors or P71s.
In a way it’s ironic you mention the demise of Plymouth with these. The B bodies were pretty well differentiated up to 1970, but when this the body debuted Dodge and Plymouth waxed poetic in all the marketing and press about the fact that the sedans were fully differentiated stylistically from the 2 doors. But the Coronet and Satellite sedans were nearly indistinguishable after the front end. To add insult to injury they even backpedaled the 2 door differentiation in 1975
Welcome aboard! You picked well on subject, and I’ve plucked elements from the 1978 Michigan State test for several articles in the past.
1978 was definitely the end of an era. The next year brought about the R-body (not a bad car but it paled next to the Monaco/Fury) and the beginning of quite a few years of dwindling police car performance. The picture was pretty bleak by 1981 and it took a decade to get police cars out of the performance doldrums.
I get the affinity for the B-body, but for 1978 it would have to be a 440 powered Monaco. The third picture in this article sums it up – a determined face with the intestinal fortitude to back it up.
Hoping to see more from you!
Funny you should mention that.
As a kid, I remember a Car & Driver article in the late 70s that went showed a Dodge Omni with roof lights in the background and a 78 Camaro Z28 in the foreground.
The article was something like “…CHiP could only grind his teeth as the 4 year old Camaro left his 1982 cruiser way behind….”
A GLH probably wouldn’t make a bad patrol car. It’d need a hands-free radio or to be a two-cop unit so they can radio to dispatch while juggling the manual transmission and serious torque steer – but in that world GM probably put the 2.8V6 Chevette into production which would lack the latter but require more prioritization on what needs to be in the trunk.
The GLH would be fine, but it didn’t appear until 1985, and it had a manual trans
A 1979 Omni with an automatic probably needed 16 seconds to hit 60–and that’s before adding a few hundred pounds of cop equipment an lights
I have to wonder what constituted the communications category and how it was judged. Quite a wide spread among the GMs. The ergonomics was also interesting in that the GMs were much closer but for what ever reason the Chevy fell 1pt behind the other two.
According to a more recent cruiser evaluation test, that category rates how well the vehicle accommodates the required communications gear and the ease of installation.
And I just can’t see that dramatic of a difference in that respect between the 3 GM cars.
I’m puzzled by that as well, since the cars’ layouts should be quite similar. It’s possible there were some odd wiring differences between them, but I can’t account for the scoring either.
Well it does appear that it could be a wiring issue. On oldcarbrochures I found the 78 Chevy and 77 Pontiac police vehicle brochures. http://oldcarmanualproject.com/makes/police/77Pontiac/1977PontiacPolicecars/Page%2055.html
While both will poke a hole in the roof for you Pontiac will only run the flasher wiring to the head liner while on the COPO side of the Chevy options they will poke a hole in the roof and run a RGU cable from there to the trunk for the radio and/or 4 12ga wires from there to ?. They will also install a 1-1/2″ conduit from the dash to the trunk. That last item could be a real time saver. Of course the Poncho brochure is more limited in its scope so maybe you could get the conduit or antenna cable in it. Also they are different year brochures so who knows if availability of items were changed from year to year.
The cool thing in the Poncho brochure is the listing of “some” of the states, counties and cities that have purchased Pontiac police vehicles during 1976. The even cooler thing is a scan of a window sticker from a Catalina Freeway Enforcer delivered to a dealer in Muskegon WI.
Ah, that must be it. Good find.
My brain says Impala but my heart says Fury with the 440.
A Buick police car seems so wrong, not good optics. Looking at that pictured LeSabre just makes me think corrupt small town Sheriff
Order it in black with full wheel covers and cloth seats front-and-rear, and it’d be just the thing to drive the Governor around in.
Kojak always had a Buick – and who can forget (if you’re my age anyway) Broderick Crawford behind the wheel of his real CHP Buick.
Happen to know which episode I’d look for if I want to read the report?
Thanks kindly. (I meant “issue”, not “episode”, lulz)
1978 represented the ‘changing of the guard’. Most popular squad of the 70’s (big block B-body Mopar) giving way to the most popular squad of the 80’s (350 A-body Chevy). Used ’77-’78 C.H.P. Monaco’s were popular cars with high school kids on my area.
Are you quite sure the A-body Chev was the most popular ’80s squad car? I think that honor belongs to the Impala/Caprice, which was the B-body.
The idea of a 400 LTD II beating any of these of these other cars in any category at all boggles the mind, especially the 115 mph top speed, our 460 Elite would crack 120 , I’d have thought the 400 could do nowhere near that. I wonder if that Buick was tuned properly.
You should see the 1979 results when Ford submitted the LTD with a 351-2V Windsor and the LTD-II with a 351M-2V. Both have 0-100 times in the 60 second range. The 400 is knocked a lot around here, but if you look at most contemporary tests of Ford LTD’s, the performance on a 400 wasn’t far off a 460-4V. I know Motor Trend actually got better performance out of a 1972 LTD 400-2V vs a 1971 LTD 429-2V. The 400 was a strong motor, but it was stranglled by the tiny 2bbl carb. I don’t think the Buick was out of tune, those engines were all torque, no top end.
Look at this stock rebuild on a 400. Just adding the 4bbl carb added a significant amount of top end power without effecting the low end torque. The engine went from 265 hp and 412 lb-ft at and 301 hp at 4,100 rpm and 429 lb-ft of torque. These 400’s need to breath.
I know that the hp on the 400 fluctuated quite a bit from year to year and model to model.
It went down from a first year net of 172 to 158 by 75, but 144 in the Gran Torino for some reason. A friend’s parents had a 75 LTD that was quite a stone, and had constant ignition and valve lifter issues (no cracked block though). Another guy I knew was the son of the used car manager at the Ford store, and one time we had a 76 LTD for the night.
That one had 180 hp and 332 ft pounds in 76,
Only 20 short of the 460. That one could lay a good patch of rubber. The 78 above shows 166, then down to 159 in the Lincons in 79.
The numbers were all over the place back then.
Ford was the worst for horsepower numbers in this era. They are all over the map for seemingly no reason. Different ratings for different models didn’t make much sense, especially when there was no difference in the hard parts. The 144 hp rating for the 1975 400 was California emission rating. 49 state (or Canadian) had a 158 hp rating. Still, 1975 was the weakest year.
With Ford’s terrible emissions controls, restrictive catalytic converters, these engines were pretty choked. I am sure Fords poor quality control during also caused variations in performance.
FWIW, the 1976 LA Sheriff’s County tested a 1976 Montego with a 400-2bbl. The top performer for 0-60 was the 350-4bbl Nova, but the Montego 400 was quicker than the 360-4bbl Fury, the 400-4bbl Lemans, and within 0.2 secs of the 360-4bbl Dart. For the quarter mile it beat all of the above except for the Nova. The Nova was star of this test though, but the Montego did pretty well overall.
I guess those Novas did have a brief moment in the sun for police use. I’ve seen some historical pictures of Raleigh, North Carolina in the early 80’s, and many of the police cruisers in the photos are late 70’s Novas.
It must have been a few years later that the CHP was saddled with 5.2l (318ci) Mopar squads. I remember complaints about lack of power in the mountains. A friend with a turbo 4 Mustang could easily outrun them (but not the radio) on US 395 above Bishop.
For ’78, I would take the Impala.
That was 1980, for California cars only. Federal cars still had the 360 and it was a good performer (for the era).
It was generally believed that those CHP 318 Diplomats (?) couldn’t pull more than 85-90 mph at the higher elevations on 395 north of Bishop. I noticed that most of those high-altitude Sierra CHP cars dropped the light bars altogether, to gain a few mph and perhaps not unintentionally, make them hard to spot. The longer term solution was the 5.0 Mustang patrol car, at least until the full-size Chevy and then the. Crown Vic regained some horsepower.
I am a 20+ year LEO and I own 2 old police cars from that era-a marked 1972 Fury I 440 Virginia State Police car and an unmarked 1983 Malibu 9C1 LA County Sheriffs Dept car. My duty vehicle is a PPV Tahoe, plus Ive driven (and teach driving to the new recruits on) every police package vehicle available since the mid-1990s.
The Fury is a straight-line beast and it will outrun the new police Chargers up to about 100 or so. Ive (almost) proven its MSP-tested (or was it CHP?) 149 mph measured top speed (Ive had it up to 130 on a closed course) but its handling and braking characteristics at any speed over about 60 are frightening, even with bigger tires than when it was in service. . The 9C1 Malibu on the other hand, is a genuine fun-to-drive, well balanced car that would keep up with any sedan on the road today.
Sounds like some great old cruisers. I would love to see some pics. I knew a former cop who drove the 9C1 Malibus and he raved about the handing. Said they were great cop cars.
The 149 MPH top speed was not MSP or LA Sheriff’s County. I have heard this number quoted many times, but I have yet to see a first hand source. FWIW, Car Life test a ’69 Dodge Monaco with the 375 hp 440 and they got a 127 MPH top speed, drag limited not RPM limited.
I found it! Youre right, it was neither MSP or CHP but it was the July, 1969 issue of Super Stock magazine and they tested a CHP ’69 Polara at the Chelsea Proving Grounds and got 147 mph as a top speed.
btw thank you for a great article Vince. Per your request, this is my Fury
And the Malibu
I was living in Torrance, CA when the switched from the LTD-II to Malibu. They really liked the ‘bu compared to the Ford, mostly because of better maneuverability in narrow city streets. Power and handling were also praised.
The Malibu is a nicely packaged sleeper, but your grey/acid blue fusey is superb.
Awesome cars Dan, thanks for sharing! And thanks for your service.
LTDan, that’s very interesting! How do you like driving a PPV Tahoe? It seems a lot of departments are switching to the police Tahoe and Explorer. Do you think this is a good thing?
Vince and Don, thanks for compliments.
William, there is indeed a big move towards SUVs since the end of the Crown Vics. The current sedans (Caprice, Charger, Taurus) are very capable cars and will not only run circles around the ’70s cars that are the subject of this article but also the Crown Vics and Caprices of the ’90s. But as cars change so does police work and officers carry a lot more gear around now and a lot more communications and emergency equipment on the cars themselves. After the Crown Vic was cancelled, the cars have shrunk and become less LE-friendly; two large cops and all their gear do not fit comfortably in the new cars. The front seat in my Fury has to be about 6 feet wide; the new cars are a fraction of that, plus they have bucket seats with modern police consoles that take up a lot of room. The Taurus has probably the worst visibility of any police sedan Ive ever driven and the Charger is not far behind; each is a backing accident waiting to happen, and the Caprice is expensive and a nightmare to get parts for.
The SUVs are now priced competitively with the sedans and the Explorer and Tahoe are pursuit-rated. Many departments, particularly smaller urban departments have scaled down their pursuit policies or completely gotten away from getting into pursuits altogether and therefore, a powerful V8 sedan is not necessary for patrol work. Personally, as a bigger fella (6’2″ 280) I’m a lot more comfortable in the Tahoe than the Charger I had before and my gear (which there is a lot of) is a lot more accessible than it was in the car, but obviously the Dodge was a lot more fun to drive.
So in short, in 21st law enforcement, there is no one-size-fits all when it comes to police cars anymore. Whatever the officer’s mission is (city or highway patrol, plain clothes, detective, K9, investigation unit, SWAT/SRT, etc.) should dictate what type of vehicle they need for response. So for what I do and where I work, an SUV is optimal but for a state trooper, a big sedan is still the vehicle of choice.
I presume that Malibu is a 305 car? I’ve heard, unsubstantiated, that the 350 was available for 9C1 Malibus in the first couple years of that generation, but I’d imagine by ’83 that would no longer have been available.
Correct, the 350 was available only on the 9C1 police Malibus up until either 1980 or 81, than it was just the 305. Mine is a factory 305 car but now has a mild 350 and TH200R4 so its a blast to drive.
I’ll take the 1978 Fury with the 440 (complete with flipped air cleaner lid…)
Great article, and thank you for it. Make mine the Impala.
10 mpg for the Fury? wow. That’s amazingly bad. Still, I can see the appeal. Big, brawny and powerful. Bet they sold more to police depts than to civilians…
Great to have you writing, Bill/Vince! Looking forward to many more terrific posts such as this one.
Most civilian ones probably would’ve had a 318 and probably sold on price.
Welcome, Vince! Great first article, but with your commenting history, I’d expect nothing less! Amazing to think that just about any 2017 car would outperform the 9C1 Caprice today. The Fury was from an ending era as you say, and as such it would pass everything but a gas pump.
Police here in Victoria, Australia, have a do-not-pursue policy with regards carjackings/theft and joyriding. The thieves know this, and just accelerate wildly away from a police car knowing they will eventually have to stand down. There’s only so many police helicopters in the sky to help.
Thanks Don. It was your idea to make this post. You suggested it in one of my comments not too long ago.
First of many I hope Vince.
Much smarter policy (do-not-pursue). There’s still a cowboys and Indians mentality in this country, and all-too many pursuits end up badly.
Bill, I’ve meaning to ask this question for a while about these tests. Did the manufacturers lend them cars to test, or were they purchased cars, like CR uses. Because if these were manufacturer’s cars, one wonders if a bit of cheating might not have been involved? There ways quite a bit at stake, and it’s not very hard, especially in this early emissions era.
I’d be interested to know about the drag created by the full lightbar vs. gumballs. If the side mirrors of a car can quantifiably affect the Cd or Cx, the same might be said of those roof appendages.
The manufacturers send cars directly to the MSP and CHP for their annual tests.
I believe they were supplied by each manufacturer. I suppose it’s possible that there could have been tinkering at play. Comparing the LA Sheriffs County tests to MSP and the C/D tests show fairly consistent results. I guess Chrysler had a pretty vested interest in police car business at this time considering their financial situation, but I am not sure GM would have really cared that much.
Through the MSP tests in the 1980’s there were actually surprising variations in performance year to year on seemingly unchanged cars. It was almost as if they’d get a bad Impala one year, while next year the Diplomat or LTD would be bad and so forth. This seems to suggest to me the cars weren’t getting any special treatment. To me these variations were from the big production variability these cars had, especially when still carbureted. The results seemed to get more consistent year to year once fuel injection and modern emission controls were used.
FWIW, I know MSP is considered the standard for police car tests to this day and they have a pretty rigorous methodology. The current crop of cop cars blows these old ones out of the water. Even the slowest car today, easily out accelerate the 440-Fury.
Here are the published tests online for anyone interested. I wish they went back to 1978. These are pretty detailed documents.
There was a time — prior to Jerry Brown’s first term — when the C.H.P. could spec out their own cam profiles ! This ostensibly came to an end by 1975 …
Remember the 1976 Valiant and Dart ‘A38’ models ? ‘A38′ means Police Car Conversion ; the cars’ V.I.N.’s either had a “K” ( Police ) or “L” ( Low Price Class ) as the 2nd character
( e.g. , “DK41U4D” = D= Dodge full-size , K = Police , 4 = 4-door , 1=sedan , U = 440 High Performance , 4 = 1974 , D=Belvedere Assembly Plant ) .
Well , for 1976 , a “VL41” and “LL41” were available . The base engine was the Heavy Duty 225 Slant Six ( with an A-727-RG Torqueflite ) , with a 318 H.D. optional , and the 220hp 360 as the top offering . A ‘Certified Calibration’ speedometre read-up-to 120 MPH .
California models were saddled with a single exhaust / catalytic converter , whereas 49 State models got true duel exhaust , sans catalyst .
Vince, so good to see you on the other side of the Comments section! Loved this piece and I’m looking forward to more.
The top speed of the Mopar 440 cars is impressive.
FWIW my copy of World Cars 1973 lists the Jensen Intercepter with a 440 4 barrel at 135 mph, The Jensen weighed 3506 llbs with a 2.88 rear axle.
The SP (six pack 3 Holley 2 barrels) version was listed as still being available and had a 150 mph top speed.
This makes the performance of the Mopar police cars even more remakable.
I initially wondered about the 255 hp rating, but it would be net of course so the equivalent of at least 320 hp gross?
I read a story about a Ford Australia designer (Wayne Draper) who had bought a 1969 Falcon highway patrol prototype car when it was sold off, which had a blueprinted GTHO-spec 351. He ran 13.1 sec at the drags and said it would spin the wheels when the auto changed into top gear at 110-120 mph (3.5 diff ratio).
One morning he got pulled up one morning on his way to Geelong: “how fast do you think you were going” asks the cop; “about 155-160 mph” he says; “that’s right, but do you think that’s a safe speed in this car?”. “Well its one of your cars” Note there wasn’t a formal open road speed limit in those days, apparently he would get from the speed limit de-restriction on the edge of Melbourne to the speed limit coming into Geelong in 15 minutes.
This was a bit healthier than the average highway patrol car which had a 351-4V from the GT, so down quite a bit on horsepower, but still no slouch. Attached is a 1971 ex-highway Falcon 500, behind the 351 is a bullnose top loader 4 speed and nodular iron LSD centre, 31-spline 9″ diff, it had ER70 tyres and 36 (imp) gal. fuel tank (42.5 US gal), dual exhaust and bucket seats.
North Carolina Highway Patrol also chose the 440 Fury in ’78, and they still have one in their “heritage fleet” that makes the event and car show rounds:
So now the 440 Dodge top speed is 132, hmm that’s funny I read it was 128! Also the Ford 460 PI was never tested but I seen an independent article where the driver was able to do 132 MPH with it.
These old Police car articles keep getting more and more doctored everyday……