The police vehicle. It’s something we’ve talked about here sporadically and while most people don’t want to encounter one under self-detrimental circumstances, they serve a highly beneficial purpose and are always welcome during times of distress.
A recent outtake by Edward Snitkoff discussing the 2020 Ford Explorer prompted thought about those atypical police offerings from times past. The police have used everything imaginable, but let’s focus on cars purpose built by the manufacturer (there is an exception or two) and aren’t the typical full-sized sedans that seemed to be the law enforcement stereotype until recently – although, there are a few full-sized sedans but by a brand you might not have anticipated.
To keep it all manageable, we’ll look at the time period of 1959 to roughly 1990 – truly the sweet spot for what we like around here. This list is not intended to be comprehensive or all-encompassing.
1959 and up Studebaker Marshal
Studebaker had been making police cars for a while, but their physical downsizing in 1959 gave new dimension to their offerings. The good folks at South Bend continued offering police vehicles until almost the bitter end, some of which could be had with optional supercharged Avanti engines.
The Lark based Marshal’s kinship to the Marshal from a few years earlier is unmistakable.
1961 and 1962 Chevrolet Corvair
Just because a car has a police package with various heavy duty components doesn’t mean it is meant for ground-pounding pursuit and patrol. In the case of the Corvair police package, it was advertised as being a car willing to tackle various miscellaneous duties.
Given Chevrolet also had a taxi package for the Corvair during these two years, a police package was hardly a stretch as the differences between the two would have primarily amounted to paint color and door decals.
From literature about it:
Big cities will like the Corvair’s maneuverability in traffic. Local sheriff’s offices will like the way Corvair handles a hundred-odd jobs quickly and willingly.
To say the Corvair police package was unsuccessful is a charitable way to put it.
It was, however, either successful or memorable enough to be made into a child’s toy by, among others, Ichiko Toys of Japan.
1962 and 1963 Chevy II
Available with the choice of a four or six-cylinder engine, the police Chevy II coincided with the release of the retail Chevy II. The GM Heritage Center shows the chassis and drivetrain was Option Code 599 for 1962 and nearly everything from seats to suspension hardware was heavy duty or reinforced.
The police Chevy II continued until 1964.
1961 to 1964 Chrysler Enforcer
Once upon a time, one hundred twenty-two inches was the magical wheelbase length for many law enforcement agencies. Other than the Newport, Chrysler had no other offering with this wheelbase length. Since the Newport was it, Chrysler Corporation made a bunch of bids with a Chrysler brand car, which was a first, and dubbed it “Enforcer”. From all accounts the word “Newport” didn’t appear on it anywhere.
As an aside, DeSoto offered similar in at least 1957. As the Newport could be viewed as the replacement for the DeSoto, it does make some degree of sense.
For 1961, the only power plant was a four-barrel 383 V8, an engine that was not available in any retail Chrysler. The Car Life article seen above would clock a 383 powered Enforcer (a two-barrel 361 was standard for the 1962 model) at a top speed of 131 mph with the blast to 100 mph taking 24.1 seconds.
Given the downsizing elsewhere at Chrysler in 1962, it’s easy to see why the Enforcer was reasonably popular. With Chrysler going back to a perceived full-sized C-body for 1965, the Enforcer was likely seen as redundant and was cancelled.
This is one I stumbled upon when looking for other pictures but sure enough Rambler offered genuine police cars. They didn’t limit their efforts to 1963 only.
It all makes sense; Nash had been offering police cars for a while (or at least they did if you’ve ever seen episodes of Superman from the early 1950s) and the Rambler simply continued this offering, such as this 1957 model. It also bridged the gap from the 1950s Nash offerings to the 1970s AMC offerings discussed below.
Incidentally, they also built the “Rambulance”. It’s amazing what turned up while searching for pictures of other cars featured here.
1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88
Breaking with their long standing relationship with Chrysler Corporation for a year, the California Highway Patrol used Oldsmobiles in 1967. All were reported to be powered by a 365 gross horsepower 425 cubic inch (7.0 liter) V8.
For a long time, the Patrol in California required its car to possess a minimum wheelbase of 122 inches and a base curb weight of 3,800 pounds. The Olds filled this role quite nicely but not well enough to entice the boys in blue to use them again in 1969 as they went back to Dodge.
1970 Mercury Montego
Watching the original Gone In 60 Seconds will yield a bumper crop of these Mercury cruisers. The Los Angeles police were likely the largest and highest profile user of these 429 (7.0 liter) powered cars.
Incidentally, information I found while researching this stated these Los Angeles cars were ordered without power steering. Navigating a big block car through town for 8 hours without the assistance of power steering sounds like a great upper body workout.
1971 and 1972 AMC Javelin
When AMC (formerly Rambler which was formerly Nash and Hudson) ramped up their police car efforts in the early 1970s, it wasn’t limited to the Matador and Ambassador. The Alabama State Police purchased 100 specifically prepared Javelins in both 1971 and 1972. All were powered by the 401 cubic inch AMC V8 and hooked to an automatic transmission.
So when California began using pony cars, they weren’t plowing new ground; Alabama had done so 8 years earlier.
1976 Dodge Dart and Plymouth Valiant
Despite being their last year on the market, Chrysler opted to offer an A38 (Mopar speak for police package) Dart and Valiant.
Available with the 225 slant six, 318, or 360 with dual exhaust, testing of these Daliants showed its performance was approaching Chevrolet’s police Nova – likely a prime motivator in Chrysler producing these. If memory serves, a periodic commenter here has mentioned their 1976 police Dart which had had its first life in or around Seattle.
1977 Ford Maverick
Like the Dart, a police specification Maverick was introduced for its last year of production. Complaints about the Maverick were so rampant Ford ceased production after making only 350 of them, leading to theories these may be the rarest Ford police cars ever. Such a Maverick sounds like this was not one of Ford’s better ideas.
While its easy to find pictures of police outfitted Mavericks from all years, particularly in military use, Ford only offered them as such for one year.
1978 Mercury Marquis
Mercury had been offering cruisers on their full-sized cars for at least 20 years by this time, with states such as Indiana and Missouri taking frequent advantage of their bodacious-ness.
Yet by 1978 having a police cruiser with covered headlights and a brilliant red cloth interior just wasn’t the norm. This car was purchased new by the Missouri State Highway Patrol and was one of many they purchased that year. It is on display in a museum ten minutes from where I sit writing this.
As an aside, long ago I had a conversation with a Trooper who had once been assigned one of these Mercurys. He had just gotten fuel when he had a call that involved an extended chase. After apprehending the person, he realized he needed fuel again, so he checked his mileage. With his foot in the throttle during the chase, he had achieved 4 miles per gallon with his 460 (7.5 liter) powered Mercury.
1978 to 1980 Ford Fairmont and Mercury Zephyr
For the various resources I’ve used for this article, most of which have pictures of actual units during their service lives, the bulk of the Fairmonts appear to be found in western states. Is this indicative of anything? Likely not, although we at least know where some were used.
These tended to make a good deal of sense, especially if used in an urban area. Piloting one of these in a dense city would be easier to do than with the Mercury Marquis seen directly above.
1979 Buick LeSabre
With the preponderance of B-body Chevrolets used in police service, extending the package to the Buick wasn’t a big stretch. Powered by a 155 horsepower 350, testing by the Michigan State Police revealed acceleration to be lackadaisical with a blast to 100 mph taking 46.4 seconds – nearly twice that of the Chrysler Enforcer seen above.
These Buicks were used by the Missouri State Highway Patrol in 1979, along with the R-body Chrysler Newport. In the same testing in Michigan, it was found the 360 powered Newport made the same dash to 100 mph in 31 seconds.
While quite young at the time, I can remember these Buicks being in service.
1979 Chevrolet Camaro Z28
Due to the ongoing downsizing conflicting with the long-held dimension standards of the California Highway Patrol (the minimum wheelbase length of 122″ was held for a long time), a special vehicle study was conducted in 1979. Three Camaros were included in their mixture.
Axle gearing, brakes, and tires deviated from retail cars and all were powered by a 160 horsepower, four barrel 350 (5.7 liter) V8. Installation of police equipment, from lights to pushbars to the shotgun rack all posed unique challenges that were eventually overcome.
The results of the 18 month study were favorable for the Camaro, leading the Patrol to bid sport coupes for 1982. The Camaro Z28 was bid at $11,445 each; the Ford Mustang, powered by a 302 V8, was bid at $6,868.
They purchased 400 Mustangs.
1980 Chevrolet Citation
While they were all retail cars, the New York City Police did procure a number of 1980 Chevrolet Citations for patrol use. They were withdrawn from service within two months.
1980 and 1981 Mercury Marquis
Old habits die hard and Missouri had been purchasing Mercury patrol cars intermittently since the mid-1960s. That habit did not stop upon the full-sized Mercury being downsized for 1979.
Like the 1979 LeSabre, I remember when these were in service. There was also a series of public service announcements sponsored by KFVS, the CBS affiliate in Cape Girardeau, that featured Sgt. Joe Matthews and his downsized Mercury Marquis cruiser.
I vividly remember Sgt. Matthews, who appeared to be quite a formidable individual, politely reminding people to slow down and drive safely. While spoken in a very professional manner, one could easily read between the lines as Sgt. Matthews was really saying “Slow your ass down or we’ll make you regret the error of your ways.”
In the interest of full disclosure, my day-job is such that I have intermittent association with MSHP troopers, recently having had lunch with a group of lieutenants and the captain of a troop. They are a very dedicated and professional group of people.
1981 Chrysler LeBaron
While this was a one-year wonder M-body, providing an alternative to the M-body Dodge Diplomat, the few that were made took some high profile positions such as with New York City, the Nevada Highway Patrol, and the Wisconsin State Police.
They are so rare, it’s tough to find any decently sized picture of one. This one from Miami Beach, Florida, is the largest sized picture of an in-service LeBaron available.
Except for maybe this one – which I owned for a few years. It was originally from Florida.
Having a Chrysler name didn’t equate to it having a fancy interior.
1984 to 1986 Chevrolet Celebrity
Despite wearing Chevrolet’s “9C1” nomenclature for police vehicles, the Celebrity was intended for less vigorous, special service duties.
Powered by a 112 horsepower 2.8 liter V6 in 1984, the 9C1 Celebrity had a top speed of 110.2 mph as tested by the Michigan State Police. For comparison, the fastest full-size sedan they tested that year was the Plymouth Gran Fury whose four-barrel 318 pushed it to 121.4 mph.
Fuel injection was added for 1985 pushing the Celebrity’s top speed, again as tested by the Michigan State Police, to 116.1 mph – nearly two miles per hour faster than the 350 equipped Impala also tested that year – while getting 20.1 miles per gallon to the Impala’s 13.3.
As stated earlier, this list is not intended to be comprehensive or all-encompassing. There’s a lot to pick from and any attempt to harness everything about every Pontiac…
Buick (here from 1971), or…
Even Volvos used in the U.S. can get difficult. There has been a lot of availability of many different makes and models over the years.
But one thing is certain as the unusualness does make them all more memorable. And we didn’t even touch on wagons.