Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the good stuff that’s right in your backyard; one must stop, look around and smell the roses in order to see it. In the spirit of rose smelling, I took a short journey to the free (one of my favorite four-letter “f” words) museum at the Missouri State Highway Patrol academy here in Jefferson City. There is some good stuff there, despite the intended purpose of most of it.
A while back I brought you a full Curbside Classic on a 1968 Mercury Monterey (here). That car was a replica, whereas these are not. These cars actually were in service, and having performed their duty, are now enjoying a well-earned and cushy retirement. Hanging out in the basement certainly beats the typical police car retirement that involves shouts of “Hey, taxi!”.
This 1988 Mustang, one of the first 17 Mustangs to be put into service by the state of Missouri, had a purchase price of $11,146 with an automatic transmission…you have to love those fleet discounts! I remember seeing these along I-55 when they were new. The Mustangs were a radical departure from the Ford Crown Victorias, Chevrolet Caprices and Dodge Diplomats typically in service at the time.
Powered by Ford’s 302 cu in (5.0-liter) V8, the Mustang set law enforcement on its ear throughout the 1980s. According to museum sources, it helped shorten the time and distance it took to apprehend speeders, which made things safer for both law enforcement officers and the motoring public at large. The last Mustang was retired from duty in 1996.
The aforementioned ’68 Mercury wasn’t the only winged messenger to wear a light bar, as is evidenced by this ’78 Mercury Marquis which does, yet doesn’t, look like an LTD. In my opinion, Mercury’s halcyon days ended in 1978.
I once struck up a conversation with a gentleman in St. Louis. He happened to be a trooper, and his first assigned car was a ’78 Marquis like this one. On one occasion when he checked his fuel mileage following an extended pursuit, he discovered that thanks to high speed and frequent hard acceleration, his Mercury’s 460 cu in (7.5-liter) V8 achieved just a hair over four miles per gallon. Billed as “the last of the full-sized cars”, its purchase price was $5,976.
Interestingly, museum information claims a top speed in the 130-mph range for both the Mustang and the Mercury.
To be a total geek: If you consider Newton’s Second Law of F=ma, the Mercury has more mass (m) than the Mustang, and thus a higher overall force, (F). Apparently, the Mercury provided more than just psychological benefits!!! For reference, the weight of this Mercury is about the same as that of a new Honda Odyssey minivan.
And how about that interior! It certainly beats the 50 shades of gray you’ll find today. This is genuine, right down to the 140-mph speedometer. Please remember that the lighting here was poor, causing many of these pictures to come out very dark. I’ve lightened them, and I hope that hasn’t compromised their clarity.
Even the penalty box in this Mercury doesn’t seem too bad. It’s downright cheery–maybe a reemergence of such interiors would make criminals less rowdy on their way to the crossbar hotel.
While Ford dominated the newer displays, Chevrolet was well represented on the older end. One such example is this 1942 Chevrolet in one of my favorite automotive colors, black.
The interior still had an Art Deco theme going on in 1942. When was the last time an interior looked so inspired?
It was stated that these cars were kept running even well after World War II, albeit with many of them really dragging their tongues toward the end of their service. Looking at this fine ’42, I can certainly think of worse rides to use for four or five years.
Last up on our tour is this 1953 Chevrolet.
Recently, I took a tour at the old Missouri State Penitentiary here in town, which operated from 1836 until 2004. In 1954 there was a very intense riot at the facility. Our tour guide (who was the retired warden) stated that when the riot broke out, troopers all around the state were dispatched to Jefferson City to help control it. Many of them arrived, from every corner of the state, in ’53 Chevrolets driven at full throttle during the entire trip. Once they’d put down the riots, patrolmen returned to their cars only to find the engines seized. This was followed by a very large-scale engine replacement program.
Nothing at the museum confirmed the tale, but certainly the then-warden would be in a position to know.
It really makes you wonder what you could learn if these cars could talk.
When I visited the museum, nobody else was around. As I viewed the displays about Bonnie and Clyde, methamphetamine and Prohibition, I noticed something quite enticing. Realistically, I knew it simply wasn’t possible, but it did make me pause and daydream for a minute. With the windows of all the cars down, I knew half the fantasy was possible.
The Mustang’s keys were in the ignition, and I was ready to go for a spin.