Police COAL: 1978-2006 Ford, Chevy, Jeep, and ??? – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Part Deux

Here are just a few more observations and recollections of police vehicles I had the opportunity to drive over my 28 year military law enforcement career.  Again, photos are not mine, but examples found on the web.

The Good:

1991-96 Chevy 9C1 Caprice.  The LT1 powered Caprices (94-96) were popular units.  We really didn’t care for the styling – every drunk we picked up had to make a “Free Willy” joke.  But the 330 ft lbs of torque made up for that.  Over 99.9% of motorists stop when you catch them speeding – but you still want a vehicle that gets quickly up to speed to minimize the chase distance.  That torque made all the difference.  The only folks that didn’t like them were the mechanics – they broke more often than the Crown Vics – mostly build quality issues, similar to the problems we saw in the Luminas mentioned in the prior post.

1984 Jeep CJ7.  During my time in Korea, we didn’t use sedans – we had tactical or M-series vehicles.  Given the condition of the roads in Korea then, the CJ7 was a smart choice.  Even the back roads on-base were nothing but rutted-out dirt – easy work for a Jeep.  One of the things I’ve continually battled in my mind over the years is which is the better inline six cylinder engine; the Chrysler Slant Six, the Ford 240/300, or the AMC 232/258.  I think they are all legends, but if forced, I’d probably choose the 258 by the slimmest of margins.  I’ve driven all three, and the 258 is to my backside the strongest in terms of power and torque.  Coupled with the right gearing, it made the CJ7 a fairly quick vehicle from 0-30 mph.

Ford F150/250.  We drove pickups from all the major Big Three manufacturers (I just missed the IHC pickups), in all styles; regular cab, extended, crew cab, 4WD, 6 or V8, etc.  My favorite, and I think the favorite of most of the other cops I worked with were the Fords.  It wasn’t that we didn’t like the Dodges or GMs, but the Fords just seemed to take the daily abuse better.  The 300 six and C6 were bulletproof.  The V8s and V10 were all durable, with the exception of the early 6.0 Powerstroke diesels and their well documented problems.  A six-pax F250 was a nice, roomy ride, until you had to park it at the BX parking lot to pick up a shoplifter.

Late-1980s Ford Mustang SSP.  OK, so these weren’t really our vehicles – they belonged to the U2 flying squadron, but they were still police-spec units.  You are likely familiar with the U2; a high-altitude strategic reconnaissance aircraft with very long wings.  They are tough to fly and even tougher to land – the pilot wears a space suit so there’s not a lot of cranking your head and looking around.  Standard procedure is for a chase car to wait at the end of the runway, then accelerate and follow the U2 as it comes in to land, and give info to the pilot on how level the wings are and the distance to touchdown.  The Air Force had used 396/454-engined El Caminos for years but those were wearing out, so in 1986 they bought 20 SSP Mustangs.  As the pilots who drove them would tell me, they “hauled ass”.  We were pretty jealous as we tooled around base in our Slant Six Diplomats.  If interested, a short history of U2 chase vehicles is located here.

The Bad.

Mid-1980s Ford Ranger.  Contrary to their full-sized brethren mentioned above, these 80’s Rangers were pitiful little trucks.  They were afflicted with the same wheezy Pinto “Lima” four cylinder engine and abysmal build quality as the Fairmonts we had.  They were painfully small – I had a hard time fitting inside and would have to park it every hour and get out to avoid cramping up.  The suspensions were weak and tended to sag.  If offered the choice between an older Dodge (Mitsubishi) Ram D-50 or a Ranger, I’d take the Ram hands down.  The Air Force kept buying them however and I have to say the newer versions I experienced (late 90’s) seemed much better put together. The Supercab also had more room and the 3.0 Vulcan V6 gave decent performance.

The Ugly.

The Peacekeeper.  In the late 70’s, Strategic Air Command (SAC) decided it needed an armored response vehicle for its bases.  It was with this vehicle that I had my first clear understanding of what the phrase “Lowest Common Bidder” really meant.  Cadillac Gage Corp took a Dodge D300 4X4 chassis, shortened it, and then placed an armor-plated body on top.  Two problems; 1) the body was too heavy so chassis components continually wore out, and 2) the 360 V8 was overtaxed and would either overheat or break.  They named it the Peacekeeper – maybe because it was certainly peaceful inside as they rarely started and ran.  They were significantly under-engineered, and spent most of their time parked in the maintenance lot awaiting parts.  Lowest Common Bidder indeed…

I came across quite a few pictures during my research, so here are just a few of vehicles before my time;

Early 50’s Ford F1 Pickup



1962 Plymouth Wagon


1972 Ford Custom


Here is what most Air Force cops are driving today;

At the base nearest our home, they have transitioned to pretty much an all Taurus fleet, though I imagine most of those will be reaching their shelf life soon.

  Not sure what will replace them but did see a brand new, very nice looking Durango the other day…