1996 Chevrolet Caprice 9C1 – One Officer’s Passion



“Find a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” This may or may not have been originally said by Mark Twain, but it’s pithy enough to have come from him and the more fortunate among us can attest to its truth. The saying seems to apply to the refurbisher of this retired cop car found at curbside looking mighty fine. The car attests to both his automotive and law enforcement passions. More on that story following a look at Chevrolet’s last great police cruiser*.



The arc of police cars more or less follows the arc of performance cars in general: gradual improvement in the postwar years peaking around the late sixties, then rapid devolution in the 70’s to a pathetic level by the early 80’s, then gradual improvement again. Add the factors of fleet buyers looking for the most cost effective products buying in relatively small numbers but highly visible in the public eye and you get the rather convoluted police car market.

Chrysler dominated the space until the late 80’s when they finally stopped making their increasingly less competitive Diplomats and Gran Furys. At least motorists no longer had to worry which kind they would get when pulled over: the Diplomatic cop or the Grandly Furious cop? Chevrolet had since the mid 80’s been making big improvements in their Caprice police package (a.k.a. Coprice or RPO code 9C1), becoming the dominant player by the time Mopar exited the market.


1991 Caprice in front of Sam Houston statue


When GM gave the Caprice a jellybean smooth new body for 1991, they continued to offer a highly competent police package, even if it made officers feel like they were driving a whale or an upside down bathtub. The available-only-with-9C1 5.7L small block LO5 V8 had 195hp (fuel injected since 1989), the new seats were very comfortable, and the dash had one of the most spacious, legible and useful gauge clusters ever. When GM’s “downsized” B platform originally debuted in 1977, Caprice/Impala handling was considered excellent for a large car when equipped with the F41 suspension upgrades. Chevy engineers had improved on that in recent years, to the point the car won Motor Trend’s Car Of The Year for the second time in 1991 (1st in 1977) based in part on the excellent handling of the LTZ “touring” package (and the fact Import Car Of The Year was still separate). The LTZ had the 9C1 chassis, but not the 9C1’s 5.7L engine (the 5.7 would finally become available in the LTZ for 1993).



For 1994, GM consolidated their V8 powertrains, giving all rear wheel drive cars the same basic powertrain to include Corvette, F-bodies and B-bodies. This was good news for B-bodies, which now got the LT1 Generation II Small Block and 4L60E transmission which had debuted in the Corvette for 1992. There were some differences as applied in the three platforms, but the bottom line is that the Caprice got a 55hp/30lb-ft bump. Combined with the longstanding excellent suspension and brakes, Chevy now had what many considered the best police car of all time*. That includes the legendary powerhouses of 20-30 years earlier, which had the speed but not the overall roadability, comfort, or safety of the modern Caprice.


Chevy engineers taking final lap at the 1996 MSP evaluation.


From 1987-1996, the Caprice won the top rating each year in the annual Michigan State Police comparison testing of all police package vehicles, the results of which are used by departments nationwide when selecting what to add to their fleet. In the mid 90’s large sedan and wagon sales were heading down while SUV sales were heading up, so the General rationally converted the B/D factory in Arlington, Texas to make Tahoes and Yukons. After a 20 year run, the last “downsized” B body was built in December 1996. All over North America, police officers pretended the tears were from something that got in their eyes.


1994 Caprice California HP


The Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor took over the police market by default for the next 15 years. While the Ford was an adequate patrol cruiser, many agencies sought to keep their Chevys in service as long as possible. In the new millennium, a small cottage industry sprung up refurbishing Caprices for police departments to extend the life of their Chevrolet fleets. Our subject car originally served Pasadena, California until 2015 (!), when it was sold at auction with 196k miles. The dry, mild climate in the City Of Roses undoubtedly contributed to the car’s longevity, though surely a nearly two decade service life had to be an intentional choice by an agency that valued it.



Houston Police Officer Jason Knox grew up with a dad who was a Houston Police Officer. He knew that was the career he wanted from an early age, becoming a LEO in a couple smaller departments before getting hired by Houston in 2012. He also grew up with an interest in cars and history, so joining his passions by collecting vintage police cars was a natural hobby for him. When he bought the Pasadena Caprice, despite the final bid of only $700, he found it had been maintained well and was in solid mechanical condition. It took him a couple years to get it ready for public display with new paint, decals, vintage radio, mobile data terminal, etc.



The car was completed in 2018 and attended its first big event at that year’s Thanksgiving parade, which is where I spotted it.

The paint is the correct Columbia Blue used by HPD at the time. Blue patrol cars in Houston go back to at least the early 60’s. HPD went to white with a blue stripe in 1999 and black and white after that, so seeing a cop car in that color today is a real nostalgia trip for many residents.



Knox shipped it to Washington D.C. and traveled there to participate in the 2019 National Police Week.



The 96 9C1 project worked out well enough that Knox acquired a 1988 Caprice with 75k miles and completed a cosmetic refurb and HPD transformation in 2019. I don’t believe this car is an actual 9C1, though I haven’t been able to confirm that.



I had no idea what the story was on the car when I saw it in the parade. It was my lucky day as I found it parked behind City Hall afterwards. It would have been nice to meet Officer Knox and get the backstory on the car and a few more photos, but he was not around. I later found a newspaper article that filled me in on its private ownership.



With the fresh paint and decals, it looked almost new.



A newspaper photo of Knox in his car shows that the interior was in pretty good shape, too. All the center stack equipment is period appropriate, including the billy club (which is timeless and effective, I’m told).



Knox took flight lessons as a kid, flying solo and getting licensed at age 16. With a passion for flying, he took a big step towards his ultimate goal to become a police helicopter pilot in 2019 when he was accepted into the department’s Air and Marine Division as a tactical flight officer (spotting, not piloting). Pictured above is a proud daddy with his two kids.



At 02:00 a.m. on May 2, 2020, Knox and his partner, pilot Senior Officer Chase Cormier, responded to a call to search for a “possible drowning” in Greens Bayou (Houstonspeak for canal or small river) in the Greenspoint area. Flying low, the 2008 MD 369 went into a spin and lost control.




The copter crashed into an apartment building, which fortunately was unoccupied. Officers at a nearby homicide scene heard the crash and rushed to the site. Despite the danger from a large amount of spilled fuel, officers didn’t hesitate to try to help their trapped comrades but the job required the fire department for extrication. Once out, the officers were rushed to Memorial Hermann Trauma Center, where Knox was pronounced dead and Cormier ultimately survived serious injuries.

Greenspoint goes by the nickname Gunspoint and is one of the rougher areas in a city with no shortage of rough areas. Witnesses said they saw people shooting in the air that night, but the NTSB found no evidence of bullet damage to the chopper. In fact, they were unable to determine any cause of the crash, mechanical or otherwise. As to the drowning, no one was ever found in the bayou. That cursed night in Greenspoint remains a mystery.



Eight months later, the destroyed MD 369 was replaced by a new Airbus H125. The FAA registration number is Officer Knox’s retired badge number, which was fortuitously available. Above is the ceremony where the police chief and mayor dedicated the new helicopter to Knox, joining the fleet of approximately 16 aircraft. The thin blue stripe at the rear edge of the white, not present on other aircraft or vehicles, is in his honor. The 88 Caprice sits in the background.



Knox hoped to eventually have a police car from every decade, in the appropriate HPD models with historically accurate paint, markings and equipment, until Tragedy intervened. He remains the only HPD member to die flying, though he joined a long list of Line Of Duty deaths.



The cars live on, though. Jason’s wife and family maintain them and regularly attend public events with one or both. The screenshot above is the televised Thanksgiving Day Parade, where the cars returned in 2022 for the first time in three years. They serve not only as a great community outreach but now also as a fitting memorial for a man who loved his job and loved life. An embodiment of Twain’s maxim about work to be sure.



Since I couldn’t find it online, the MSP victory lap photo was scanned from the book Chevrolet Police Cars by Ed Sanow and attributed to Tom Yates. This book was also the source of much technical detail. 

*Police Package Postscript: The asterisk on best police car of all time is because that title is not so clear now…


2017 Caprice PPV, with 362hp L77 (LS) 6.0L V8, the last Chevrolet police package sedan.


Dodge came out with the Charger Pursuit in 2006 and Chevy with the Holden-based Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle (PPV) in 2011. The Crown Vic was cancelled in 2011, but Ford has since come out with Taurus and Explorer Police Interceptors that are very competitive and have been big sellers in the police market. Chevy’s police package Tahoe has also been refined extensively and is currently popular, not withstanding its high weight and expense. All of these modern vehicles are objectively superior performers boasting significantly faster acceleration and road course times than the beloved old Caprice, with more powerful engines and 21st century suspensions, steering, tires, brakes, and most available with all-wheel-drive. Better subjectively than the LT1 9c1’s? I guess you’d have to ask an officer who’s been on the job since the 90’s.

related reading:

1995 Caprice 9C1 brochure – lists standard and optional equipment and specs for the police package. Many people would be surprised to hear that the cop cars’ engine, transmission and suspension are generally not ruggedized over the retail versions. Most significant 9C1 improvements are in the frame, cooling, tires, and seating, though there are dozens of differences.

COAL: 1995 Chevrolet Caprice 9C1–Corvette Power BY JERSEYFRED –

COAL: 1991 Chevrolet Caprice 9C1 – The Crapiece BY DANIEL STERN

COAL: 1991 Chevrolet Caprice 9C1 – Certified Speedo BY RAY YTUARTE