Cop Cars Become Modern

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If you’ve seen a patrol car from the LAPD, CHP, Burbank PD, L.A. County Sheriff’s Department or any other police agency in the past twenty years (hopefully not in your rearview mirror), chances are it was a Ford Police Interceptor.

The civilian version of the car was the Ford Crown Victoria, though the police model was also called the “Crown Vic” in cop shorthand. For law enforcement duty, the Police Interceptor was always a separate model with significant modifications.

“Hey, what’s with the past tense?” you may be wondering. Well, the Crown Victoria was taken off the market for retail sales a little while back, and now the classic Police Interceptor is reaching the end of its watch as well. Changing times will soon mean changing police cars.

The retirement of the Crown Vic had been rumored for many years. With a platform dating back to the late 1970s, the car was well past its prime. Though Ford was able crank them out year after year with minimal changes for the past decade or so, future regulations and tastes mean that a large car with a separate frame and body is rather obsolete in the marketplace.

But Ford doesn’t want to give up the law enforcement business, which can be a somewhat lucrative part of commercial vehicle production. So for the 2012 model year, an all-new Police Interceptor will be making its debut. Whether they like it or not, police officers are going to be driving very different cars.

The new PI is based on the Ford Taurus, itself a new design that went on sale last year. The big change for the cop model is that the engine will be driving the front wheels. Uh-oh…that’s sometime perceived as a problem. You see, when it comes to pursuit or emergency driving, traditional police cars have always been rear wheel drive. Front wheel drive vehicles have different handling characteristics.

Ford says that it’s gone to great trouble to make their new police car handle better than the Crown Vic, especially when optioned with the twin turbocharged engine and all wheel drive, a power arrangement essentially lifted from the performance-themed Taurus SHO.

As with the old Police Interceptor, everything is beefed up for police work, From the suspension, to the electrical system, to the seats, everything gets toughened up to handle the rigors of patrol duty. According to Ford, the new Police Interceptor can drive over an 8” curb at 40 miles per hour with only the tire and wheel needing replacement. (If you’ve ever watched the show “COPS” or seen news helicopter footage of a pursuit, you can understand why that spec may be necessary.)

The campaign to get police departments to consider the new Ford cop car is already underway, and both the Michigan State Police and LASD have tested the car with good results. Ford is trying to convince police brass and municipal administrators that the 2012 Police Interceptor is a wise use of their budgets.

General Motors and Chrysler may have something to say about that, each rolling out their own new police cars. GM is actually importing a V8-powered, rear wheel drive car from their Australian subsidiary that will only be sold to police agencies. It should be interesting to see which becomes the favorite of law enforcement, if any do. The days of one car dominating the cop market may be over.

Just one word of advice. If you see a car that sort of looks like a police car but is unfamiliar at first glance, go ahead and drive extra carefully. There may be an officer inside with a ticket book, ready to pull you over with his or her modern ride.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net

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