New Cop Cars Blend Into The Crowd

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For decades, it has been pretty easy to visually pick out cop cars from the crowd.

Even without a radar detector, alert drivers knew to slow down when they saw a Ford Crown Victoria (…9894-img_0.jpg) or Chevy Impala sedan ( up ahead. Because for the most part, only two types of people drove these last-of-their-kind, full-size American sedans:

Old people. And cops.

If you saw grey hair, wire wheel covers and AAA stickers on the bumper – you were in the clear. But the claxons immediately went off if the driver appeared to be a solo younger guy – and the car had dog dish hubcaps, a spotlight by the driver’s side window and multiple antennas.  

We Americans have been immensely blessed in this respect. In most other countries, the cops drive ordinary cars, including cars you’d probably never suspect – like minivans. You never knew who might be in the car next to you. Whereas in the U.S., if you saw a Vic or an Impala tucked into one of those cutouts on the Interstate, you could be next-to-certain it was a Johnny and take appropriate precautions.

Well, the Impala (the real one – the one that looked like Shamu the whale) is already gone. Chevy stopped building them in the late ’90s and most departments have stopped using them. Many were rebuilt, with new engines and fresh drivetrains – but even these few holdovers are now getting tired. That leaves the current  (front-wheel-drive) Impala, the slightly smaller Malibu and the main standby in many areas around the country, Ford’s Crown Victoria sedan. 

2011 will be the last year that Ford builds the Vic. So within five years or so, all the ones currently in service will be nearing retirement and the cops running speed traps will become all-but-invisible as they transition over to much-less-obvious “units” like the new police-spec Ford Taurus (…e-car-revealed).

Not only will they be harder to spot, they’ll be harder to escape.

The Crown Vic is slow. Even in “police interceptor” trim, anyone with some muscle under his saddle stands a decent chance of giving one the slip. I’ve got a neighbor who is a state cop. He drives a Vic. And he has told me he doesn’t even bother turning around when a high-performance sport motorcycle buzzes past him at Warp Speed because he knows there’s no point. By the time he gets his 220 hp Vic turned around, the bike (with a better power-to-weight ratio than a Porsche 911 turbo) will be in the next county and long gone.

But in the not too-distant future, he may be driving a police-spec Taurus SHO – complete with 365 hp twin turbo engine and 0-60 capability of about 5 seconds. The SHO Taurus (and similar pepped-up police package cars like the Dodge Charger R/T with Hemi V-8) can also run 150-plus on top. 

This evens things up a lot. It will be harder to speed (and get away with it). And much more challenging to successfully flee.

There is one potential fly in the pie, though. And it might just save our (you knew it was coming) bacon. While slab-sided, full-framed, solid axle, rear-wheel-drive cop cars like the Vic were incredibly tough old tanks that could stand up to abuse such as driving over a curb at 40 mph in pursuit of a fleeing felon – or be used as mobile battering rams to knock suspects off the road – modern unibody front-wheel-drive/all-wheel-drive cars like the Taurus are much more fragile. Run one over a curb at 10 or 20 mph and it’s a sure bet the front end will need major work. Use it to play bumper cars and it will not end well.

The other issue is service and maintenance costs. A Vic is a relatively simple machine, even though it has a computer as all modern cars do. But underneath the wires and hoses is a straightforward V-8 with a pretty conventional automatic transmission and a tough, primitive, suspension system with a few basic components that are almost unbreakable and if they do break, are easy and inexpensive to replace. A new Taurus SHO has an amped-up DOHC V-6 engine with twin turbos and intercoolers; a very complex AWD system – and a sophisticated but relatively fragile chassis/suspension that wasn’t designed for daily abuse.

These facts may work in our favor. The cops may have to go back to a car more like the Vic – one that would also have the virtue of being more recognizable.

Meanwhile, better get ready. And more suspicious.

The old Rules of Engagement are about to change…. .


  1. When you mentioned that the Crown Vic was a cop car, it brought back a motorcycling memory. Back in the mid 00s, I owned a Kawi ZRX1100; its engine was based on the ZX-11 powerplant. Anyway, I was out on the Jersey backroads doing a leisurely 70 or so along a country road that had 40-45 speed limit. As I’m tooling along, I saw a white Crown Vic in my rear view mirrors; he was a good 1/4-1/2 mile behind me. I wondered right away if it was a cop; why wouldn’t I when every PD in the country ran Crown Vics circa 2005-2006? I wondered if someone along that country road complained about me going fast…

    As I was thinking this, something occurred to me: if I let the Crown Vic get close enough to discern if he was a cop, he’d be close enough to zoom his camera in on my plate and nail my ass if he were a cop. At that point, I turned up the wick and took off doing 90. I hit some sharp curves, negotiated them with no problem (and it’s not, because the ZRX had a high performance suspension that I’d set up perfectly), got on US46, and rode home that night…

    I don’t know if that Crown Vic was a cop, but I figured it was best to not take the chance. I mean, how many NORMAL old people drive white Crown Vics?

    • Hi MarkyMark,

      Guess what I have in the garage? An ’03 ZRX1200! Great minds, eh? Mine has some mods, including ZZR cams, Ivan’s jet kit and full Muzzy exhaust.

      Some battle ribbons, too.

      I was once upon a time coming up Bent Mountain near my place in Floyd, VA (Google this; the road is spectacular) which is very popular with people who like to get a knee down. Anyhow, AGWs sometimes park along the shoulder just after one of the curves, waiting for a paying customer.

      Noticed him as I was straightening the bike up and decided to dine and dash – so to speak.

      I think I was half a mile away before he even got off the shoulder. And by the time I got to the top of the mountain, he was still halfway up. But I take no chances with things of this nature so when the road straightened out at the top – long stretch, about two miles – I ran the Rex up to around 160 on the speedo – to put a little more air between him and me. Then broke left on a road I know that takes me home a different way, got there quick, parked the Rex and enjoyed the afterglow of another successful mission!

      • I had a ’99 ZRX1100, which I got used. I don’t know if the cams were done on it. It had K&N pods, a jet kit, and a Kerker pipe; she’d shit ‘n’ git, big time. I could do 0-60 in 3 seconds, 0-100 in 7, and if I gassed it, I could pull a wheelie in the first three gears-WITHOUT cheating the clutch!

        I had KYB gas shock on the back; the only gripe was I wish that there’d been more adujustability in them. Both front and rear shocks were adjustable for preload, along with compression and rebound damping. I used a simple algebraic equation to figure out the settings, which worked like a charm. Between that and Continental RoadAttack tires on both ends, I could at least DOUBLE the posted speed on a turn; if the sign said 40, I could nail it at 80 no problem. The Conti tires were good in another way: if you were at the limit, they’d break loose ever so gently; they wouldn’t all of a sudden dump you on the pavement.

        Oh, and I remember another time I passed a cop. It was on 523 outside of Flemington, NJ. I’d just gotten off work, and I was taking the long way home. That stretch of 523 was narrow with embankments on both sides; the embankments were so close to the road that there was no shoulder for a mile or so; anything much bigger than a Mini would have trouble turning around. Anyway, I was tooling along at 70 in a 40 (Rex felt like it was doing a leisurely trot at 80; you had one, so you know how it is) when I passed a cop going the opposite direction. He gave me the dirtiest look as we passed one another. His expression said that he knew I was guilty as sin for speeding; that he’d loved to nail me; but he couldn’t because: 1) with the embankments and traffic, he’d have to go a mile or so to even turn around in order to chase me; 2) I was on a badass machine that could spank pretty much anything with wheels, especially his Crown Vic; 3) I was near the bridge across the Delaware River. He knew full well, as I did, that he couldn’t chase me; and if he did, it would be a fruitless endeavor… 🙂

        • Morning, Mark!

          I still have my ’03 – and amen and concur with all you wrote. I plan to keep mine indefinitely and (eventually/hopefully) redo the engine with a Muzzy piston kit and cams, supposedly good for 180 hp… hilarious on a barely faired/naked bike!

  2. …another tactic police are using (at least here in Michigan) is “subdued graphics”–matte black graphics on a shiny black car, which makes the difficult to identify. In addition , the flasher lights are INSIDE the car…one more example of the deviousness of today’s “law enforcers”.

  3. Eric as usual your knowledge of cars is exceptional but your info regarding police is wrong. I’m a police, and a mechanic. I love the crown Vic but it sucked. It was most definitely NOT simple and straightforward. The plastic upper intakes were constantly cracking. The drive by wire system, introduced in 2005 iirc, was problematic in the beginning. The transmissions were good for about 70,000 miles. Heater cores were constantly leaking & the a/c was always failing.

    I’ve been driving an “interceptor” explorer for about 4 years now. At 80,000 miles it’s been in the shop exactly once, for some sort of O2 sensor issue (other than maintenance). A/c is ice cold,trans still shifting fine. No problems with the turbo either.

    • Hi Joe,

      I hear you; personally, I prefer the old “Shamu” Caprice… with the 5.7 V8. They were great cars, whether cop-spec or not. Back in the ’90s, I had a chance to drive an all-black SS.

    • The crown vic was basically a late 1970s car that was patched over again and again to meet new requirements. Ford could not justify the development costs of a new car.

      The 4.6L intake manifold cross over cracks were solved by both ford and the aftermarket. Either a dorman or a ford service manifold with an aluminum cross over ends the problem. After late 1999 all should have come that way from the factory.

      I have no idea why heater cores would be leaking or transmissions would fry unless ford simply wasn’t properly equipping them for police use and abuse with the proper coolers and capacities or the care of the cars was lacking.

      There are still quite a few crown vic police cruisers still in service in my area so they can’t break that badly.

  4. There are other tell tale signs that the car coming up from behind you is a cop… up aimed headlights, the typical cop driving styles, and so on. As some departments moved away from the ‘vic these signs are becoming more and more important.

  5. The storied Mopar cop cruisers of the 60s and 70s were unibodies…but they were really solid ones. Where civilian versions may have had 3 or 4 welds in a spot, the cop versions had as many as 20. The “K” frames were totally boxed in as well, if I recall.

    • Yep! Those old Polaras (440 Magnum) were hot cars; but the later (’70s) era sedans were still impressive, especially relative to the “competition.” The Chrysler 360 V-8 used in a lot of them (and even the 318) was a solid engine with lots of potential and I remember when people looking for a low-bucks sleeper would snap up former cop cars at auction. The ’90s-era RWD (GM) Caprice is another such car. They had tons of room, were super comfortable and immensely tough, too. The current (Ford) Crown Vic is ok, but has no balls and is more fragile… I have had several cops tell me they much prefer the old (RWD) Caprice and Impalas.


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