Along with the faux cop car 1972 Ford
Galaxie Custom 500 that I reviewed a few weeks back, my department has saved two other examples of police cars once used on patrol. I can personally vouch that these two G- rides are the real deal, because they were both in service in 1997 when I started my career.
First up we have a 1991 Ford LTD Crown Victoria. I’ve never liked the “box” style Panthers. When I was going through the police academy, I had the misfortune to be stuck using one of these when we went through our pursuit and emergency driving training courses. Most of my classmates were lucky enough to have been assigned newer ’92- ’94 Crown Vics. The instructors insisted that there was no difference and that the two different models handled the same.
They lied. Other than being RWD four door sedans that are painted refrigerator white, the two models have nothing in common, particularly when it comes to handling. The design soldiered on basically unchanged from 1979 until 1991. The “boxes” were dinosaurs compared to the “bubbles.” My classmates who were in newer, better handling cars did significantly better on the exercises. I had to come back for retraining… which was done in a newer Crown Vic and I passed easily.
I graduated from the police academy and was assigned to 3rd shift patrol with my first field training officer. His ride was a ’91 Crown Vic. On my first night, he put me behind the wheel and promptly went to sleep. This was to be the pattern of our time together for much of the next five weeks. I learned how to drive very, very smoothly so as not to wake him.
Smoothly is the best way to drive a first generation Panther. I have driven them in anger and the only thing worse is to be a passenger in one being driven in anger by someone else because passenger side airbags weren’t an option until the ’92 redesign. I hadn’t driven one at all in well over a decade before taking out P#717 for a spin.
A few weeks ago Murilee Martin asked the Best and Brightest during which 10 year period they thought automobiles advanced the most. I didn’t participate in the thread, but after driving these two cars back to back (along with the ’72 Ford the same day), I’m convinced that the 1980s saw the most advancement. The ’91 LTD was designed in the mid ’70s and went on sale as a ’79. It passed through the entire decade of the ’80s basically frozen in time.
I was struck by how old- fashioned the car was, with whisper thin A- pillars, offensively fake wood trim, velour upholstery, chrome switchgear, tiny rearview mirrors, and all of the other little details that made the driving experience of the ’91 model feel closer to that of the ’72 Custom 500 that was 19 years older than to that of the ’96 model that was only 5 years newer.
The power steering is over- assisted like the steering in the ’72, with the same floating sensation that encourages you to steer with one finger while using the hood ornament as a sort of sight to keep the car between the ditches. As you build up speed, air rushing into the engine compartment through the massive grille makes the edges of the hood start to flutter due to the fact that the LTD has approximately the same aerodynamic properties as a brick. It serves as a natural speed governor. The faster you go, the more violently the hood shakes until the driver starts to worry that the latch might not keep it from becoming airborne and slows down.
The ’91 Crown Vics did have a couple of advantages over the redesigned ’92s. The first was their massive chrome bumpers that could actually bump stuff without showing damage the way the painted bumpers of modern cars will. The second one was ground clearance, an advantage I discovered one night my in my first months as a solo patrol officer. Although I was assigned a ’92 model when I finished the field training program, ’89- ’91 models made up the pool car fleet. When my assigned car was down for service, I would have to drive a pool car.
On this particular evening, I decided to drive through a construction area near one of the middle schools in my beat. As part of the school’s renovation the rear parking lot was being expanded. A layer of dirt and gravel had been poured and I decided to drive over it to have a closer look at some of the new construction to the rear of the school.
What I couldn’t see in the dark was that there was a drop of about 9 inches from the edge of the finished parking lot to the gravel. My front wheels dropped off of the end with bone-jarring thud. I had the presence of mind to immediately stop and get out. The oil pan was about an eighth of an inch above the edge of the concrete. If I had been driving my ’92 instead of the older pool car I probably would have been high-centered and unable to move unless I was willing to sacrifice various expensive parts of the undercarriage. Instead I was able to build a small ramp out of scrap lumber and backed the ’91 up onto higher ground.
Ultimately, except for their innate ability to take a beating, there is nothing to recommend a ’91 Crown Vic over the ’92- ’97 models. The ’92 and later models feel and drive like modern cars. They’re equipped like modern cars as well, with airbags, ABS, and traction control. The steering isn’t completely numb, although it could use a little more feedback. Drive the ’91 and a later model back to back as I did and the newer car just feels so much more capable.
’92 and ’93 models came equipped with bench seats, but bucket seats were available for police package models beginning in ’94. The gap available to fit a console between the seats was just over 9 inches wide, a distance that Ford continues to pretend exists between the buckets in a new Ford Police Interceptor Sedan.
Most of my time as a patrol officer was spent in ’92- ’97 Crown Vics. I was assigned a ’92 (wrecked), a ’95 (wrecked, but not my fault), a ’94 (wrecked), another ’92, another ’94, and a ’96 (See. I got better.) before being entrusted with a brand new 2001 (which was also wrecked, but it also wasn’t my fault.) I managed to walk away from all of my misadventures without injury, something I’m not sure would have been true in one of the old boxes.
The model pictured here is a ’96, which was the last year that Ford would have any real competition in the police market for nearly a decade. Chevrolet would be dropping the Caprice until the Caprice PPV returned in 2011. Dodge had already given up the market and wouldn’t return until the police package Charger dropped in 2006. From ’97 until ’06, Ford had the RWD police sedan market sewn up.
They’ve abandoned it now, trying to push the Taurus as a worthy successor. GM and Chrysler both returned to the market with RWD sedans, for now at least. Perhaps Ford will as well.