There Were Police Cars Before the Crown Vic, You Know? 2013 Emergency Vehicle Show (w/ Firetrucks and Ambulances and Plenty of Crown Vics Too!)

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber
there were police cars before the crown vic you know 2013 emergency vehicle show

One of these is the last Crown Victoria Police Interceptor made by Ford, now owned by the Kansas Highway Patrol

My brother got picked up at Parker’s, got him a ride in a new Crown Vic.

They said that he was movin’ on a federal level but they couldn’t really make it stick.

Never Gonna ChangeDrive By Truckers

At a site where Panther love reigns, it should come as no surprise to the Best & Brightest that now that Ford’s Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, out of production since 2011, is gradually being taken out of service, law enforcement officers are wistful about the Crown Vic’s impending demise. A while back, the New York Times took a look at the last Crown Vic bought by the Washington State Patrol, assigned to Trooper Randy Elkins. “It’s kind of the end of an era. My goal is to keep it to the end, right to the last mile,” Elkins told the NYT. With about 1,000 miles put on the cruiser in a typical week and the WSP’s designated retirement mileage of 140,000, that last mile will come within three years.

Adam 12 replica #1 – Full Gallery Here

The Crown Victoria assigned to Trooper Elkins is the last Panther purchased by the Washington State Patrol, but the very last Crown Victoria Police Interceptor that Ford built two years ago now is on duty in Kansas. The Kansas Highway Patrol made a point of finding and buying that car, which is being preserved with duty restricted to parades, recruitment drives and other public relations use.

Adam 12 replica #2 – Full Gallery Here

The big body on frame Ford isn’t the first vehicle to be etched in the public’s mind as a cop car. Television has a role in shaping that consciousness, with Joe Friday and Bill Gannon’s Ford Fairlane from Dragnet, the ’55 Buick that Broderick Crawford drove in Highway Patrol, Adam-12’s Plymouth Belvedere, and Sheriff Andy Taylor’s Ford Galaxie continuing to be what many people think of when “police car” comes to mind.

1968 Cadillac ambulance – Full Gallery Here

Maybe that’s why there were replicas of some of those television cars, along with a few genuine vintage police cars, ambulances and firetrucks on display at the 13th annual Ferndale Emergency Vehicle Show held just east of Woodward Ave on the Friday immediately before the gargantuan Woodward Dream Cruise. Parked along the south side of Nine Mile Road were police cars and on the north side of the street were ambulances and fire trucks. In addition to vintage (and replica) police cars, there were also a number of new cruisers on display representing various police agencies operating in the Detroit area.

For those of you who don’t know southeastern Michigan, Washtenaw County is immediately west of Detroit’s Wayne County and it’s the home of the University of Michigan in oh-so-green-and-politically-correct Ann Arbor. Full Gallery Here.

There was a Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Dept. Chevy Volt, appropriate for the home of the EPA lab in Ann Arbor, along with at least a half dozen other police departments participating in the car show. Some of the late model police cars were accompanied by volunteer auxiliary members of their respective departments, but there were also some fully fledged LEOs in attendance like the bunch of burly, ballistic vest clad United States Customs and Border Patrol agents who trundled out of their official SUV after they parked it with the other cars in the show. I asked them what they were doing there and if they were on the clock. They told me “PR”, and yes, they were getting paid to be there. Detroit is one of our busiest international borders, with Windsor, Ontario, Canada just across the Detroit River and it’s good to see those agents vigilantly protecting our border at a car show.

1977 Cadillac ambulance, Full Gallery Here

Cars from police agencies weren’t the only new vehicles at the show. In addition to cruisers and SUVs representing police departments, there were brand new and late model police vehicles from a number of companies in the police equipment industry trying to sell stuff to to the police personnel doing the representing. For the same reason there was a display of Ford police vehicles like the Taurus SHO based car that currently carries the Police Interceptor name.

Some professional car makers offered dual use vehicles, often used in smaller communities, that functioned as both ambulances and hearses. I believe that the Cadillac that it’s based upon is a 1971 model. Full Gallery Here.

Between the replicas of police cars and replicas of television police cars, it’s possible that real police cars were in the minority at the show. Real police cars get used up and worn out. Also, what gets more attention, just another Ford Galaxie or something in the livery of the Mayberry PD? There were replicas of the aforementioned Adam-12 and Andy of Mayberry cars, in fact there were two of each. In addition to the replicated versions of Andy Taylor’s own replicated police Galaxie, a Starsky and Hutch Ford Torino, and two almost identical clones of the Adam-12 Plymouth, there was an actual authentic movie cop car, a matte black Ford Taurus used in the filming of the first Robocop movie, the dystopian cop film set in a future Detroit. The owners told me it was the only surviving Robocopcar from the first movie (though, like many things I hear at car shows, I can’t verify that) and it still has the prop guns from the movie’s production. Based on this Taurus fan site, the Robocop car has equipment that identifies it as from the original, not the sequels.

I wasn’t sure which of the three Robocop movies this was in, but the owners say it’s the only surviving Robocopcar from the original film with Peter Weller. Based on the shape of the lightbar, the multispoke aluminum wheels and cornering lamps, it must have been in the original. It still has the prop guns from the movie hanging on the divider between the front and back seats. Full Gallery Here.

Over on the other side of the road, there weren’t any replicas, clones or make-believe emergency cars, just real ambulances and firetrucks. Fire departments tend to do meticulous maintenance on their equipment while waiting for fire calls and I’m guessing that ambulance companies maintain their cars better than police departments as well. The ambulances at the show dated back to the 1960s, mostly Cadillac based, but there was also a fuschia colored ambulance based on a mid-1970s Oldsmobile Ninety Eight.

This ambulance is based on either a 1967 or ’68 Cadillac. Since the emergency equipment companies have longer product cycles than the auto companies, eventually there are some anachronistic styling touches… Full Gallery Here

… as you can see, comparing the emergency lights to the rest of the Cadillac. Full Gallery Here

I’ll plead guilty to sharing Alfred Hitchcock’s attitude towards the police, so it might have only been my perception, but the folks hanging out on the north side of Nine Mile Road with the ambulances and firetrucks seemed to me to be a bit more laid back and friendly than many of the cops, retired cops and cop wannabes on the other side of the street. One woman was even catching a nap next to her 1939 Ford based Bickle firetruck.

This may be a dual use car because in back there are interior appointments you’d expect on a hearse. Up front, the emergency lights and sirens look like they’d fit better on a 1959 or 1960 Cadillac, not one made more than a decade later. Full Gallery Here.

Most of the ambulances at the 2013 Emergency Vehicle Show are owned by members of the Motor City chapter of the Professional Car Society. “Professional cars” is the term used for ambulances, hearses and limousines. Full Gallery Here.

This post started out as a suggestion back in August from our managing editor that I do a historical note on the last Panther police cars. When I mentioned to him that there was an emergency vehicle show being held as part of the Woodward Dream Cruise festivities, Derek got very excited and said, “I love police cars, can you cover the show?” Sorry for the delay but there were a lot of photos that had to be formatted and captioned. Enjoy them.

Before the Ford Panther platform was popular with police departments, the Chevy Caprice with the 9C1 police package was widely used after GM downsized its fullsize sedans for the 1977 model year. Full gallery here.

Just as with alphanumerics like Z06 and Z28, 9C1 started out is a production code, in this case for Chevy’s police package. There is an active 9C1 enthusiast community. A 1976 9C1 Nova is on my lottery list. Effectively it’s a four door Z28, only with less body flex. Full Gallery Here.

Does this 1974 Dodge Monaco police car look familiar? I’ll give you a hint: ” It’s got a cop motor, a four hundred and forty cubic inch plant, it’s got cop tires, cop suspensions, cop shocks, it’s a model made before catalytic converters, so it’ll run good on regular gas. What do you say?” While tv and movie police cars seemed popular at the Emergency Vehicle Show, I’m not sure that the folks on the south side of Nine Mile Road would have fully appreciated a Bluesmobile replica. I think they identify more with Robocop than with Jake & Elwood. The Dodge Monaco was also used as William Shatner’s ride in television’s T.J. Hooker. Full gallery here.

This Dodge Coronet 440 has Tactical Mobile Unit on its flanks and I’m sure what cops then thought was a trunk full of gear, but it’s probably a fraction of what a typical police car carries around today, “tactical” unit or not. Full gallery here.

The mid-1980s Dodge Diplomat was a popular choice for police agencies looking to downsize for better fuel economy. Full gallery here.

When in service, this 1947 Mack Firetruck served the residents of Clawson, Michigan, just a few miles away from where the Emergency Vehicle Show was held. Full gallery here.

Firetrucks with the Ahrens Fox brand have been sold for over a century. The company’s trucks looked great and show signs that attention was paid to styling. Full gallery here.

American LaFrance’s roots date to 1832. Their first motorized firepumper was made in 1907. They introduced the cab forward layout to firetrucks in 1947 and it’s still the standard layout today. This open cab 900 Series (1958-1974) firetruck served the people of Stonefort, Illinois and it is known as “Old Frankie”. Full gallery here.

Did I mention that the folks with the ambulances and firetrucks were more laid back than the people hanging out with the cop cars? 1939 Ford based firetruck made by Bickle. Full gallery here.

American March firetruck based on a 1959 Ford truck. Stuffed dalmatians are apparently the firetruck show equivalent to time out dolls at car shows. Full gallery here.

This Ford based OWL FD firetruck wears 1948 Michigan license plates but there is no town in Michigan named Owl. There is, however, the Occoquan-Woodbridge-Lorton Volunteer Fire Department in Virginia. Perhaps this is one of their retired trucks. Full gallery here.

What’s a police car show like without a cop hot rod, a pursuit special? The 1992 Ford Mustang was used by the Michigan State Police. Full gallery here.

The same car was on display at the big Mustang Memories show the week before. Note the shotgun rack built into the door panel. Full gallery here.

This Dodge Diplomat was a more typical Michigan State Police car back then. It was just up Woodward at Chrysler’s Dream Cruise display. Full gallery here.

This 1941 Ford, belonging to Lake Orion, Michigan is still theoretically in service, with municipal plates though it’s really just used for PR. It evokes black and white memories of Broderick Crawford, though he actually drove a ’55 Buick in Highway Patrol. Maybe if police departments put less effort into “public relations” and more effort into treating the people they serve with respect, there’d be more respect for law enforcement. Full gallery here.

A more recent Ford, a 1989 LTD Crown Victoria, was used as a pursuit vehicle by Arizona state troopers. With only 180 hp, it needed a 2.73 rear end to reach its 120 mph top speed. Full gallery here.

This is a real P71 Ford Police Interceptor but it’s never been a police car. It’s a demo unit for a company that sells cop gear. Full gallery here.

This isn’t just a real P71 Police Interceptor, it’s a real police car that may still be in service in Ferndale, Michigan, which hosts the Emergency Vehicle Show every year on the day before the big Woodward Dream Cruise. Full gallery here.

This Crown Vic is in the familiar colors of the California Highway Patrol. Many of the actual police cars, as opposed to replicas, at the Emergency Vehicle Show, the survivors, are former highway patrol and state police vehicles. They probably don’t get the abuse that urban or even suburban police cars get. Even with cop cars there is something to “easy highway miles”. Full gallery here.

This 1923 Ford Model TT paddy wagon has a provenance with significance to automotive history. If you note, it belonged to the Highland Park, Michigan police department, not far from where it was likely built at Ford’s Highland Park factory. It also probably carried a Ford employee or two on a Saturday night after payday. Full gallery here.

Another replica of a television police car, in this case the unmarked Torino from Starsky and Hutch. Stereo pics here.

The may be the only police car that makes people smile when they see it unexpectedly. Sheriff Andy Taylor of the Andy Griffith Show set in fictional Mayberry, and his deputy Barney Fife drove a series of Ford Fairlanes and Galaxies on the show. That may have had something to do with that “vehicles loaned for promotional considerations” during the credit roll. Full gallery here.

For the 1961-62 model year television season, FoMoCo had the producers switch Sheriff Taylor switched to the more upscale Galaxie 500. Full gallery here.

I’m not sure if the Oakland County Sheriff’s Dept’s mobile command center was parked at the Emergency Vehicle Show for public relations or if it was being used to coordinate the massive annual police presence at the Woodward Dream Cruise. Officers from around the state are deputized under mutual aid pacts. All that manpower is needed to police the widely distributed million person crowd. That must be why the motorcycle cops travel in packs of up to 20. Full gallery here.

This 1974 Oldsmobile Ninety Eight based ambulance was used by the Reuhle’s Ambulance Service in suburban Detroit. My guess is that the Reuhles might have driven their ambulances to the beat of a different drummer. Full gallery here.

I’m not sure exactly why I don’t think that this 1958 Plymouth Plaza was ever a real police car, but it may have something to do with the Donutburg Donut Patrol decal on the door. Also, it’s a two-door, which makes it rather difficult to get prisoners in and out of the back seat. Full gallery here.

This semi-marked Michigan State Police freeway pursuit car has a 440 cubic inch V8 that puts out 375 hp (25 more than non-police cars), a 3.23 limited slip rear end, heavy duty disk brakes up front and bigger drums in the back, and a top speed between 140 and 150 mph. Few factory cars in the day, even muscle cars, could run it. It’s also a great looking car. Full gallery here.

George Patak is an operations manager for a security company and a retired police officer. He restored his 1963 Plymouth station wagon as it would have been used by the Detroit Police, whose academy is where Patak got his training. Cop car or not, it has great lines. Full gallery here.

Before Caprices and Panthers, many police departments favored Mopar products. This 1967 Plymouth Fury I belonged to a township police department and doesn’t look like it had very severe usage. Full gallery here.

Ferndale’s 2013 Emergency Vehicle Show was an international event, with this restored 1957 Pontiac police car brought by the LaSalle, Ontario police department. Full gallery here.

This 1970 AMC Rebel The Machine was not at the Emergency Vehicle Show. I spotted it at the American Motors Owners meet a week later. The sign on the dashboard says that it’s a barn fresh unmarked police car from Havre, Montana. That makes more sense than a Mustang pursuit car. Who is going to suspect an AMC, an AMC with a hood mounted tach at that, of being a cop car? It even has 4 speed on the floor. Full gallery here.

When I was a child, behind the building where I went to school there was a 1927 Ahrens Fox firetruck and a decommissioned Michigan National Guard F-84F fighter jet specifically put there as playground equipment. I doubt that would happen today, what with lawsuits and nannies, but kids still like firetrucks.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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3 of 63 comments
  • Lorenzo Lorenzo on Oct 21, 2013

    The only TV cop car you didn't mention was the one Robert Stack drove in the Untouchables. My dad could tell 1920s cars apart but I couldn't. He said the ones they crashed or put bullet holes in were Fords, but the ones the characters actually drove were Chevrolets and Oldsmobiles.

  • Dimwit Dimwit on Oct 22, 2013

    I remember the bad old days where the Toronto force had to downsize their lemons from Monacos to Aspens. Man, that was a killer! BTW, where is Dave Hestor these days? He should have good stories about some of these rides!

  • SCE to AUX Physically removing it from the cars they service tells me the company sees radar as some sort of hazard, despite their ability to disable it across the fleet via OTA updates. Creepy.
  • Art Vandelay So if it now actually costs less than the competition, where will the usual haters move the goalposts too now?
  • SCE to AUX Change "dog" to "child", and then tell me what mfr's lawyers will permit deployment of an autonomous vehicle.
  • Ravenuer I'd go with the Camry.
  • Dukeisduke Did the robot scream, "Ten points!" Too soon?