Top 10 Best and Coolest American Police Cars
They did more than just keep the streets safe
Updated July 8, 2017
In order to keep the streets safe, it’s imperative that police force be as mobile as possible. Mobility, in their case, is usually a job reserved for police cars. Needless to say, cops often require capable performance cars in order to fight the crime. That’s the case throughout the world, although some countries tend to over exaggerate. Take United Arab Emirates, for instance, where Dubai Police Force flaunts its country’s wealth by sporting incredible lineup of cop cars including pretty much everything from $100,000 BMW M6 to $1.5 Bugatti Veyron. They even have $3.4 million Lykan Hypersport, but that supercar’s home-made, so it’s understandable.
In America, on the other hand, cop cars are usually equivalents of average mid-size sedans. Slightly up-tuned, though, compared to run of the mill family cars. All American police vehicles can be classified under three categories:
- Police Pursuit Vehicles (PPV),
- Special Service Vehicles (SSV), and
- Special Service Package (SSP).
We don’t care which of these categories the following 10 belong to, as long as they’re cool. So, in chronological order, here are what we consider to be the best and coolest American police vehicles ever made.
Ford Fairlane (1955-1959)
When full-size Ford Fairlane got introduced in 1955, police departments across the country decided to utilize its powerful 292ci Thunderbird V8 engine. As collateral, they also received one of the most stylish American cars of the era. Two birds with one stone, if you ask me. When second generation Fairlane came in 1957, Thunderbird V8 got replaced by Thunderbird Special. This 312ci version of the popular Y-block came with supercharger which helped generate exactly 300 horsepower. Hell, some police cars don’t have that much power even today. Even people spoke their mind as Fairlane helped Ford retake the best selling car in America accolade from Chevy for the first time since 1935.
Chevrolet Bel Air (1956-1959)
Although law enforcement continued using Bel Air well into 1975, it’s the first few Bel Air’s years of service that interest us the most. Those were the years during which Chevy Bel Air was at its finest. And Bel Air police cars weren’t good for their performance or practicality. They were great for their styling. Police Bel Air proved that even not so popular department like police can be fashionable and contemporary in terms of styling. Black and white Bel Air with cherry atop of its roof and good old siren sound that’ll never go out of style are good enough testaments in favor of that statement. Starting from second generation Bel Air, police cruisers were powered by up-tuned version of the strongest engine available. 265ci small-block V8 did the trick until slightly larger 283ci V8 came along in 1957.
Dodge Polara (1969)
Dodge Polara was introduced in 1960 and left the stage in 1973. What you might not know, is that Polara served police departments cross country throughout its entire life. However, full-size Polara reached its peak in 1969 which was the last year Chrysler offered high compression engines. As you remember, they started downsizing compression one year prior to official ban in 1971.
1969 Polara Pursuit was fitted with 440ci V8 engine and single four-barrel carburetor. That made it good enough for 375 horsepower. With that kind of figures, police Polara was able to accelerate to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds, do quarter-mile in 14.3 seconds, and max out at incredible 149.6 mph. No police cruiser would reach that kind of speed for another 37 years. It took 2006 Hemi-powered Dodge Charger to break Polara’s long-lasting record.
But ’69 Dodge Polara Pursuit was more than just a hot-headed straight out performer. Polara offered a new “fuselage” design that year, making police cruiser one of the most stylish offerings back in the day. After Chevron discontinued their Custom Supreme gasoline in ’71, and all subsequent year models got choked by catalytic converters, styling pretty much remained the only ace up Polara’s sleeve.
Dodge Coronet (1970)
Coronet’s first experience as a police car came in 1956. It remained in service until 1959, only to return again in 1965. This time around, it would remain in service for a full decade, overlooking the muscle car scene’s birth and downfall. Needless to say, that pitted Coronet police cars of late sixties and early seventies against some rather capable opponents. Lucky for them, they packed more than enough heat to match their four wheeled adversaries.
One that certainly stood among the lot was 1970 Dodge Coronet. Not only was it extremely potent thanks to 440ci V8, but it had all-new “twin-loop” front fascia which looked extremely intimidating. Just what every police car needs. Not only did it look intimidating (although somewhat unattractive), design came with noticeable aerodynamic benefits which helped Coronet gain edge over its Plymouth sibling, Belvedere. Plus, it appeared in cult 1974 film Gone in 60 Seconds.
AMC Matador (1972-1974)
AMC had a short stint of offering fleet cars for police during early seventies. Arguably the most successful of the three (Ambassador, Matador and Javelin) was the Matador, extensively used by the LAPD between ’72 and ’74. Prior to 1970, numerous California state agencies used the same cars. LAPD and CHP were high on aforementioned Chrysler products – Polara/Fury and Coronet/Belvedere. AMC likely has Ronald Reagan, then California Governor to thank for the opportunity to outfit the LAPD. Reagan insisted that from 1970 onward, all California state agencies buy their cars from different sources. For one final year, LAPD and CHP used the same supplier. Former bought stripped down Mercury Montegos, while latter went the Mercury Monterey way which both agencies later classified as disasters.
Anyway, AMC Matador enters the fray in 1972 when catalytic converters, low compression, and low-lead gasoline were very much a reality. Thanks to muscle car scene’s decline, Matador was able to push aside any Mopar available back then. 401ci V8 capable of accelerating to 60 mph in 7 seconds flat and topping 125 mph was as good of choice as any. Moreover, taught by their disappointing Montego experience, LAPD gladly switched to AMC. AMC Matador proved to be a great choice. Although LAPD stopped ordering them after 1974 due to styling changes which increased body weight and messed up the reliability, cars that were already acquired served the department for 13 years. That’s a true testament of 1972 and 1973 AMC Matador’s reliability.
Saab 99, 900, 9000, 9-5 (1974-2005)
Although Saab is no more among us, there used to be a time when these Swedish beauties served and protected. In fact, Saabs 99, 900, 9000 and 9-5 served and protected throughout most of their lives. Aspen and Vail, Colorado police departments used them ever since Saab 99 came out in 1974 and only stopped in 2005 when GM (then owning Saab) forced the Swedes to back out of the deal. And it was a sweet deal indeed. Two police departments advertised the manufacturer which gave them better deal for the cars in turn. That’s why they chose Saab in the first place.
Before ’74, Vail and Aspen departments sported 4-door Ford Torinos just like many departments across US did. On such high altitudes, however, using rear-wheel drive 4-door cars didn’t make much sense. It was a choice between Ford Bronco and Saab 99 then, but as already mentioned, Swedes cut departments a better deal.
Saabs were quick, fun and more than capable of dealing with Colorado Rockie’s wintry conditions. They do come from Sweden, after all. Even the locals figured that out and Saabs could have been seen everywhere around the Rocky Mountains resort towns. Before GM bought and discarded Saab, that is. It’s just another example of how poorly GM had treated their latest acquisition back then, and practically steered them toward bankruptcy. Aspen department switched to Volvo XC90 and Toyota Highlanders later on, while Vail department started with Ford Explorers and then switched to Volvo XC90’s.
Ford Mustang (1982-1993)
Fox body days of Mustang were far from glory times of the late sixties. Despite that, third generation of the most successful pony car in history managed to work its way into numerous police departments across the country. They were used primarily for interstate speeding enforcement as special service package vehicles (SSP). No surprise, really, since they were lighter than average mid-size sedans used extensively by police since… well, forever.
Moreover, Blue Oval appealed to average decision makers within departments with one fine pickup line. How could you resist the tagline that says: “This Ford chases Porsches for a living“? Obviously, very few agencies could, since around 15,000 Fox body Mustangs were ordered with the special police package and customized in order to suit each one of them individually. And there were more than 60 agencies that ended up with it. To make things even better for Ford, the idea came from California Highway Patrol which needed something lighter than Ford’s other offerings and more reliable than Camaros which had their share of camshaft issues back then.
All SSP Mustangs came with the strongest available 5.0L Windsor V8 mill and numerous additional upgrades not available to the general population. Unlike civilian Mustangs, most SSP’s came with automatic transmission which gave officer behind the wheel some much needed versatility. Other than that, police package included engine oil cooler, automatic trans fluid cooler, heavy duty alternators, and reinforced floor pans. Some police departments went with optional roll cage, while others chose something else in order to additionally customize their ponies.
Chevrolet Caprice 9C1 (1986-1996)
Over the years – and, as you can see, there were many – Chevy Caprice established a reputation as one of the best police cars America has ever had. Early Caprice cop cars (1977 and onward) were powered by 350ci small-block V8’s which were discontinued from civilian lineup in 1980. However, 5.7L mills continued being offered with special police packages until they got replaced by 305ci V8 units and smaller 262ci V6’s.
Arguably the best Chevy Caprice police car came in 1986 with the introduction of RPO 9C1 police package. Caprice 9C1 proved capable and durable from the get-go, setting the best result for quarter mile and fuel economy among the quartet consisting of itself, Dodge Diplomat, Plymouth Gran Fury and Ford LTD Crown Victoria. For 1987, 350ci V8 made 180 horsepower, while 262ci V6 served as a backup option. Michigan State Police started fielding 9C1 Caprices that year, and stayed with them until the end in 1996.
In the following years, Chevy Caprice 9C1 slowly started beating its competitors in other categories as well. It finally set the best score in all 6 available categories, in 1990. By that time, Chevy added the 170-horsepower 305ci V8 to the option list. Fourth generation Caprice which debuted in 1991 didn’t bring too many changes. Although styling was all-new, performance was left mostly intact. Biggest game changer was the optional Corvette 350ci LT1 V8 with 260 horsepower introduced in 1994. Chevy Caprice with Corvette’s optional engine quickly became one of the most popular modern day police cars.
Although 1996 marked the end of American-made Caprice, the nameplate would return for 2009. This time it would be badge engineered Holden WM Statesman/Caprice assembled in Australia. That didn’t stop police departments across the country from ordering fresh batches of new Caprice police cruisers. They proved rather capable, but we probably won’t be seeing new models beyond 2017 since production of Holden Commodore, Caprice and SS is coming to an end.
Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor (1997-2011)
Crown Victoria and its predecessor LTD Crown Victoria served and protected since 1979. It was Chevy Caprice’s discontinuation that gave Ford a sort of monopoly in police fleet cars market, though. Blue Oval could have continued stacking run of the mill cars, but they knew that strategy would eventually backfire. So they introduced the second generation CVPI P71 in 1997. Although situation was more than favorable towards FoMoCo, Crown Vic didn’t become one of the most prolific police cars in history for no reason.
Second generation Crown Vic Interceptor adopted Mercury Grand Marquis’ styling cues for more conservative overall layout. First generation P71’s marketed between ’92 and ’97 featured Taurus’ jellybean aero design. Engine was mostly the same as in civilian models. 4.6L Modular V8 in police interceptors, however, featured a few distinctive differences. It was especially assembled to be more rugged and to be a better performer. Ford accomplished this by fitting it with external oil-to-engine-coolant oil cooler and mating the engine to more aggressive transmission. At the same time, police Crown Vic offered special rear axles, severe duty shock absorbers, stainless steel dual exhaust system, and optional limited slip rear differential among other things. P71 CVPI finally bowed in 2011 when it was succeeded by the Ford Taurus.
Dodge Charger (2006-Present)
It didn’t take long for Dodge to take its rightful place as best sold police sedan in the US. It actually only took them 6 years and a Charger with special police package. Because, it replaced Crown Victoria as best sold American police sedan in 2012. Then again, Crown Vic was gone entirely by then, and Ford Explorer interceptor became the best sold police vehicle in the US overall. Thing is, Explorer is not a sedan.
Police version of the revived Charger immediately offered heavy-duty brakes, police performance-tuned steering, severe-duty cooling system, and shifter mounted on the steering column. Its 5.7L HEMI V8 delivered 340 horsepower initially, but the output grew as Charger matured. It now has 370 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of twist. Plus, there’s the optional 3.5L V6 that now produces up to 292 horsepower. With cars as powerful as that, the only thing that remains is to abandon all hope of getting away in a straight out chase.
Lucky for highway speeders, Dodge still hasn’t redesigned Charger’s rear end. And I’m putting the emphasis on its tail-lights. Everyone that knows how these look, also knows that it’s time to slow down when they suddenly emerge in front of you on the highway.
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