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Interceptor: An Affectionate Look Back at the Crown Vic

Author: Dave Larton

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2011-09-24
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They were big.  They were boxy.  They drank fuel at a fantastic rate.

They were cool.  They were often the subject of coffee breaks and station get-togethers by police departments all over the country.  If you wanted to start an instant debate among cops, begin a discussion of which police cars were faster…the Dodge, the Chevy, or the Ford Crown Victoria.

Now it’s time to say goodbye to the ‘Crown Vic’, the car most often associated with the words ‘police car’.  The last Crown Victoria came off of the Ford assembly line in Saint Thomas, Ontario, Canada (get the Crown Victoria inference?) last week, bound for Saudi Arabia as a civilian livery vehicle.   (I know: wouldn’t it have been great to be the police department that owned the last Crown Vic?)

What we commonly call the ‘Crown Vic’ was actually referred to by Ford by its official name as the ‘Crown Victoria Police Interceptor’ (CVPI) or to Ford insiders, as the ‘P71’.  The vehicle that we would come to know as the Crown Victoria had several sisters, known by such names as the Mercury Grand Marquis, the Lincoln Town Car, and the Mercury Grand Park Station Wagon.  Originally a variant of the Ford LTD frame, all were built on a chassis that Ford referred to as ‘Panther’, and the CVPI would be an off-shoot off of its Crown Victoria civilian sibling.  But the CVPI name never took off, and police departments for the last 19 years have referred to the car simply as a ‘Crown Vic’.   The Panther frame for the present-day Crown Vic dates back to 1991; it has had few changes to its basic structure since it was first introduced in 1979.

The Crown Vic quickly became known for its smooth ride, its dependability, and its ‘body-on-frame’ construction.  With our newer cars, the vehicle is put together all in one piece (known as a ‘unibody’ car).  With a Crown Vic, a wrecked body could be unbolted from the frame, parts straightened or replaced, and the body returned back to the chassis.  While it could be done, it was tough to kill a Crown Vic.

The Crown Vic had a dashboard readily made for the installation of radio equipment.  The large trunk was a favorite for police officers and all of their stuff, and the wide swinging doors made it ideal for prisoner transport.  Officers generally spend the majority of their shift in their vehicles; for them, it wasn’t just a car….it was a rolling office.

Each Crown Vic had its own unique personality.  Officers had their own particular favorite; they would often wait for ‘their car’ to arrive back at the station for shift change, rather than draw another car, if another officer was driving it.  (That car was THEIR car…)

Left: 2002 CVPI design. Photo via Ford.

How fast would it go?  The officer I was riding with had it to 118, and said it had plenty of life left….he claimed that he had once taken a Crown Vic to 123….and I believe it.  Ford had factory-set the limiter on the big Windsor 4.6 Liter 235 horsepower V8 engine to 120 mph after the 2006 class was developed; not because it couldn’t go faster, but because the aluminum drive shafts Ford built would begin to come apart.  Ford did develop a composite driveshaft that would take the CVPI to 150 mph, but it was an expensive add-on item that many police departments chose not to include in their vehicles.

While the CVPI package was restricted in its initial sale to law enforcement agencies, it wasn’t long before taxi companies discovered that there was plenty of life left in the old girl after it had served its time helping enforce the law.  Once the emergency lights were removed, logos taken off or painted over, and the rear seats reinstalled, it took a little paint to give a Crown Vic a whole new life taking folks to and from the airport.   Many taxis still had their old police front push bumpers and spotlights installed, and Crown Vics became popular on the used car lot.

But the Crown Vic was a car from a time long ago when large, boxy rear-drive cars were the norm for Detroit, and changing times spelled the end of the line for the Panther cars from Ford.  One by one, they dropped off the line.  The Ontario, Canada plant that had produced the Crown Victoria for so many years also closed after the last car was assembled at the plant.  The Ford Windsor engine plant is probably doomed as well; it will most likely close as soon as Ford’s Econoline vans go out of production or are downsized.  The big vans are some of the last to use the Crown Vic engine plant.

The last Ford Crown Victoria heads off the assembly line at the Saint Thomas Assembly Plant on Sept. 20, 2011. It is headed to Saudi Arabia where its owner lives.

What will replace the Crown Vic is still the matter of some debate.  Ford has come up with a variant of its Taurus and Explorer fleets, offering up the ‘Police Interceptor’ name to the new models.  You’ve seen this car before; similar Taurus police models were showcased in the ‘Robocop’ movie.  Police departments desiring large, rear-wheel drive police units may choose to transition to the Dodge Charger, the Chevrolet Impala and a soon to be released Chevy Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle (Chevy’s offering is a variant of their Australian Holden four-door model, a cousin of what we in America used to know as the Pontiac G8).  Police SUV’s have been offered up in the Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe.  Other departments have chosen to buy dozens of Crown Vics now, and dole them out slowly into their existing vehicle fleets over the next few years.

Taxi fleets will have the same dilemma; with the loss of the Crown Victoria, expect to see many more crossovers and vans in your future if you need a cab  (I suspect that we’ll be seeing taxi owners making their Crown Vics last just as long as they possibly can…).  Limousine drivers will also be bemoaning the demise of the Panther-chassised Lincoln Town Car; Ford is attempting to beguile them with a Lincoln MXT used as a crossover SUV limo.   (uh-huh…)

The E-7 police model from Carbon Motors

A totally new police cruiser is currently on the drawing board from a company called Carbon Motors; the E-7 (simply called ‘The Machine’ by the Carbon Company) will use composite carbon-fiber technology to create a lightweight car that is especially designed for police work.  Police Departments in all 50 states have reserved over 16,000 of the new cars, but they will not be available for sale until sometime in 2012.  Built in Connersville, Indiana, the purpose-built police vehicle will sport either a BMV six-cylinder powerplant or a clean turbodiesel engine.   Carbon Motors designers claim that the engine will be limited to 150 miles per hour, and will last approximately 250,000 miles, twice as long as a convention unit.

Whatever police agencies choose to use for the next generation of their vehicle fleet, the demise of the Crown Victoria will make many of us have mixed emotions over accepting a new ride over the big, boxy sedan that we’ve come to know so well.   Like the Cadillac ambulances I cut my eye teeth on in the 70’s, I find myself once again saying goodbye to an old friend.   Thanks for the ride…you’ll be missed.

Associate Editor Dave Larton has been involved with public safety for 35 years, 15 of them in dispatch.  He is currently the State ACS Training Officer for the Auxiliary Communications Service,Telecommunications Branch of the California Emergency Management Agency (Cal EMA). He also serves as the Deputy State RACES Officer for the state Radio Amateur in Civil Emergency Service (RACES) program.  A nationally known dispatch instructor, Dave continues to provide training and consulting services for dispatchers and PSAP managers through First Contact 9-1-1.



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