"It's got a cop motor, a 440 cubic inch plant, it's got cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks. It's a model made before catalytic converters so it'll run good on regular gas. What do you say, is it the new Bluesmobile or what?"
The Blues Brothers is one of my favorite movies of all time. As big as star of the movie as John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, is the Bluesmobile, a 1974 Dodge Monaco picked up at auction from the Mount Prospect, IL police department. A few years ago, when I found myself needing the newest, cheapest, easiest to maintain and run car I could find, I settled on a 2003 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor (often referred to as a CVPI or P71), that, like the Bluesmobile, began life as a police car. Throughout my time with the car, it was a real head turner. Not in the usual sense, like if I was driving an Aston Martin, but people first noticed "whoa, look out – cop car," and then, upon figuring out that I'm not actually a cop, they became genuinely interested in what it was like, how I ended up with it, and so on. I'll try to answer some of those questions here, starting with confirming and debunking Elwood's famous quote from the movie.
"It's got a cop motor, a 440 cubic inch plant." The P71 got exactly the same 4.6 liter V8 as every other Panther platform car. Yes, my cop car's engine and the one in your grandpa's Lincoln Town Car were identical. But that's not to say it isn't faster. The P71 got lower gearing to give it better acceleration at the expense of fuel economy. Many also got limited slip differentials, including mine. And the transmission was programmed to make faster shifts, even before the popular "J-mod" that improves shifting even more.
"It's got cop tires…" The stock Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires are nothing to write home about. They are the definition of all-season tires being no-season tires – they weren't much good at anything. The time I got caught on them in a light snowfall was rather frightening. The Falken Ziex 912s I replaced them with performed much better, and I chose them because they were affordable, not because of their performance. A set of Firestone Winterforce snow tires turned my P71 into one of the best winter cars I've ever had.
"…cop suspension, cop shocks…" The P71's suspension was upgraded in just about every way over the standard car. Stiffer springs, shocks, and sway bars gave it an almost European ride quality – firm enough for performance driving and to hop the occasional curb while chasing perps, yet still comfortable enough for long shifts in the driver's seat. No wonder they're so popular as taxis. 2003 saw the traditional recirculating ball replaced with rack and pinion steering, which provides rather good feedback from the road. Four wheel disc brakes rounded out the performance package.
"It's a model made before catalytic converters so it'll run good on regular gas." Obviously my P71 had all of the required emissions equipment, and runs on unleaded gas. I'd get 20mpg whether I drove like grandpa in his Town Car, or drove like a complete idiot. You can probably guess which end of the spectrum I leaned toward.
And now, here's my P71 FAQ, based on what I've been asked most over the years:
"Is it a real cop car?" Yes, it was real. According to the included service logbook, it was a sergeant's car in Ashland, NH for several years. The owner before me replaced the stock mufflers with Flowmasters on the stock dual exhaust, but other than that the car was relatively unmodified and in good condition.
"Is it legal?" Yes, or else it wouldn't be on the road. My car came with no emergency lights (though there was clear evidence of where they were once installed), no siren, and no police markings of any kind. It did come with the factory installed spotlight in the A-pillar. I kept it folded down most of the time, but it was handy for finding house numbers, street signs, and parking spaces at night. There are no laws against having an ex-cop car. It's only illegal to have police markings on them, use lights and sirens if you're not authorized to, and of course pull people over impersonating a real cop. Some states may require the removal of the "Police Interceptor" model badge, just because it says "police." Although a few genuine law enforcement officers slowed down and took a careful look at the car on occasion, all of them drove on by without giving me any trouble. Usually they'd just wave at me instead.
"Why did you get a cop car?" As I said before, I was looking for the newest, cheapest, easiest to run and maintain car I could find. Ford has made Panther platform cars since the dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Parts are very common and usually cheap and easy to find. The Miata I had before this car was proving to be too small for my activities and my work, so I needed something bigger. I didn't need something quite this big, but it was very handy to have the space for ten desktop computers in my trunk when I was working an IT contract for an office move. Try that in a Miata.
"Hasn't it been beaten to hell?" You have to shop smart when looking for a P71. If you're talking about a black and white patrol unit from a big city that's been run 24/7, then yes, it probably has. Run away. What you want to look for is a history of easier use – from a small town, an unmarked detective's car, and so on. One of the cars I looked at used to be a campus police car. It had probably never seen a pursuit. Only title issues kept me away from that particular car. Also look for one that comes with a service logbook from the police department. Because mine did, I knew that my transmission had been rebuilt around 90,000 miles, and it was retired soon after, so there wasn't very much hard use on that transmission for me to worry about. This was part of the reason I chose the particular car I did.
"Does everyone think you're a cop?" Yes, absolutely. I went out of my way to NOT appear to be impersonating a police officer (aside from this photo, working the Concord Pond finish control at the New England Forest Rally), but people thought I was one anyway, especially on the highway. I couldn't sit in the right lane doing the speed limit without causing a traffic jam behind me, since nobody wants to "pass a cop." If I moved right along at the upper end of the average speed of traffic in the left lane, everyone would bend over backwards to get out of my way. Left lane hogs were no problem, and only rarely did someone cut me off. A couple of times people who cut me off actually pulled themselves over after they saw me, dead certain that I was about to stop them myself.
"What are those antennas on it?" The car came with an NMO antenna mount already drilled through the trunk lid. Since the wire was cut, I replaced it with a new one and added a second for my ham radios. I built a radio console out of wood scraps from a friend's old stairs to sit between the bucket front seats. I even bought a dual microphone clip that bolted to the dashboard from a police parts distributor. I can't deny it added to the cop look, but all of the equipment was functional for my amateur radio hobby.
"Is it fast?" No. People complain that the FR-S/BRZ, which weighs 2700lbs and has 200hp, is under powered. Compared to the 4200lb, 239hp P71, the Toyobaru twins are rocketships. That said, for what it is, it's surprisingly quick. When I took it to the autocross, rallycross, and the track, it was one of the cars that turned heads the most – not only because it's a Crown Victoria, but also because it didn't completely fall all over itself on course. But that's a story for another time.
And yes, the cigarette lighter works.
(Top photo by Nicholas H. Crovo)