Police car preservation

January 12th, 2021

You can understand how the world’s automotive enthusiasts might, in years past, have recoiled at the sight of police vehicles that we now regard as ‘classics’. Today the reverse is true with these once threatening devices being viewed with fascination rather than fear.

Australia took some time before participating in the preservation of ex-police vehicles. The major issue here has been the anonymity of surviving cars and difficulty sourcing authentic accessories needed to rekindle the identities of ‘marked’ police vehicles.

Unmarked ones, having had their original identities revealed, were relatively easy to restore, right down to the mesh sun visors and extra lights that once helped errant motorists spot a ‘plain wrapper’ at sufficient distance to avoid a ticket.

Police vehicles used today in most parts of Australia tend to be distinctively marked, inspiring enthusiasts to recreate some garish designs from years past, including the famed and feared Victoria Police ‘candy cars.

The earliest of these seem to have been XA Falcon sedans with 5.8-litre engines. The cars were initially white but rendered unmistakeable by broad, reflective orange stripes along the sides and huge ‘POLICE’ signs that were visible from all angles. They were replaced during the 1980s by Holden Commodore V8s, painted bright yellow, also with prominent signage and sitting low on their modified BT-1 suspensions.

Since the demise of local car manufacturing, Australian police operations have trialled a range of makes and models, from cramped Subaru WRXs and a Honda Civic Type R to Five Series BMWs, Chrysler 300s and twin-turbo Kia Stingers.

In the US market, movie stardom has generated plentiful demand for old-style Dodge Diplomat and Ford Crown Victoria police models. These cars aren’t all that easy to locate though, with most of them being crushed to prevent their ‘cop’ suspensions and high-output engines falling into the wrong hands.

Among the specially equipped cars that did escape was a 1977 Plymouth Gran Fury discovered recently by online sales site Hemmings. This car, listed at just US$12,500, came with its original police-spec 440 cubic inch (7.2-litre engine), coolers for the transmission and power steering plus uprated suspension. Its unique interior fittings remained intact as well, including a speedometer that read all the way to 140mph (225km/h).

British enthusiasts are leading exponents of police vehicle preservation and veneration. Clubs catering to owners of ex-Police vehicles exist in all parts of the United Kingdom and historic events including Goodwood Revival bring out droves of period-correct cars.

Brits’ fondness for film and television crime dramas and constant reruns of such productions means that the police vehicles which played pivotal roles in these programmes remain recognisable to later generations. Big, black Wolseleys with a bell jangling at the front are emblems of the 1950s crime drama while Mark 3 Ford Zephyrs will forever be associated with BBC TV’s ‘Z Cars’.

Catching up with Ferraris, McLarens and Lamborghinis on the Autobahns and Autoroutes of Europe means supplying police with cars that can match the pace of their adversaries.

In Germany, BMW is the predominant police brand (Britain now has a lot of Plod-spec BMs as well) with Porsches and Audi R8s joining the fleet for Autobahn patrols.

Italy boasts two police forces and fleets which for decades have been comprised of Fiats and Alfa Romeos. However, high-range speedsters might get a shock when a 300km/h Lamborghini – one of which was recently used to transport an urgently-needed transplant kidney in record time – appears in the mirrors.

Coolest and most costly of the world’s police fleets is without doubt the one that patrols the freeways and urban precincts of Dubai. Lamborghini seems to be the popular choice of the Traffic Branch; however, its fleet also includes a 400km/h Bugatti Veyron.

Your retired ‘service vehicle’ is unlikely to be a Bugatti but local auctions can still supply ex-Highway Patrol Kia Stingers, or perhaps the odd Aussie-built Commodore straggling in from duty in rural regions.

Looking back to earlier days of dedicated police pursuit vehicles, any Studebaker Lark painted in pale blue that you encounter was very likely supplied new to the Victorian Police. Find a Mark 2 Mini Cooper S in various shades of blue, pale green, or beige or a GTR Holden Torana in similarly bland shades and you may well have stumbled across something formerly involved in the distribution of traffic tickets.

Should you own or want one of these retired ‘service’ vehicles, Enthusiast Insurance is a great place to visit for tailored cover and Pay By The Month payments at no extra cost.

Enthusiast Insurance is available online and 24 hours per day, every day. To compare Enthusiast’s rates and coverage for your vehicle, or one you are considering, log into www.enthusiast.com.au and select Quick Quote.

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