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Cop Shocks, Cop Tires, Cop Motors: A Police Package Shootout

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It’s time once again for Shitbox Showdown! (I feel like we need some catchy theme music here. I’ll work on that). Today, the internet classified gods have smiled upon us, granting us a perfect matchup — two old-school body-on-frame police cars, one Ford, and one Chevrolet. Both are well under $1000, and both are — like so many of their former backseat passengers — thoroughly busted.

But first, a quick programming note: I’m writing these the evening before, since I’m on the west coast and I don’t feel like getting up at 4 AM, even for this sweet gig. So I’m placing a cutoff time for votes at around 6 PM Pacific time, when I get home from my day job and start writing. What this means is, vote early… and vote often.

Right, so with that, let’s take a look at yesterday’s results:

Oof. Bad start for Chrysler. Two losses in a row. Lots of commenters rose to the PT Cruiser’s defense, but it was the yellow Buick’s pitted-chrome snout that crossed the finish line first, even with a bad tranny.

Let’s meet today’s contestants:

Walking With A Panther – 2009 Ford Crown Victoria – $800

Left front three-quarter view of a white Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor

No vehicle’s headlight pattern is more feared than that of the Ford Crown Victoria. See one of these in your mirror, and you instinctively let off the gas. Never mind the fact that the “Panther” platform on which it’s built has been out of production for ten years and there aren’t many left in police service. This car has been the de-facto automotive face of law enforcement since the late Renaissance (seriously, the Medicis had a fleet of Crown Vics to patrol Florence), and it’s going to take a generation or so to get that knee-jerk reaction to them out of the collective unconscious.

Right rear three-quarter view of a Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor

This particular Vic is one of the later models, which got such niceties as rack-and-pinion steering and some extra safety doodads. Since it’s the P71 “Police Interceptor” model, it also has a list of heavy-duty upgrades that would do Elwood Blues proud: extra cooling, bigger alternator, stiffer suspension, and a lower rear axle ratio. (These cars have a huge following, and I’m sure any number of enthusiasts can fill in the specifics, but suffice to say, it’s strong and good.)

Interior of a Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor as viewed from the driver's door opening

But not all is well: According to the seller, this car has no compression on one cylinder, turning the 4.6 liter V8 into effectively a V7. No bueno. A gremlin of unknown malignancy has also taken up residence in the dash, and the cruiser needs a new windshield. But the seller says it runs, and hey, it only has to make it as far as the Cook County Assessor’s Office, right?

[Editor’s note: After nine hours of brain-wracking, I’m being told that Mark was apparently making an extremely random reference to the Blues Brothers (see below). Did anyone else get that? Have I been living under a rock?]


Shamu The Killer Whale – 1993 Chevrolet Caprice – $500

I don’t remember from whom I first heard the nickname “Shamu” for these cars, but it was not long after the redesigned 1991 B-body appeared. If you’ve ever seen one in black-and-white police livery, you’ll know how apt the name really is. This car isn’t really all that much bigger than its boxy predecessor, but it looks enormous.

As with the Ford, this car has a special equipment package for police work: Special Equipment Options code 9C1 in GM-speak. This is a whole host of heavy-duty goodies that make this car a bit stiffer and stronger than Grandma’s church cruiser. While of course the light bar and other cop-car bits are taken out of these cars when they retire from police use, departments often leave behind the coolest and most potentially useful gadget: the spotlight. 

What this car doesn’t have, sadly, is the 260 horsepower LT1 V8 that would arrive under the hood just a year after its production. Instead, it makes do with (probably) a 205 horse 5.7 liter V8 or (maybe) the same 160 horse 4.3 liter V6 that finds a home in my old Chevy truck. Either way, you’ll have to outsmart the bad guys, because you probably won’t outrun them.

This car is a bit of an unknown, condition-wise, as it has been sitting for “a few years”. But hey, it’s $500, and it should look okay once you get all that good old Oregon moss off. That green gunk finds its way onto everything that sits for too long around here, but luckily it comes off with a power-washer.

So what will it be, Autopians? Limp home a broken Crown Vic, or tow home a derelict Caprice? Choose your weapon. And no saying “they both suck and I’m not voting;” that’s a cop-out.


Quiz Maker

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62 Responses

    1. I’ve got myself a nice, very well paying, traveling sales job and the only car I’d do it in is my 16 year old, civilian LX Sport. 116k miles and counting. Dependable, fun to drive, comfortable, dirt cheap to run. Also, if the stars align just right, everyone gets the hell out of my way. Did a set of rear axles, seals, and bearings in my driveway for $230 and a few hours a couple months ago. The passenger side seal let go and I did about 3000 miles before I got around to fixing it. When I pulled the OEM axle out, there hadn’t even been a groove worn in yet but I had already ordered the new axles for both sides.

  1. On a budget, I’d go with the Crown Vic and find an engine from a salvage yard. Lots of old Mustangs sitting around.

    If I wanted to dump money into it, it’s getting a 6.7L Powerstroke and I’m going to Mad Max the shit out of it. Black on black paintjob. Remove the back seats and fit the biggest fuel tanks that will fit. Thick steel body armor welded all around the car, battering ram up front, bulletproof windows, manual transmission conversion, onboard mounted guns and flamethrower, perhaps surface to air missiles on the roof.

    1. Could you actually fit a 6.7 and associated running gear in a Crown Vic? That would be badass if it were possible. I’ve got ’21 F250 with the 6.7, and the truck genuinely feels quick when not towing or hauling. I can’t imagine what that engine would be like in a 5,000 lb. car instead of a 7,500 lb. truck. It would probably be a deathtrap, as hitting the gas at any speed would break traction in the rear wheels. It would be a hell of a fun deathtrap, though.

      1. Look up powerstroke Crown Victorias on youtube. It’ll fit. Not without lots of work though.

        By the time I get done with it, it would have airbag suspension, an extra 2-3″ ground clearance, and be impervious to bullets and maybe even IEDs. With all the armor I’d put on it, it would be around 8,000 lbs. I’d also tune that Powerstroke to 1,000+ horsepower. Maybe it would get 30+ mpg at a steady 70 mph on smooth roads after all that was done. With 150 gallons or more of fuel capacity, it would be a true road warrior. Maybe it would be able to out-distance an MQ9 Reaper drone on a full tank under more spirited driving conditions.

        Another engine possibility is an old-school mechanical injection Cummins, with the advantage of being EMP-proof and being able to run on kerosene, automatic transmission fluid, brake fluid, waste vegetable oil, motor oil, and whatever other crap you could throw into it to keep it running. THAT would be awesome.

  2. You have 100% been living under a rock. I might go as far as to say that you were born under one for not knowing that reference. I could forgive it if you worked for another news organization, but working in the automotive world? Shame.

    Anyway, I would go with the Crown Vic, but more because I want to tear the body off and plunk down a 70s F-150 body on top of it.

      1. There’s an easy way to rectify the situation, my friend. Just watch the movie a time or two. Classic car movie, main character car is a Mopar, and at time of release it had the record for most cars wrecked on a set, still sits at #3 on that list.

  3. Having owned a Caprice of this vintage, my vote must go to the Chevy. The one I had was blessed with the “large” V-8 and performed quite well for its day in age. The main thing though, was comfort, particularly on long trips. Drove mine from Southeast Kansas to New Orleans and back with my frau and 2 German visitors. They came away with nothing but good things to say and further stated that except for fuel costs they wouldn’t mind having one back in good ole’ Bavaria. High praise indeed.

  4. Editor (is it David??) has indeed been living under a rock for not recognizing a Blues Brothers reference. Next you’ll be telling me that he doesn’t recognize quotes from Smokey and the Bandit.

  5. Re the editor’s note: Of course I got it immediately, and the fact that you didn’t makes me sad. You clearly need to watch the Blues Brothers, immediately. It is required viewing.

    Fun fact about the scene at the Cook County Assessor’s office: the actor who played the clerk, is Steven Spielberg.

      1. Funnest fact: my hometown was mentioned in the movie. Jake went to prison supposedly to cover the ‘bar tab from that Kiwanis gig in Coal City’.

        Additional fact: Coal City has never had Kiwanis. Lions, K of C, VFW. No Rotary club, no Elks, No Moose and never any Kiwanis.

  6. I really really really want to go Caprice – it was always a weird looking, bordering on interesting car in its police incarnation – but it it’s that mossy on the outside then it’s liable to be awfully mossy on the inside too. And having owned one in the long agos, it’s remarkably not-spacious. The floor of the trunk is high and half full of spare tire for instance.

  7. I used to drive a P71 and absolutely loved it. A comfortable cruiser, but still fun throw around. It was a ‘chief’s car’, and so looked like a regular Crown Vic and had a decent interior and functional rear doors. Even with that, I still got to experience the ‘Halo Effect’. Everyone around you begins driving like perfect little angels, forming a halo around your car that prevents you from ever really opening it up.

    As for looks, there are few better, more purposeful-looking sedans than the ’98-2011 CV.

    Engines for these things are a dime a dozen and easy to replace. Crown Vic all the way.

  8. My first police car was a Caprice with the LT1 in it. It was fast, smooth, and slid around corners like it was on butter. After that one it was all Ford CVPI. The Ford was fine, but the brakes would warp very easily. I send the car in for a brake job because the were warped and I warped them again the very next shift. The Caprice was a better police car all around.

  9. I’ve owned 3 Panthers (1984 Town Car, 2008 Town Car, and 2009 Grand Marquis), as well as one B-Body (1996 Fleetwood), and, while GM’s cars are generally better designed (more spacious, more comfortable, better ride, better performance), everything on them that is plastic and/or electronic is hot garbage and will fail shortly if not already broken. And Chinesium aftermarket replacements will fail faster.

    The Crown Vic has a much better chance of actually being a reliable, dependable car after the initial sorting phase, since they were just designed to be stouter and more robust from the start, at the expense of a rougher ride and more cramped interior

  10. We used to call the Caprice “The Marshmallow.” Gotta give it the vote since you see way fewer of them than you see Crown Vics. And no LT-1 is a plus for me. I had a bad experience with an LT-1. I’ll happily listen to that 4.3 work hard and produce little, much like the car’s driver may have done when it was a public fleet vehicle…

  11. Despite preferring the Caprice overall. In this specific case it is the Vic all the way and twice as much if it is your own money.

    Sadly Caprice/Impala from this generation now command higher prices. There may be $500 of salvageable bits for another Caprice owner with some specific needs. Maybe.

  12. Post-cop Caprice’s were the taxi of choice when I drove in 1990! They were slow, boring, squishy and boat-like but they RAN no matter what. Got me out of several difficult situations.

    Unfortunately I can smell the interior of that Caprice over the internet and I can’t say yes.

  13. Editor’s note: After nine hours of brain-wracking, I’m being told that Mark was apparently making an extremely random reference to the Blues Brothers (see below). Did anyone else get that?

    Yes, right away. I’m guessing the motor threw a rod, too.

    Have I been living under a rock?

  14. I’m usually all about a 9C1, but oof-dah, that thing is in rough shape.
    On the other hand all it’ll take for the Crown Vic is finding a PI 2 valve 4.6 in a wrecking yard for $500, an engine hoist, and an enjoyable weekend for you and a buddy to swap the engines and you’ve got a stone-reliable beater for next to nothing invested.

  15. This era of police package cars doesn’t really do it for me. I’m old enough to still get paranoid and look suspicious on the rare occasion I see an old Valiant or Matador.

    On a related note. Remember when police cruisers had interesting paint? Here in Toronto they used to be bright yellow. People would often confuse them with cabs. Sometime in the eighties they started going plain white with some decals that made them look like postal delivery vehicles. Now they have gone to this awful militaristic dark grey. The vehicles now really don’t have a “community service” look to them. More like just “control”. They are also hard to see and recognize, which can’t be good if they have to move through traffic quickly in an emergency. The visibility is crap. I really prefer how emergency vehicles outside of North America have such wild “look at me and get out of my way” graphics.

  16. Crown Vic. While the idea of getting a police Caprice (hey, that rhymed) is pretty cool, I’d rather have a car that sorta runs than having another car to get running again. Besides, there’s quite a few cars in the local scrapyard with the same Ford V8 so parts are going to be easy to get.

  17. I got the Blues Brother’s Cook County reference in about half a second. Then I realized I haven’t see the movie in about 25 years. Hmmmmm.

    Can’t help but think how great a Crown Vic would be with either a 4 or 6 BT Cummins.

  18. I own an ex-cop Caprice about twenty years newer than that. Nothing is the same between the two cars, but I have always loved those big old b-bodies. It doesn’t have the LT1, but even that’s disappointing in the power numbers these days. I’d feel less bad about tossing an old 5.7 for something with more pep. Either car is a project, and the Caprice isn’t a small amount of work from functioning. That means it’s prime powertrain swap material! So I went for that one.

    That said, I’d like to experience a Crown Vic before they shoot up in price. And regularly occurring “endurance” races where they get destroyed isn’t helping numbers.

  19. Yes, you’ve been living under a rock. Or not living long enough, or well enough.

    Anyway, Crown Vic. Tons of support, tons of inexpensive parts, plenty of upgrade options, and generally doggedly reliable. Any wonder they are both police and taxi favorites?

  20. All things being equal, I’d take a Caprice – I’m kind of sick of Panthers and their journey from having meth heads in the rear seat to meth heads in the driver’s seat.

    But things aren’t equal and that Caprice looks like they found it at the bottom of a lake with two missing people in it.

  21. The Crown Vic is a potentially useful car, if you know how to fix it up. We at least know *something* about its condition. All we know about the Caprice is that it’s been sitting long enough to grow moss. Also, it’s 13 years older than the Crown Vic. Not even a contest.

    1. That’s like 3-6 months worth of moss growth around here. Hell, it isn’t even furry yet. Doesn’t mean the car hasn’t been sitting longer than that, but as far as moss in western Oregon goes, that ain’t nothing.

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