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Buying vintage police cars: availability and where to buy used police cars

buying police diplomatsHello, and welcome to yet another installment of Police Car Collecting.

One topic that has often been glossed over is the availability of retired police cars. This is a topic that I have been questioned about. From time to time, I hear of individuals looking for a certain car such as a B body (which has always been a popular model) or others. What has made some of these cars so difficult to find? If one still wants to try to locate a certain model of car, what is the best way to go about it? Are there any cars that you just shouldn’t bother to try to locate?

The first question is pretty easy to answer: age is a certain factor in availability of any vintage car. Looking for a mid-1970s vehicle is going to prove some challenge regardless of what you are looking for and the older you go, even more so.

The condition of any car desired makes the quest more of a challenge, especially if you are looking for a car needing less restoration. These were police cars and service vehicles, and only a percentage of them have survived to current day compared to their civilian counterparts. Many of these cars saw their demise early in life due to the abuse that patrol vehicles routinely get, and the relative lack of maintenance that many larger cities have been famous for.

1977 plymouth police car

These vehicles were, and are, workhorses, and get treated that way. Once the surviving ones were retired from active duty, off to auction they went. Many saw a second life as a taxi; this is still a common use for retired police cars. This “retirement” usually saw the ultimate end of the life of the car down a short road, and often its fate lies in the hands of the crusher.

Once these cars went from patrolling neighborhoods and highways to moving people from offices to the airport, they were pretty worn out. The cars that have survived largely were sold to private individuals at municipal auction. These cars saw a more leisurely “retirement” from government service.

The general car buying public has been less than enthusiastic about buying used patrol cars. The high mileage, the nature of use, and too frequently the lack of proper maintenance have made these the lepers of used cars. Most states have made it mandatory to make a car’s prior status as a police car or taxi clear on the reissued title. The relative value in these cars has changed a bit in more recent years, but most used car buyers will stay away from retired police cars with a vengeance.

diplomat squad

Another factor in the lack of surviving copcars is Hollywood. How many films and shows do we remember seeing older police cars being destroyed? How many now desirable Monacos were totaled in The Blues Brothers?  How many B body Dodges were destroyed in the Dukes of Hazzard over 7 years of TV episodes? Most of you know the movie remake of Gone in 60 Seconds with Nicholas Cage. Do you know of the original film made in 1974 by the late H.B. Halicki?

1970 Minnesota patrol carHalicki was a stunt man who dreamed of making the ultimate car chase film. They destroyed 93 cars in this first film, most of them police cars. There was a sequel, Gone in 60 Seconds II, where many more cars were destroyed, many of them again being police cars. A third movie, Deadline Auto Theft, was made by Halicki and even more cars were destroyed wholesale. At least several hundred cars were destroyed by Halicki in the three films he made before his untimely death. If you haven’t seen these movies, they have been re-released on DVD and I have to admit, they are a trip to watch.

Destroying police cars has always been a favorite of stunt directors and they do it well. This is a significant reason for many of the most recognizable copcars of the past being so scarce.

Another event creating the loss of more police vehicles is the “Dukefest” held in the South each year, right up to the present. The Dukes of Hazzard has managed to be a phenomenon long after the show’s cancellation. The Dukefest is a celebration of The Dukes of Hazzard where fans, young and old, gather and have fun. The stars of the original show usually make appearances at this festival. A yearly feature is stunt driving where representations of the General Lee and Roscoe’s sheriff cars are jumped and mangled in various ways.

valiant police carEvery year, organizers search for cars to use in this part of the festival. We have lost a significant number of restorable police cars every year to this event, not to mention the loss of more vintage Chargers. Fortunately, the classic car community in general has started to express their unhappiness with this yearly carnage, no pun intended. Unfortunately, it hasn’t stopped the wanton destruction of more cars. Let’s hope that we can put more pressure on the organizers to stop this practice before there are no more cars left for us to restore.

Once you have decided to start your search, where do you go from here? Many use eBay to start. There are several pitfalls to using eBay. One is that it is an auction. Many get caught up in a buying frenzy during auctions and all too often end up paying too much for any given item. Another is that you are buying a vehicle sight unseen, unless you get really fortunate and find a car for auction near where you live, or near someone else you know that can check it out for you. There have been all too many horror stories about buyers taking delivery on their car and finding it much different than what was described. Your recourse at this point may be limited and end up costing you even more, to say nothing of the aggravation quotient. This doesn’t count the scammers where there isn’t even a car for sale, just a listing for one that doesn’t exist.

Online direct sales sites are good resources. Craigslist has proven to be a fairly good source of vehicles of all types, along with everything else imaginable listed for sale. Again, sight unseen sales take a bit of caution on the part of the buyer and the buyer always bears the greatest risk. AutoTrader.com is a good vehicle sales site to use also. Basically, any place you can think of looking can be a source of potential vehicles to find, even your local newspaper classifieds.

plymouth satellite police carCar clubs can sometimes be a way to find cars for sale. Some have web sites with classified columns. Often, the make specific club sites are better sources for copcar candidates. Some require acceptance for (free) membership before you can post or even view the site content. One of those is copcar.com, which is a good resource for vehicles and accessories, as well as technical advice and assistance. The forums require membership and this is where the classifieds are located, though there are a lot of publicly accessible parts of the site that are great viewing.

One caution if you may think to join. The motto on copcar.com site is “Keep your seatbelt fastened” and they mean it. Controversy is no stranger to this forum. EVOOA (evooa.org) has a classified section that is free for anyone to view. You may find things that you might be seeking here.

Do not rule out wrecking yards, especially in the south and west. A larger number of cars have been crushed due to the higher prices for scrap metal in recent years, but this does not mean that a gem cannot be found amongst the trash. Phone calls and e-mails can help in finding if yards across the country have what you may be looking for. I’ve been junking in North Carolina in the recent past and wished I had a fleet of trucks to bring up all the treasures I found there, and that was just in one three county area. This is another place where internet searches can help you locate yards to contact.

dodge coronet squadPeriodicals like Hemming’s and Old Cars Weekly can also be good resources. Granted, these cars will undoubtedly need more than less restoration, but sometimes this is the best option we have.

You may also want to clone a civilian version of the car you are seeking. If you recall a previous column where I mentioned the restoration efforts of Eric Kurz of California, the car he found was in a wrecking yard in New York. Not only was it very restorable, but it was a real state police car. By the way, I had the chance to see his car during our recent trip to the Bay Area. It will be a great looking cruiser when it’s completed. There were two at the yard he found this one at and the other might still be there. [For vintage Mopars, it should be noted that real police cars have had numerous upgrades that cannot reasonably be retrofitted, including hundreds of extra welds. Some equipment, such as heavy duty suspension parts and special steering boxes, can be retrofitted. — Editor.]

What if you have a police car to sell, regardless of whether it’s a project or finished cruiser? The same outlets for locating a car can be the same ones to start offering it for sale, minus the yards. Craigslist, AutoTrader, Allpar, and the rest of the sites can be great avenues to advertise your car for sale at low or no cost.

dodge coronet squadOne word of caution.  Be wary of scammers offering to buy your car through online sites. This has been a growing problem over the last several years. They usually don’t want to dicker over the price, and want to pay immediately usually with a cashier’s check. This should send up a red flag.

Another more common ploy is where the “buyer” wants to have the car shipped, likely overseas. He offers to pay much more than the asking price and wants you to give the difference between your price and the check to his “agent” when the car is picked up. This scam is mentioned in the FBI and Secret Service fraud alerts and has been going on for several years.

Another is where you are asked the bottom line price of your “item” with no mention of the car itself. Completely disregard these e-mails.

A more insidious one is where you get a phone call through an operator to relay a TTY call to you. TTY machines are so deaf individuals can communicate via the phone. They use a keyboard to communicate to another station elsewhere. Operators can relay messages from a deaf person to anyone with a telephone. This scam was told to me by a Bell System supervisor.

How can you protect yourself during long distance transactions? One is to insist on a telephone conversation with the intended buyer. Most scammers will go away at this point. Another one, and one that I and many law enforcement types would endorse, is to refuse to take any paper for payment under any circumstances. With resources available like Western Union and Money Gram, there is no reason to have to accept checks of any type today.

I recently sold a car (not a copcar) to an out of state buyer. The buyer used Money Gram through a neighborhood Wal-Mart. All I needed to do was to give the confirmation number of the transaction supplied by the buyer after she went to her Wal-Mart and paid for it. I was paid in cash after I supplied the proper ID along with the confirmation number and location of the payer. Easy for both parties. Of course, there is a service charge that the buyer will have to bear, but it’s not a large one.

There are other resources like Paypal and BidPay that can be used. The disadvantage of BidPay is that it is designed for auction use. Paypal can be used for any type of transaction so long as both parties have an e-mail address. Both users have to both be registered users of the particular site, and they charge fees which can equate to a noticeable amount of change.  The recipient of funds generally pays for Paypal fees. These payment sites do have some safeguards for buyers to help protect your purchases from unscrupulous sellers.

polara

Now, there’s the ultimate question. Are there any cars that I should just plain avoid trying to obtain? I would have to say, no. It’s all a question of whether you are looking for a turnkey (needs no or little work) car or not and how much money you have to spend. If you look at the market realistically, you should be able to determine if the car you are seeking is within your grasp. We have already determined that these cars are not the best fodder for investment grade purchases overall. It’s up to what you can afford and want to spend.

Make an effort to attend some of the local car events with your police car. We have found that bringing our cars to a local car cruise is rewarding, with our squad car being a show stealer. The kids especially love them. Hopefully, you have made note of the events I have posted in our earlier columns and will try to attend at least one of them. You will find yourself in very good company.

Until next time, drive safely and keep saving those copcars!!

This column is for you, the collector and enthusiast. Your feedback and input into this column is very important. I haven’t been getting the input from you, the readers of this column, that I had hoped for. If you are not registered to be able to post in the forums, it is easy and free so please register and comment! For those of you that have given your input, thanks.

Police car shows coming up

Westmont Police Department Cruisin' Night Squad Car Night will be held on Thursday Night June 23rd, 6 to 9 p.m., in Westmont, Illinois at Burlington and Cass Ave. in Westmont, Illinois. Vintage squads are invited.

We do not have dates for these shows yet:

  • The Verona, New Jersey Cops and Rodders Classic Car Show, featuring classic police cars and hot rods, is held in June, hosted by the Verona PBA. For more info, see the Verona PBA.
  • The NYC Police Museum Show is scheduled for June. For more info and host hotel reservation info, contact Glenn Sokolofsky.
  • The Chicagoland Emergency Vehicle Show will be back and looks to be as great as ever. Dates are usually late July/early August. I post more as it comes available, but you can also go to emergencyvehicleshow.com. We covered the 2008 Chicagoland show.

If know of any emergency-vehicle related meets coming up this year, please get it to me and I’ll pass the info along here and on the forum.

Other columns

Introduction | The basics of police car collecting | Who are collectors? Why do we collect?

Emergency lighting | Sirens | Where to find retired police cars | Emergency vehicle shows | Investing in police cars

Restorations: Rules and regs for restorers | Chevy Malibu | 1949 Ford | Do-it-yourself bodywork | Do-it-yourself mechanical work

Shows: Chicagoland Emergency Vehicles Show | Aquidneck Island National Police Car Parade (2008 | 2009)

Also see the EVOOA home page and Squad Car Collecting forum thread

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