What is a squad package or police package?

Copyright© 2001 by Curtis Redgap, Orlando, FL, who is solely responsible for content

Police cars vs taxis

You can identify a Chrysler police car by the VIN from 1959 onwards:

1959: 9 in the third digit identifies a MoPar Police Package.
1960 through 1965: 9 as the second digit spot IDs it as a Police Package
1966 through 1977: K as the second digit in the VIN IDs it as a Police Package
1970 through 1983: The A38 designation is on a separate tag on the fender underneath the options tags.
1984 through end of production 1989: AHB on a separate fender tag underneath the options tag.

A police car is separated from taxi by a very thin blue line. While taxis may be held with little more than mundane interest, everyone looks at police cars. In reality the only difference is the color on the sheet metal. The engine does not make a police car!

What makes a police package is the overall definition of use of the car itself. In large urban settings, a huge V-8 is a waste. Like New York, where transportation to a call is more vital that roaring horsepower. In that congested city, going over 40 miles an hour is dangerous. Therefore, a nice six cylinder sufficed for years. The new darling of the NYPD (2001) appears to be the Chevrolet Impala. Smaller than the Ford Crown Vic, and less of an engine to feed gasoline. However, the application and requirements for extended, exerted duty is no less.

Fleet cars need heavy duty components, such as brakes, shocks, transmissions, differentials, cooling systems, body structure, and electrical system, and, in the interior, heavy duty seat springs, cushions, floor panels, floor mats, switch gear, enlarged glass anchorage, window bracing, and wiring.

Does that sound like a taxi? Yes. Does it sound like a cop car? Yes. All that differs is where it is going to be used, and what color is it going to be. The choice of engines, such as in the Ford Crown Victoria, is somewhat limited. Yet, it gets the job done. That is all you can ask for any package, taxi or police.

Most older cops recall earlier times, when Chrysler lead the way in building police vehicles. If a metal body seam in a Plymouth called for three spot welds per inch to put it together, Plymouth put nine! No bodyman ever welcomed a MoPar police vehicle into their shop with a smile. The bodies were tough, and required much work to straighten them out. Besides the extra welds, there were heavy duty panels, extra cross members, and body stiffeners that were not always included in Chrysler shop manuals.

I noted in one of my Grandfather's journals that his friend and eventual family attorney had given him advice late in 1928. That consisted of telling him to always go after "fleet" business. Retail automobile trade goes up and down with the times. Fleets will always be around, and rarely ever go backwards. As cities or business grew, so did their needs for transportation. It was good advice, and well heeded. By being in the know as well as the center of the show, our dealership handily survived the 1929 financial crash and subsequent depression.

One of the earliest efforts was the sale of 22 1930 Plymouth model 30Us to the local county sheriff. Cost of each 2 door 4 passenger coupe was $464. Net profit on each unit to us was $60. Total of the sale was $1,320. Not so big by today's standards. But in 1930, there was not much money, and even less work. A 40 hour work week, if you could get it, earned you $4 for the week. That $1,320 after overhead for the store meant keeping several men in employment for 4 or 5 months. By constant research and close to cost bidding, grandpa kept the store alive with continuous work. Believe me, it meant a lot to our family, and even more to the men.

Those cars were not what would later constitute a police package. However, the fallout from the 1934 Airflow models would lead to the top police car package in the late 1960s throughout the 1980s. In 1935, DeSoto bounded back to life with the Airsteam line of cars. With the great prices, taxi fleets snapped up 1935 DeSoto 4 door models. They were powerful yet economical as well as being the right size for the job.

The next year, 1936, was the first year that Chrysler kept a record that specifically set forth its taxi production. After that, it didn't make any distinction until the late 1950s.

So, what did you get for a taxi when you bought one from Chrysler? Longer wheelbase than standard. The '36 DeSoto rode on a 116 inches. The taxi model was 118 inches. O.K., two inches difference. But it sold! Larger clutch. 10 inch as opposed to standard 9 inch. Different transmission, presumably from either the Chrysler line or Dodge truck division. Extra bracing in the cowl, pan and truck structures of the body. Heavy duty seat springs. Larger generator and heavier battery. Larger radiator, probably from the Dodge truck line. Brakes were already hydraulic, the same as the Chrysler, so no changes there. [Chevrolet and Ford were still stopping with mechanical brakes-SCARY] The standard engine was the 241 cubic inch six cylinder, however it made 100 horsepower as opposed to the same engine in a Chrysler that made 93.

This car and this line set the pattern for all future taxi packages in Chrysler cars. Eventually, all manufacturers would have to follow the lead. But, do we see a pattern here?

Bill Cawthon wrote:

[In the 1950s,] basically, a police package was a base Plymouth or Dodge 2-door sedan (Plymouth got a regular V8 in 1955), V8 engine, truck clutch, heavy-duty springs (two-way radios were heavy in the days before transistors) and special-duty electrical system (battery-generator). That was mostly for the radio and siren, both of which sucked juice like crazy. The radio used tubes and the siren was a rotating disk with an electric motor. Warning lights were not the drain they are today because they were usually simple, either a Federal Beacon Ray or some variation of a red flasher (often incorporated into the siren). Maybe some truck turn signals. For example, CHP cars had two spotlights, the driver's side having a steady-burning red lamp, and a single amber flasher on the rear package shelf. CHP, though an early adopter, did not standardize on Dodges until 1958.

The cars had sturdy seats and rubber floor mats. Most common color was black. Large departments had custom paintwork, like contrasting doors, hoods, or roofs, done at the factory. Smaller departments usually had such modifications done by the local dealer.

This basic package was common through the 1950s. Missouri used some 2-door hardtops in 1959, CHP experimented with 4-door Coronets in 1958. By the early 1960s, 4-door squads were becoming the rule.

Metropolitan departments usually opted for the Plymouth, even though it wasn't as powerful as the Dodge. It was less expensive. Many state agencies used the Plymouth for the same reason. Michigan State Police used Plymouths whenever they bought Mopar. Most MSP cruisers in 1959 were Plymouths. In fact, MSP used two different styles of Plymouth cruiser in 1959. Standard MSP blue with a Federal siren/flasher unit mounted on the roof, dual spotlights. And a light blue with white roof, no roof-mounted warning light, dual spots with red flashing lamp in driver's side.

Christopher Fairfield noted that the 1975 Coronet police car had a sticker: "This car is specially equipped for high speed handling. It has high performance springs, shocks, extra anti-sway bars, as well as heavy duty engine and transmission and braking systems." These items were all for longevity, handling, and braking. The engine was a Lean Burn 440.

Squad cars varied through the years. For example, in the 1980s, the overwhelming majority of Dodge Diplomat squads carried simple, standard 318 engines, albeit with heavy duty steering and suspensions. The taxi and police packages were pretty much identical. My own 1976 Valiant had a "police/taxi/towing" package, fulfilling three constituencies at once.

There are, of course, exceptions - all-out pursuit cars were once a Chrysler specialty (see Curtis Redgap's History of Plymouth and other squad car pages). But many squad cars were even ordered with the slant six, for gas mileage. The police have radios.

Today, aside from Ford's Police Interceptor - a beefed up Crown Victoria - there are two major police packages, the Chevy Impala and the upcoming Dodge Intrepid. The Impala does not have a pursuit engine as far as we can tell, nor does it need one for most applications. The Intrepid will most likely sell with the 3.5 liter engine, in standard tune, and have upgraded shocks, struts, brakes, and tires.

Buying a car with a police package, new, will add greatly to its longevity - if you can get one. But buying a used police car has its risks - click here for a discussion.