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The major squad cars of the 1980s were the St. Regis/Gran Fury and the Dodge Diplomat / Plymouth Gran Fury, but there were other options.
The St. Regis and R-body Gran Fury were the favored police cars when they were launched; their handling, size, and decent-enough power made many friends, though quality was not consistent, and some departments knocked Chrysler off the list as a result. Still, the tough cars were heavily favored by police departments. Today, the car is most likely recognized because of the dozens shown in crashes in The Blues Brothers.
The Dodge Diplomat / M-body Plymouth Gran Fury was, however, to have much more staying power. Derived with few changes from the F-body Plymouth Volare, these cars were compact when launched, but soon seemed quite large; they had the traditional rear wheel drive, and for most of their life, had a choice of slant six or V8 engines (318s, and optional 360s for the early years), with two or four barrel carburetors. They weren’t nearly as powerful as the earlier police cars, but they were much lighter, and quite tough — except for a weak spot in the front suspension which was eventually addressed by the company. Many people still see these cars as being synonymous with squads.
Many cities opted for the relatively thrifty, and cheaper, slant six engines, while they were available; and then the two barrel 318s rather than the thirsty four-barrels.
Starting in 1982, the Plymouth Reliant (and its sidekick, the Dodge Aries) was also sold in full police trim, under the name Reliant Scout Car and the AHB ordering code; it was powered by the normal 84-horsepower 2.2 liter four-cylinder, with the Mitusbishi 2.6 liter (92 hp) as an option.
The Scout Car was presumably meant as a fuel-efficient car for detectives, parking police, and city patrols; it was used by some military bases. As Jim Benjaminson wrote, the Reliant could hardly chase down a 1970 Road Runner, but it was more than equal to most of the straight-six cars of the era, and few criminals could outrace Motorola.
Ed Hennessy wrote that hundreds of the AHB Aries and Reliant were used by the New York Police Department, all 2.5 liter cars.
Another oddity was the use (cited by Dale Burkhardt) of Dodge Dynastys, but these never had a police package. Mark Swingle pointed out that Chrysler produced some 3.8-powered Dynasty police cars for internal testing, but stopped the program because the Dynasty was to be replaced by the Dodge Intrepid.
During that time, Spirits with the 2.5 turbocharged engine were used by police in Mexico, though without an official police package; some other towns used similar cars, with the pictured Dodge Spirit used by Winfield, Illinois (they also ran the early front-wheel-drive Chrysler LeBaron, and Chrysler Concordes, according to Tom Bukovits). Mitch Hartley added, in 2002, that the Cheltenham, Pennsylvania
police department still had three Dodge Shadows (made through the 1994 model year) for unmarked/ command
cars, using a red tear drop light, radio,
and siren. The Shadows were reportedly liked for their reliability and snow friendliness. The Mounties began to use Intrepids around 1995, and many cities and states started testing them — even without a police package.
Once the Jeep Grand Cherokee eased demand for the Cherokee, Jeep engineers created a Jeep Cherokee police car — the only official Chrysler police car from 1996 to 2001. They used the Comanche’s foot-operated parking brake and column shifter, with tires from the police Diplomat/Gran Fury. They used suspension and cooling parts from the towing package, a transmission cooler, metric-ton Dana 44 rear axle, and few options.
The Cherokee dramatically outlasted other police cars. Despite having only a six-cylinder, the Cherokee came close to the Crown Victoria’s 0-60 times in 1993 (9.84 seconds vs 9.57). In dynamics testing, it beat the Ford in 1993 and 1997, and came close in other years. The downsides were a lower top speed, lower gas mileage, and longer braking distances.
The first decade of the 21st century had no fewer than three authentic Dodge police packages — for the Intrepid, Magnum, and Charger. For 1990-99, though, the only Mopar in town was the Cherokee.
What was happening outside of Chrysler?
The Dodge Diplomat and Plymouth Gran Fury ended with the 1989 model year, absolutely dominating police car sales with at least three-quarters of sales. Departments turned and found two possible replacements; and most chose the Chevrolet Caprice, though some went to the Ford Crown Victoria. As Curtis Redgap wrote, the older Chevrolet Caprice dominated the Michigan State Police Tests for several years, at one point, topping every category. When they restyled the car in 1991, pundits labeled it “the whale,” and worse; sales plummeted. Chevrolet made the 260 hp LT-1 Corvette engine an option; for three years, it simply outdid everything, and was extremely popular, but GM could not keep the car going on fleet sales alone.
Meanwhile, Ford updated its 1979-platform Crown Victoria for the 1992 model-year, using a new 215 horsepower V-8 with overhead cams making 215 horsepower. The old chassis was numb, and the “Interceptor” topped out at 110 mph; by 1994, Ford had tweaked it up to 130. Still, police stayed with the Caprice as long as they could, which turned out to be seven years; after their 1996 model year, there was no Caprice, and Ford became the survivor.
Current police cars | History, through 1979 | Jeep Cherokee Police Cars with 1996-2001 MSP Test Results
Current Police Cars
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