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Reflections of the Fleet (part 1) - Cars made for police/taxi service

Copyright © 2001 Curtis Redgap @ Orlando, Florida 2001

Hello, I am Curtis Redgap. Through the good graces of ALLPAR.COM, Dr. Zatz has once again allowed me to grace the internet with my stories. I do not, by any means, claim to be an expert. I am not. I have been fortunate to meet an expert via the internet, and he has been ever so kind to put up with my questions and referrals. The content of the information expressed herein is solely my responsibility. I have chosen not to identify the location of the department due to considerations of privacy. Nevertheless, the stories are true, and so was the equipment. Sadly, those days will never be again. So it goes with Plymouth, which produced some of America's greatest automobiles for 73 years. So it will be with Chrysler, which is already dead but hasn't been told yet. My email is [email protected]

My first experiences with cars destined to become patrol vehicles occurred when I was a young boy hanging about my Father's Chrysler dealership. He owned and operated a full Chrysler Corporation outlet, and therefore sold all the vehicles that Chrysler built, including Dodge trucks. Since we were the "zone" store, all cars destined for sales in the area, came through our dealership, including the various police department cars. As well, many cars destined for taxi fleets came through us as the zone distribution center.

My grandfather had started the Chrysler relationship by allowing ChryCo to store new Plymouths and DeSotos on his back lot in our home town in the fall season of 1928. Naturally, things just grew out from there. To the day that the dealership folded due to mismanagement in 1979, the original style and flavor of grandpa's blacksmith shop and trolley car forge was still part of the place. No, it wasn't my Dad's mismanagement, he sold the dealership in the spring of 1964.

The dealership had stood for 51 years. One of the original sales people, hired by my grandpa was still there, although he could have easily retired many years before. I understood he cried when the doors went shut for the last time. Sad. Much like the Germans at Daimler are responsible for the dissolution of the resurrected ChryCo, and the death of one of America's premier makes of cars, the Plymouth. Despite the rosy predictions of 1998 when Daimler "stole" Chrysler, indications are still poor. Good management people have fled, and the absolutely magnificent team that brought forth such great cars in as little as 18 months from conception to production is devastated. There is nothing left of that platform team. Consequently, there is not much left of Chrysler either. In the future we will see downgraded Mercedes platforms, and warmed over Mitsubishi cars with Chrysler nameplates. Sad.

I write to try to preserve the flavor of what was. In 1997, I was fervent in the belief that Chrysler would rise again. Money changers ruined all that. The trend continues to the detriment of Chrysler itself as well as the heart of this great country. As I write this, to my dismay, Jurgen Shremmp, the Daimler liar and thief, has been extended at his employment for another 2 years.

When I first legitimately [as opposed to illegitimately when I worked at Dad's store] took the wheel of a bona fide Police Patrol Vehicle, it was in January of 1969 and I had just crossed over from a city police department to become a new Sheriff's Deputy. The new 1969 cars had been ordered. However, this department chose to receive their new cars near the end of March each year so that they were new when the summer speeding season kicked in.

Much of the fleet of 300 or so patrol vehicles were a mixed bag. Largely, the maintenance, rotation, and replacement of the cars was inefficient. Not due to incompetence, it was just never looked at with economic considerations. That would change in 1973. In the meantime, we had some old cars, some not so old cars, and different makes.

Largely, at the time, the Sheriff's fleet were made up of 1968 Ford Customs with the 390 cubic inch V-8. These were not the greatest handling cars ever made. They were adequate, with one glaring exception, for patrol work in a urban to suburban setting. They were not meant for country or Highway Patrol work. We had all of the topography I mentioned in my county.

The '68 Fords rode on a 119 inch wheelbase, and weighed in at around 3950 pounds. Now add cop gear, safety lights, radio, rescue supplies, fire extinguishers, extra ammunition, shotguns, rifle, and a healthy cop. You will get a heavy car, like close to 4500 pounds. Remember that the overall length of these battle cruisers was over 213 inches! That is almost 18 feet of steel. Big cars.

My department's Fords were equipped with Equa-Loc rear ends with a 3.50 ratio which was turned through the big Ford's C-6 Cruise-O-Matic (with a licensed version of the Torqueflite's Simpson gear set) which sat behind the so called "Interceptor 390." They were painted, at the time, black and white.

I mention the 390 "Interceptor" because when it was first introduced in the Ford Police line in 1961. It was a totally unique setup and pretty well thought out for 1961. History indicates that this engine was developed from the "FE" (Ford-Edsel) series of engines out of the 352 cubic inch V-8. Well, this isn't exactly so.

The first series of FE engines was the 332 V-8 destined for the bottom line Edsel car of 1958. It didn't get there. Instead the 332 went over to the Ford line in 1958. This competent engine had a 4 inch bore and a 3.30 inch stroke; in Police vehicles it was the "Interceptor." By stroking the 332, Ford got the 352, with the same 4 inch bore but a 3.50 stroke. In 1958, it was called the "Police Interceptor" and produced 300 horsepower.

There was another engine that was available in the Ford and Edsel line. It was the 361! No, it wasn't stolen from Chrysler. Not much is ever mentioned about this engine. It was originally destined solely for the Edsel line. However, since it was just a bored 352, it fit right well in the Ford line. This engine produced 303 horsepower and was also dubbed the "Police Interceptor." Indiana State Police equipped their 1958 Fords with the 361.

There were two other engines in 1958. A 410, exclusive to the Edsel, a 383 that was built for the Mercury line and a 430 cubic incher that was supposed to be for the Lincoln cars. All of these came out of the FE series. It was a great Ford engine block with much meat for boring and stroking. Of course the 390, 406, and 427 engines also came out of the FE engine block as well. In 1959, the 332 and 361 engines were history. (Note: While the 383, 410, and 340 were technical in the MEL - Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln - series, rather than the FE - Ford-Edsel - series, Curtis pointed out that the blocks were actually identical, with FE engines assembled by Ford plant workers and MEL engines assembled by Mercury-Lincoln workers. The castings were the same, a smart cost-saving item by Ford. The 383/410/430 MEL V8s were, according to Mike Sealey, a good running family but a bear to change a fuel pump on; they became a Lincoln exclusive from 1961 on, never reaching their performance potential, partly due to the lack of a solid lifter setup. 1967-68 saw a Mercury-exclusive 410 that is not the same as the Edsel 410.)

The 1961 Ford 390 engine was equipped with all the right type of go fast goodies. Solid lifters, 9.6 to 1 compression, 446 cfm 4 barreled Holley Carburetor, free flowing exhaust headers, a medium lift cam, and unrestrictive dual exhausts. Literally, it was the same engine, fitted with 3 two barrel carburetors, that kicked out 401 horsepower in the higher end models. The 1961 model 390 interceptor was rated at 330 horsepower and twisted out 427 foot pounds of torque at a rather low 2800 rpm. It was this engine, the 390 Thunderbird Special "Interceptor" that powered most of the country's Ford Patrol Vehicles.

In 1968, Ford continued its dominance of the Police market, being once again the most widely used Police Patrol Vehicle in the United States. (However, they should have been looking over their shoulder at what Plymouth had been doing.) The 390 V-8 in 1968 was little changed from its 1961 specifications. The compression ratio had been bumped to 10.5 to 1, however, the horsepower had dropped to a more realistic 315. The carburetor was a larger 600 cfm model manufactured by Autolite with an air valve controlled secondary. The mechanical valve lifters were replaced by hydraulics for quieter operation and ease of maintenance. Performance stats as measured through the Sheriff's garage were not too earth shattering. 0-60 mph took 9.2 seconds. The quarter mile went by in 17.6 seconds and came out to 84 miles an hour.

The glaring exception I mentioned earlier were the Ford built brakes. Ford was notorious for poor braking ability, especially at higher speeds. In particular if you were using them repeatedly, such as when you were in pursuit or had to answer a "code 3" call. They were dual master cylinder front disc, rear drum set ups with heavy duty brake linings. They should have been good. They were abysmal! The standard line was that we called them "390s" because 3 stabs at the brake pedal from 90 miles an hour will result in the biggest crash you have ever been involved in. The brakes just faded away. As an aside, the Fords were also well noted for being notorious under steering handlers. In other words, if you turned the wheel, the front end wanted to keep right on going straight, rather than comply with the angle of the front tires. We lost several cars in crashes because they just wouldn't turn when asked to do so, nor where they able to stop for the same reason.

Mixed in among the 1968 Fords were 1967 models. I only mention the 1967s because of the oddity that the 1967 models had unassisted front disc brakes. That's right, no power assist at all. Let me tell you, it took a bunch of leg to put those binders on. It made a poor situation worse. Brake fading plus the loss of stopping power because of your worn out leg muscles. They were literally the same car underneath the sheet metal as the '68, except the '67s had an extra year to get beat up more. No one was sorry to see the 1967s consigned to history.

We also had several 1966 Plymouth Belvederes left over that had been assigned to the Chief Civil Deputy, warrant servers, and the top commanders at headquarters. Consequently, they did not get the mileage put on them that the normal patrol vehicles would see. In two years, the dozen '66 Belvederes had under 20,000 miles. They also didn't have the dents, dings, and dingy appearance of a normal fleet car. As such, they did not meet the department's requirement for replacement, which was 50,000 miles and/or three years of service. When someone finally realized this, with the 1969 bid already completed, they were quickly passed down to get the mileage on them. No one wanted the County Manager to find out that we had cars that were 3 model years old with such low mileage. It might cause a sticky little problem. Not that it was going to be a problem because it was always a foot race out to the lot to pick off one of the MoPar units. Why, you might ask? Well lets look at the stats for the Belvederes as compared to the Fords.

Plymouth had won the bid for the department in 1966. It was the first time a non Chevrolet product had been used, period. [More about Chevrolet later.] Right after Chevrolet became part of General Motors in 1918, the department purchased its first cars, replacing the worn out Indian and Harley Davidson motorcycles as well as a stable of Palomino horses. They were 1919 Chevrolets! Chevrolet became the car of choice by the Sheriff until 1966. With maybe a little incentive from the downtown Chevrolet dealer. No one will ever know for sure.

The 1966 Plymouths were some of the best Chrysler Corporation had to offer at the time. 116 inch wheel base, equipped with 325 horsepower 383 cubic inch V-8s, Torqueflite 3 speed automatic transmissions, and 3.23 SureGrip rear differential. Everything was heavy duty. They also had front and rear (!) sway bars as part of the suspension. Those were something that Ford could have taken a lesson from. The Plymouths went where you pointed them with nearly neutral steering. In tough situations you could break the back end out into a slide by judicious use of the accelerator. If a violator could get into a turn at 75, you could take the same turn at 85 with the Plymouth.

Stats from the Sheriff's garage showed a 7.8 second 0-60 time. They ran the quarter mile in 15.9 seconds with a trap of 93 miles an hour. Top speed was 125. It took 16.2 seconds to get to the magic century mark of "100." The brakes were 11 inch by 3 inch wide drums all the way around. [For some reason, Dodge, then followed shortly by Plymouth in 1965, introduced front disc brakes on its larger model Polara and Fury cars. Why it took two years (1967) to get on the mid sized Belvedere and Coronet models is only known by the marketers at Chrysler.] The drums were good brakes of the Bendix design, with special sintered metallic linings that were nearly impossible to fade out. The hotter they got, the better they stopped. Given the right engineering, drum brakes were up to the task asked of them. You could always feel confident with the MoPar patrol cars. The '66 Belvedere model easily dusted the '67 and '68 Ford.

But before I get too far along, I must go back to the first MoPar Police Car I ever remember. That would have been the 1951 Plymouth 2 door coupes that were being used by my city's police agency. Since my Dad's oldest brother was then the Chief of Police, [he received that appointment in 1934] I saw that model car quite a few times. My Uncle would stop by the dealership quite often as well as by our house a lot. These were the "Cambridge" model 2 door club coupes. It gave an officer room in the back to throw in a prisoner or two, for transport, or give some kids a lift home. The 1951s were powered by the same old 217 cubic inch flathead 6 cylinder engine that put out 97 horsepower. It had first been put in the Plymouth line in 1942. It had been a new engine for Dodge in 1932! There was only one transmission, a three speed column shifted unit with synchomesh on second and third gears. Taking guidance from my grandpa, the cars had been ordered with the Plymouth Taxi package. This included a 10 inch clutch, heavy duty suspension, heavy duty control shock absorbers, heavy duty springs in the seats, a heat shield for the battery, which was a larger 100 amp hour type. The generator was a 40 amp Autolite as opposed to the standard 30 amp one. There were also bigger tires, DeSoto's bigger brakes, and a different rear end gear ratio. Top speed? Oh, about a heady 90 miles an hour with a tail wind and going down a hill. Zero to sixty took about 20 seconds. Not too bad in 1951.

Right after the 1945 Armistice of World War II, my Uncle had desired to change the entire police fleet in the City. The earliest that he could get a budget authorization was a couple months after the Japanese had surrendered. The state of the fleet of 30 cars at that time was not good, by any means. During the war years, obtaining new equipment was nearly impossible. Good mechanics were worth their weight in gold. Most car dealerships during the trials of WWII, no matter what the make, helped keep the police and fire vehicles rolling. Even if it was a Ford, or a Chevrolet or whatever marque, my Dad made sure that his mechanics fixed them to keep them going. But even good fixing only goes so far. Police service is the ultimate in severe service. Mechanical things just will eventually wear out or permanently break, despite excellent preventative maintenance. Additionally, there was no real specialty "police" built vehicles during the early years. Price was the main consideration for most departments. The cars were just like anyone could buy off the showroom floor as purchased from the local dealer. Then the basic police equipment was added along with the paint scheme and identification markings of the department.

The earliest nod towards specific targeted service vehicles came through the Chrysler Corporation. Around 1935, someone at Chrysler, recognized that around the country, taxis sold in the hundreds. However, the main complaint was the lack of longevity combined with the high cost of replacement parts to keep the cabs running. Then, as in some cases, even today, taxis came from the best of the less beat up used Police fleets! Further, some cities, like New York had restrictive regulations concerning taxis, such as wheelbases, engine sizes, and amount of interior room for passengers.

In all likelihood the taxi fleet business was noted because Chrysler was looking for markets to buoy itself up with the disastrous introduction of the Chrysler "Airflow" in 1934. The DeSoto division didn't have an alternate to the "Airflow" design, and its sales went right to the bottom. To someone's credit, Chrysler division had not eliminated conventionally styled cars, keeping a couple models called "Airstreams" in production. [Thus, even Chrysler itself was hedging its bet against the "Airflow."] Out of the Chrysler conventional "Airstream" line came the right wheelbase car that would put DeSoto into the taxi fleet business. What a difference a year makes. In 1934, DeSoto managed a total production run of 13,940 cars. These were all Airflows. Total! In 1935, they sold 26,800 cars, a 100 per cent increase. Of those, 5,014 4 door sedans were taxis. And why not? They handled 5 passengers (not counting the driver here) with ease. It rode on a 116 inch wheelbase (sound familiar?). It had a 241 cubic inch 6 cylinder engine that put out an honest 100 horsepower. Its low end torque characteristics made it perfect for hauling passengers, along with their luggage, and deliver reliable performance while getting 18-20 miles per gallon on tetraethyl gasoline! It had larger brakes that Ford, Chevrolet or Plymouth.

Plymouth had the beginnings of a fleet concept with the 1937 models. There were commercial sedans, and believe it or not a 134 inch wheelbase 7 passenger limo!

Plymouth sold 2563 units as taxi cabs, with the makings of increased durability in the chassis and body. [This may or may not be a true figure. Chrysler records were not the best. I think it probably was more units, given the inroads gained by DeSoto and the engineering excellence of Chrysler's name.] Those derived from the success over at the DeSoto division with taxi sales. 1937 was the first year that specially marked chassis were destined and recorded as taxi vehicles in the Plymouth line. It was also the last for the next 20 years or so! No, I don't know why Chrysler didn't keep on recording things or not record things. No one knows for certain.

Another factor in the Plymouth - Ford comparison for 1933 was the introduction of Plymouth's first 6 cylinder engine. It was designed to compete directly with the Ford V-8 that was introduced in 1932. The first Ford V-8 engines were far from the best, especially in durability. They burned pistons like marshmallows at a campfire girls meeting, used tremendous amounts of oil from poor piston ring sealing, and threw water due to cooling jackets that surrounded and had to pass by the exhaust ports. They were also not as fast as people were lead to believe. Even in 1933, a good tuned Plymouth could wax a good tuned Ford V-8. Yes, believe it or not. The 189 cubic inch Plymouth 6 put out an honest 70 horsepower. Five more than the vaulted Ford V-8. Plymouth's 6 also had more low end torque, and as anybody in racing circles will tell you, torque wins the race. There was an optional aluminum head for the engine that boosted compression, and horsepower to 76. Wow!

What Ford gearheads would have you believe that it was the tremendous power of the Ford flathead V-8 that lead Police to buy the Ford cars. Maybe. More than likely it was the price that lead fleet buyers to the Fords. In 1933, Plymouth was priced at $630 for a 2 door coupe, over a $100 more than a comparable Ford. Chevrolet had a price of $490 for the same type of car. In 1933, Chevrolet was powered by its famous "stove bolt" 6 cylinder, overhead valve engine that produced 46 horsepower from 194 cubic inches. None of this would matter to Chrysler at the time because Plymouth was selling everything it could build while breaking production records in the process.

Remember that the Chrysler built engines were designed from the beginning to have fully pressurized engine lubrication, a reliable full pump delivery system, and a comprehensive water jacketing cooling system that kept overheating as a thing of the past in a Chrysler. A flathead six could be run for hours at wide open throttle with no fear of damage. That is what they were designed to do.

Ford's V-8 had the lubrication and cooling systems built in after the original design. Several test mule engines burned up on stands because of the lack of lubrication and cooling capacity. Henry Ford finally had to relent and let his engineers put oil, fuel and water pumps on the V-8 just to make in saleable. The durability was being built out on the production line while the customers were virtually test driving the V-8 for Henry!

Chevrolet had a good 6 cylinder engine, but it did not have a pressurized lubrication system, instead relying on a "splash" system. At high sustained speeds they just could not last.

There was one other area of concern for those fleet buyers that were thinking safety in 1933. Plymouth had the Lockheed hydraulic 4 wheel brakes as standard equipment. They needed no real special attention, and were easy to adjust as well as powerful in stopping ability. With the hydraulic step up, all four wheels received full braking in a even manner. Ford had mechanical brakes that required adjustment of rods. They were not as powerful, and easily became out of adjustment causing uneven braking problems. Chevrolet also had mechanical brakes with an archaic set of external contracting brakes on the rear and internal expanding brakes on the front. I suspect you had better had a good view of the road ahead with those beauties.

There were no breakouts for figures as to what cars went to fleet buyers in 1933. Chevrolet produced 485,367 cars. Ford built 312,507 cars. Plymouth built 298,557. Plymouth was billed as "phenomenal."

Performance figures didn't seem to be important in these years. Finding out how fast a car might go is difficult to research. If you believed the factory they were all like rockets, even in 1933. However, there are some bits and pieces. Some from places like England that give a glimmer of what these 1933 "low priced three" were capable of.

Since Ford always claimed to be so powerful, let's examine figures from the British magazine "Auto Guide." The Ford V-8 2 door made 40 miles an hour in 12.4 seconds. With an extra effort it ran out to 60 miles an hour in 29.7 seconds. Top speed was 83 miles an hour. Chevrolet wasn't even in the competition then. It took 17 seconds to get to 30! It was nearly 40 seconds to reach 60, and that nearly was its top speed at 65. Plymouth's coupe with the 70 horsepower six boomed out to 40 miles an hour in 11.9 seconds. It took 29 seconds to reach 60. It stopped pulling at 85 miles an hour. True? I don't know. That was 68 years ago!

Read the next installment, about the critical year of 1933... Thanks for your support……….by the way, if anyone has pictures, black and white or color, of any police or taxi that they can email to me or ALLPAR, we sure would like to have them. A short description would be nice too. Even museum cars are welcomed!

Ford V-8
2 door
ChevroletPlymouth Six
0 to 40 (seconds)12.41711.9
0 to 60 (seconds)29.73929.0
Top speed83 mph65 mph85 mph
Source: Auto Guide
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