Doane Yawger: Big Ford police cruisers being put out to pasture in Merced, elsewhere

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comDecember 12, 2013 

— For nearly 15 years, Ford’s Crown Victoria has been the predominant police car over much of the United States, Merced included, and its looks didn’t change much at all during that time. The ever-present Police Interceptor model hasn’t been produced in about two years and may be giving way soon to newer models of law enforcement vehicles.

The Crown Victorias were produced at a Ford plant in Canada up to the fall of 2011 and production was almost exclusively reserved for fleet sales as opposed to individual consumers. They got dog dish hubcaps and definitely were more Spartan than the few you see driven by average folks.

So if you enjoy seeing those familiar Fords but maybe not up too close, look for them while you can because auto times are a-changin’ – even for law enforcement.

The Crown Vic is due to be replaced soon by Chevrolet sedans with the Merced Police Department and Ford sport-utility models are showing up with both the Merced County Sheriff's Department and the California Highway Patrol. Police agencies in Stanislaus and Fresno counties have been using four-door Dodge Charger sedans for several years now.

Even when they are worn out and law enforcement agencies buy newer, fresher models, we’ll still see some of these big Fords running around town for quite some time.

After they are auctioned off, they often show up as local taxis, get a new paint job and roll up even more miles hauling revenue-producing passengers. Others end up as “civilian” vehicles, many times still wearing at least part of their original livery, minus the decals, light bars and sirens. They look like Holsteins put out to pasture.

I know at least one former Merced Police Department cruiser that gave up its engine, chassis pieces, dashboard, seat, other upholstery and electronics for a 1956 Ford F-100 pickup truck and undoubtedly there are others. Some of them get wrecked and others succumb to engine fires.

Almost all of them rack up more than 100,000 miles on their odometers, so clearly their days are numbered.

The big Fords even showed up in a motor oil TV commercial recently. After shots of police cars responding to emergencies, we see a mechanic in a garage putting in oil reserved for high-mileage cars and then applying decals meant for taxis.

In the background is the grease monkey’s own ride, a close cousin to the Crown Vics. He has a Mercury Marauder sedan that featured a big high-performance motor and police-type suspension. Mercury, of course, has gone the way of the Pontiac and Oldsmobile in current product lineups.

A few people collect vintage police cars but the Crown Vics still are relatively new –outdated but not yet vintage. Surely someone has a sense of history to make sure samples are preserved for posterity.

In years past, the CHP flirted with Buicks, Plymouths and Oldsmobiles as cruisers. Maybe they’ll put one of their Crown Vics in a museum so people can remember what they drove when the 21st century was new.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsuntar.com.

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