End of an Era: Farewell to the Legendary Crown Victoria Police Interceptor

October 14, 2022Mac Caltrider
After three decades of faithful service, the Crown Victoria Police Intercepter is quickly becoming extinct. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

After three decades of faithful service, the Crown Victoria Police Intercepter is quickly becoming extinct. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

Sitting in the worn-out driver’s seat of an old Crown Victoria is like sitting on your grandmother’s sofa. The faux-leather cushion sinks too low. There are rips in the padding. Reaching over for something in the passenger seat requires a small feat of gymnastics. But boy, is she comfortable.

Among police officers who spent many long shifts in the driver’s seat of a Crown Vic, its comfortable design was very much appreciated. Comfort, however, wasn’t all the iconic patrol car had to offer. She had a battle-tested V-8 engine and a huge trunk that could fit a shotgun, a rifle, a medical bag, traffic cones, a fire extinguisher, a spare tire, flares, extra clothes, and just about anything a cop might need when out on the road. Furthermore, she had a spacious, hard-plastic back seat for transporting prisoners and plenty of space in the passenger seat for a duty bag and maybe even a dozen doughnuts. Her long, low hood and engine compartment were ideal for pit maneuvers, and her suspension made it feel as if you were rolling over waves in a sailboat rather than over potholes in a car.

Unfortunately, in 2011, the production of Crown Victoria models of the Police Interceptor came to an end. Today, about three decades since the Crown Vic first hit the road to become the police car in the United States, it’s practically extinct.

Crown Vic

Los Angeles Sheriffs Department Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In 2020, the California Highway Patrol retired the last two Crown Vics in its fleet. In September 2022, Montana’s Lakeside Police Department scrapped its last remaining model, which, since 2008, had been used only as a mock speed trap, parked on the side of the road with a mannequin posing as a police officer at the wheel. In August 2022, Florida’s Bradenton Police Department announced that it was also putting its last Crown Vic out to pasture. These are just the latest examples of a nationwide trend of police departments phasing out the aging vehicle. As Crown Vics become more scarce, it's time to make peace with the Crown Vic's departure and give the car a fitting farewell.

“The Crown Vic has become iconic not because of its capabilities, but rather because of its longevity,” Officer Jeremy Stafford, a 20-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, told Coffee or Die Magazine. “It wasn’t as fast as the Chevrolet Caprice that it edged out for the turn of the century crown, but it handled well, and it proved far more durable.”

When you picture a police car or a taxicab in your mind, chances are you’re dreaming up a beautiful Vic. With 4,877 film appearances, it has had more camera time than any other vehicle in movie history. Perhaps that’s why, when drivers see that immediately recognizable grille in their rearview mirrors, they instinctively slow down, regardless of whether it's actually a cop car behind them or just an elderly driver with an affinity for timeless style.

Crown Vic NYPD

These are becoming increasingly hard to spot in NYPD colors, supplanted by legions of Fusion hybrids and a few new Taurus Police Interceptors. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Fans of the car have gone above and beyond to celebrate its existence. They have made YouTube documentaries and started regional car clubs strictly for Crown Vic owners. Someone even named a movie after it. But with aging hardware and a top speed of just 129 mph — a speed easily surpassed by many newer vehicles, especially ones with steering wheels that don’t violently shake once you’ve crossed the triple-digit threshold — why does the Crown Vic have so many fanatical supporters? Well, I guess you have to work in one to get it.

“I remember when I first saw one in 1999, I didn’t really like it. I thought it was too cramped and too slow,” Stafford said. “However, the Vic soon won me over because they worked all the time, and they had a plastic seat in the back, so the car didn’t smell like a filthy transient. Even back then, I knew you had to take the little victories.”

When I myself was a bright-eyed police recruit, eager to get my badge and go make a difference in the community, the recruiters happily showed off their new, gleaming Ford Explorers. They were spotless, tricked out with new LED light bars and rugged brush guards. They outshone any vehicle I’d ever owned. But of all the cars in the department’s fleet, I had my eye on its sole surviving Crown Vic. To me, that was a real cop’s car. To my delight, when we entered the driving phase of the police academy, I was handed the keys.

Even with my bulky gun belt, replete with a handheld radio, a baton, cuffs, pepper spray, and all the other cumbersome accouterments that get piled on today’s police officers, I was swallowed up like Jonah as soon as my ass hit that sweet faux-leather bench. When it was my turn to take her onto the skid pad (essentially a massive parking lot covered in standing water to create a slick driving surface), I was giddy with excitement. Intentionally taking the first turn a little too hard, I felt Victoria’s larger-than-average rear end swing wide. Overcorrecting, I rode that old Crown Vic right off the course. It felt great.

LAPD Crown Vic

A front-right view of a 1999-2002 Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, belonging to the Los Angeles Police Department's Panorama Mall Footbeat. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Ultimately, I learned to steer the unruly sedan and passed the skid pad. The other portions of the driving instruction — a high-speed course, urban chase, and a “skills” test involving cones and tight maneuvers — revealed why modern police cars like Explorers, Tauruses, and Chargers are superior to the Crown Vic in every way except style.

“The newer cars are all-wheel drive. They have taller compartments that can fit a patrol rifle next to the driver rather than in the trunk, and they’re all-around more customizable and accessible,” Officer Tyler Newberry of the Baltimore County Police Department told Coffee or Die. “They’re moving in the right direction by making vehicles more purpose-built for police work.”

It’s true that, for all its glory and swagger, the Crown Vic is simply no longer up to the job. It doesn’t handle poor road conditions well, it doesn’t offer officers much protection in serious traffic collisions, and because of the fact that Crown Vics are no longer in production, maintenance has become exceedingly costly. But as these vestiges of a bygone police era fade from the rearview mirror, we should remember them for the beautiful, tireless workhorses that they were. We salute you, Crown Victoria. Thanks for your faithful service.

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Mac Caltrider
Mac Caltrider

Mac Caltrider is a senior staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. He served in the US Marine Corps and is a former police officer. Caltrider earned his bachelor’s degree in history and now reads anything he can get his hands on. He is also the creator of Pipes & Pages, a site intended to increase readership among enlisted troops. Caltrider spends most of his time reading, writing, and waging a one-man war against premature hair loss.

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