Special Report

Most Iconic American Police Cars

popo.uw23 / Flickr

The days of the typical cop walking the beat in American city streets are long gone. Today’s police forces need to be mobile to combat crime, and they depend on automobiles specifically outfitted for law enforcement operations to get the job done.

The first police car was a wagon, patrolling the streets of Akron, Ohio, in 1899. It operated on electricity, had a top speed of 16 mph, and had to be recharged every 30 miles. With the advent of the combustion engine in cars in the early 20th century, police turned to the Ford Model T — one of the most iconic cars from history — beginning a more than 100-year association between law enforcement and the car company. 

24/7 Wall St. has compiled a list of cars that have been used as police vehicles. We used sources such as autowise.com, jalopnik.com, and sillman.com to create our list.

Click here to see the cars that have been used as police vehicles

There are four types of cars law enforcement forces employ: A police car used for normal duties of officers that enables them to respond to emergencies; A response car that can go faster and has audible and visual warnings; A traffic car used to enforce traffic laws and regulations; A sport utility vehicle utilized for off-road needs that carries more equipment than a standard car and can transport K-9 units.

The vehicles police have driven have varied, depending on their needs and the financial resources of the municipalities they served at the time. The Ford LTD and Chevrolet Caprice were smaller cars, reflecting the reduced city budgets of the 1970s and 1980s. Durability was one of the features of the Dodge Diplomat, in service in the 1980s. High performance was crucial for combating crime, and starting in the 1980s police chose pursuit vehicles such as muscle car legend Chevrolet Camaro as well as the iconic Ford Mustang, immortalized in movies such as “Bullitt.” These are most iconic cars in film.

1. Ford Model T

The Ford Model T, which put America on the road in the early 20th century, was snapped up by police departments for the same reason Americans bought the car — its affordability. The vehicle was equipped with a four-cylinder engine, and its speed topped out at about 45 mph.


Source: Howard Cheng / Flickr

2. Ford Model B

The Ford Model B was introduced in 1932, and police departments, whose budgets were constrained because of the Great Depression, purchased the inexpensive vehicle with its revolutionary flathead V8 engine for their fleets.

Source: Jason Lawrence / Flickr

3. Ford Interceptor

Ford first used the name “Interceptor” on a 1951 model with flathead v8 engine. The name has been used on Ford police models for more than 70 years.

4. Chevrolet Bel-Air

The police edition of the Chevy Bel-Air was a common sight on streets in the mid-1950s. The Bel Air was known more for its styling and less for its practicality. It was powered by a juiced-up version of the 265ci small-block V8.


Source: Lars-Göran Lindgren / Wikimedia Commons

5. Ford Fairlane

Style and power were the hallmarks of the Ford Fairlane, which police departments started using in the mid-1950s. The Fairlane was boosted by its powerful 292ci Thunderbird V8 engine, whose power eventually increased to 300 horsepower. The vehicle was among the biggest-selling cars in the 1950s.

6. Dodge Coronet

The Coronet first came into police service in 1956, was taken out of service three years later, and returned in 1965 and served for a full decade. The 1970 model was powered by a 440ci V8, overmatching rivals on the road. The car appeared in the 1974 film “Gone in 60 Seconds.”


Source: Tino Rossini / Wikimedia Commons

7. Chrysler Enforcer

In the early 1960s, Chrysler produced its last official police package — vehicles outfitted specifically for police needs — in the Chrysler Enforcer, which was modeled on the Chrysler Newport. Police forces in Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana were among the buyers of the car. The vehicle was used for several years by police forces before it was taken out of service.

8. Dodge Polara

The Polara was a favorite of police departments all across the United States starting in the 1960s, and it was produced until 1973. Its fuselage design made it one of the more appealing cars of the era. It also had zip. The 1969 Polara Pursuit, powered by a 440ci V8 engine and single four-barrel carburetor, with horsepower of 375, could reach 60 mph in 6.3 seconds, and its speed topped out at 149.6 mph. That speed would not be exceeded by a police cruiser for another 37 years.

9. Ford LTD

Police departments began buying smaller vehicles in the 1970s and adopted the Ford LTD as part of that initiative.


Source: Greg Gjerdingen / Wikimedia Commons

10. AMC Matador

AMC cars were chosen by police departments in the early 1970s, and the Matador was probably the most sought-after. It was used by the Los Angeles Police Department during that time. The car had a 401ci V8 that could reach 60 mph in seven seconds, and it topped out at 125 mph. The LAPD ceased orders of the Matador in 1974 because styling changes boosted body weight and hurt reliability.

11. Chevrolet Nova 9c1

The Nova 9c1 was the result of a collaboration between the engineers who built the Chevy Camaro and the Nova. It was the most popular compact police vehicle of the 1970s and has been called the “ultimate police car.” The car had a 350-cid V-8 and could reach 165 mph.


Source: porkypig / Flickr

12. Dodge Diplomat

The Diplomat, which closely resembled the Plymouth Gran Fury, was produced from 1980 to 1989. Originally a compact vehicle, the Diplomat packed a 318 V-8, and some models had a 360 engine, with two or four barrel carburetors. The cars were not as powerful as previous police vehicles, but they were lighter and were durable, and they prowled the streets of New York City in the 1980s. Cost-conscious municipalities chose the two-barrel 318s over the gas-guzzling four-barrel carburetors.

Source: porkypig / Flickr

13. Plymouth Volare

In the early 1980s, design mattered less to police departments, which opted for the frills-free Plymouth Volare. The 1980 Plymouth Volare Police Pursuit Sedan had a 359.9 cui engine and could go from 0 to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds

14. Ford Mustang Police Special

The Mustang became one of the true American car icons in the 1960s, and police departments used the pony car extensively starting in 1982. The light-bodied vehicles were used to enforce speeding laws on interstates. Special service police vehicles came equipped with a 5-liter V-8 engine, automatic transmissions, automatic trans fluid coolers, and engine oil coolers.


15. Chevrolet Caprice

The Chevrolet Caprice went into police service in the 1970s as police departments were downsizing the physical size of their vehicles.

Source: Raymond Wambsgans / Wikimedia Commons

16. Chevrolet Camaro Z28 B4C

The Chevy Camaro B4C was one of the quickest cars ever used by American police departments, coming into service in the early 1990s. The car’s builders took the iconic muscle car Camaro and added the best parts of a Z28 into a lower-level Camaro. The California Highway Patrol used them for pursuit vehicles, and this vehicle and the Mustang dominated the special pursuit market that decade.


Source: 152930510@N02 / Flickr

17. Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor

The Ford Crown Victoria has been a ubiquitous police vehicle in the United States since it was introduced 1992.

18. Dodge Charger

Michigan police were big fans of this muscle car, which went into service in 2006. The Charger succeeded the Coronet as the go-to car for police, who appreciated its striking good looks and intimidating headlights in the Hemi-powered vehicle that produced 340 horsepower at first and expanded to 370.

19. Ford Taurus

The Taurus displaced the Ford Crown Victoria as the vehicle of choice for police departments in 2012. Police forces adopted the Taurus as a patrol car, and it was called the Police Interceptor Sedan. It featured all-wheel drive, a rearview camera, and a reverse sensing system.

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