A company in England has started to import genuine ex-police Crown Victoria P71 ‘Interceptors’ to prowl the streets of the UK.
The fully marked-up patrol cars, complete with 250bhp 4.6-litre V8 engine, are fitted with lights and sirens and retain all of the equipment that makes them the most popular police vehicle in the world. So they still have the Ford F150 pickup truck’s heavy-duty suspension that enables them to pursue fleeing felons across all terrain. They retain their original specification Goodyear ‘Pursuit’ tyres, vehicle-mounted adjustable spotlight, stab-resistant front seats and vinyl-covered rears. In short, they are the real McCoy.
USA Cop Cars Ltd., based in Maidstone, England, is the brainchild of Managing Director Lindsay Groves. After selling a former business a few years ago he got bored with early retirement and looked around for a new project. Being a regular visitor to the United States he was familiar with the iconic Interceptors that many US law enforcement agencies use and wondered what happened to them when they were pensioned off. He was told that they cannot be sold in the USA and, after long and tortuous research, discovered how he could import them and make them fully road legal in the Great Britain.
He now offers cars that are no more than three years old and have fewer than 75,000 miles on the odometer for an on-the-road price of between £23-28,000 ($37-45,000, €26-31,000) depending on the exact specification that the customer asks for. “We can fit any colour scheme or markings that the customer asks for”, he says, “although we won’t fit anything that isn’t legal.” That means that you can’t have the word ‘Police’ on it anywhere, or flashing blue lights. That still leaves plenty to chose from, though.
Lindsay says that he has had a lot of interest from companies wanted to use the cars as a promotional tool as well as those wanting to offer an alternative to a limousine for a night out. “But”, he adds, “they make great everyday cars too.”
So I lived with one for a few days to see whether he’s right and can report that yes, they are remarkably easy to live with as a commuting and shopping car.
The first, and biggest obstacle, for many, will be the fact that the Interceptor is only available in left-hand drive, just as Ford intended. However, for city use, I didn’t find that it was a problem at all; in fact, it was a boon sometimes as it allows you sight lines that others didn’t and when I pulled up to the kerb I could slip out of the car safely straight onto the pavement. You do need caution on other roads if you want to overtake, but you soon learn to compensate and I never felt that it was a problem.
The cloth front seats are very wide, flat and surprisingly comfortable. The space between the front seats is dominated by a huge console that is filled with switches and the controls for the PA system and there are four cup-holders up front providing plenty of storage space for an early morning coffee boost. It looks great and the interior feels workmanlike, like that of a Land Rover Defender. You are reminded that this car is a tool, not a toy, and reliability and functionality are, quite literally, life saving traits. The rear seat (vinyl, remember, so they are easy to keep clean) is wide enough to fit three full-size child seats on it and it has three full seat belts and huge rear leg room for them as they get older.
The boot is huge and easily swallows a week’s shopping or luggage for a two-week holiday. It is home to a full-size spare wheel too, which is a real benefit should you have a puncture in a remote location or when diverting from your journey to buy a new tyre would be a serious inconvenience.
It’s a safe car too, fitted with three-point seatbelts all round (the front ones are fitted with pre-tensioners), dual-stage airbags, a driver’s seat position sensor, and restraint control module. These features, combined with the car’s general construction, make it is the only car in the world to pass the federal American road safety organisation’s 75-mph rear-end crash test without a fuel tank puncture. It has also earned NHTSA’s highest crash test safety rating – 5 Stars – for the driver and front passenger for 13 years in a row between 1996 and 2008.
The big lazy V8 engine and automatic gearbox made town driving a doddle, although my fuel consumption did slip to 20mpg while I had it, not helped by the ‘mere’ 250bhp on offer. Mere? Well, it does weigh 1911kgs so the 0-60 speed of 8.5 seconds isn’t brilliant but it is respectable. The top speed is a limited 129mph (Ford claim 140mph is possible) and whilst I didn’t exceed 70mph but it felt very stable and secure at motorway cruising speeds with ample in reserve for A-road overtaking.
The key to making decent progress in the big Crown Vic isn’t via the throttle; it’s to be smooth. If you load the tyres slowly and give the softly-sprung chassis time to absorb the weight transfer and settle down and then apply the power progressively it’s a quick car; if you are brutal with the throttle the three-speed (plus overdrive) automatic gearbox will slush around for a while until it finds a ratio that it’s happy with. The brakes felt uninspiring but always worked effectively enough, although some of that may well have been warped front discs on my car.
Other road users were very positive about the big Crown Vic too, letting me out of side junctions with a smile. Indeed, wherever I went I got the thumbs-up from other drivers, pedestrians and cyclists alike which made city driving a joy rather than a chore. (In the spirit of our editorial policy I must confess that I was called a ‘wanker’ once too.)
The ‘alley lights’ on the roofbar are more fun than is appropriate and the hand-controlled driver’s spotlight makes hunting down bad guys (or annoying your wife and kids) easy. Sadly, British law means that you can’t have flashing blue lights or the word ‘Police’ on it so Lindsay fits steady-state red ones. You can flick them on and off pretty quickly though…
So how does the Ford Crown Victoria P71 Interceptor stack up as an everyday family car? Well, it’s safe, spacious, comfortable and reliable. Its performance is strong and it handles well. Your children will love its looks and the gadgets.
Running costs should be broadly in line with similarly sized UK cars like the Ford Mondeo, and the simplicity and familiarity of the oily bits mean that any competent mechanic would be able to service and repair it. For extra piece of mind you get a free 15-month warranty when you buy one and USA Cop Cars keep many of the Interceptor-specific parts that you might need in stock so that you can be confident that you won’t be stranded for want of spares.
If you can live with the fuel consumption, and are in the market for something a bit different, then the Interceptor has an awful lot going for it as an iconic, large family saloon. If you are shy you could order a plain vanilla one in dark blue but given the positive reactions of everyone around you when they see it why not go the whole hog and treat yourself to an NYPD or State Trooper-liveried original?
Like: Uber-cool wafting and massive presence
Dislike: Handling could be sharper
Summary: If you are a fan of US-cars then no car is more iconic.
Favourite Fact: The boot has an internal release, just in case you are bundled in there and taken hostage (and there is plenty of room in there for even the stoutest cop). The boot release handle is a flat luminous green piece of plastic with two outlines cut into it; one is the image of the boot opening and the second is an outline of a figure running away. Genius humour and attention to detail is what makes the Interceptor such a great car.
Images: © Carlton Boyce 2011