The Greatest American Police Cars From Auto History
In America, the average cop car is a tuned version of a family sedan. Cars like the Chevrolet Caprice are most likely to be cop cars in the States because they blend into the landscape to the point that drivers may overlook them while motoring along. That isn’t the case everywhere. Many cities and countries use exotic cars, instead. Dubai, one of the wealthiest cities in the world, employs some of the most extreme examples of super-powered cop cars imaginable.
The greatest American cop cars have had oversized engines with high output and plenty of torque. In some cases, these cars have become synonymous with television shows. Think of old favorites like The Dukes of Hazzard, The Andy Griffith Show, and CHiPs. You can almost see the cop cars featured in those shows in your mind’s eye.
We built our list by looking at pursuit cop cars and your everyday radio car. In most instances, pursuit cars and radio cars share the same body style, but pursuit cars offer more beef where it counts — horsepower and torque. The cars are fast and strong, just the way many American drivers prefer their transportation.
1. 1950s Chevrolet Bel Air
In the 1950s, one of the most popular American police cars was the Chevrolet Bel Air. Forward-leaning with huge headlamps, the 1950s Chevy Bel Air cop car looked ready to pounce. Police issue Bel Airs were powered by tuned versions of the 265 cubic inch engine found in the showroom models until 1957, when the bigger 283 became available. You can almost feel a shudder imagining how one of these American icons would look with a cherry turning on top.
2. Ford Fairlane
One of the most widely-used American police cars of the late 1950s and early 1960s was the Ford Fairlane. Pictured above is a 1960 Ford Fairlane used by the Sarasota County Sheriff Department. A Ford Fairlane was the only squad car used during the first two seasons of The Andy Griffith Show. The Ford Fairlane offered the police the combination of a low initial sticker price and a durable big block engine — a duo that few departments could resist.
3. Dodge Polara Pursuit
The Dodge Polara endured as a pursuit cop car for several years. It did not enjoy the high demand of the Chevrolet Bel Air or the Ford Fairlane, but Polaras did boast very powerful engines. The 1965 Dodge Polara pursuit cop car was powered by a 413 cubic inch V8 — more than enough power to chase down any criminal. Not satisfied with a 413, Dodge turned to a 440 Magnum for the 1969 Polara pursuit car. Imagine being pursued by a cop car with 375 horsepower and a rated top speed of 147 miles per hour. Better yet, imagine buying one after it was decommissioned!
4. 1970 Dodge Coronet
Dodge built several distinguished American police cars. The 1970 Dodge Coronet may be one of the more iconic. Powered by a hard-to-kill Magnum 440 (like the 1969 Dodge Polara), the Coronet featured a grille and headlight area that looked like it was squinting in concentration, almost as if it was daring a speeder to run.
5. Plymouth Gran Fury
The Plymouth Gran Fury was a sedate family sedan in its more pedestrian iteration, but as a police car, it looked all business. The Michigan State Police used the Gran Fury for several years and each car looked stunning in its blue uniform and single round cherry. The Plymouth Gran Fury may have lacked the power of a Dodge Coronet or Polara, but the powertrain included a solidly built 318 cubic inch V8 that often outlasted the car’s usefulness.
6. Chevrolet Caprice
The Chevrolet Caprice found popular use as a cop car at various times. The Chevrolet Caprice 9C1, built during the fourth generation, may be the best-known example. There are many reasons they were popular cop cars. First among them was that the base cars had a powertrain that featured a de-tuned Corvette LT1 engine with just 40 fewer horsepower than a Corvette of the same model year.
7. Ford Mustang
The Ford Mustang did not find a wide audience as a police car, but it should have. Ford placed a high-performance version of its 5.0 liter V8 in a notchback Mustang body. The Fox Body Mustang may have looked sharper as a cop car, but why quibble? The Michigan State police used several like the one pictured above as pursuit cars in the 1980s.
8. 1970s Chevrolet Nova
The 1970s Chevrolet Nova is sought after for many reasons. The 1970s two-door coupes can make for great project cars and hotrods. The four-door sedans are also sought after by cop car enthusiasts. The engineers responsible for the base Nova and the Chevrolet Camaro collaborated to drop a 350 cubic inch V8 mated to a three-speed automatic gearbox into Nova cop cars. Bringing just 165 horsepower to bear, you wouldn’t think that Nova cop cars were very quick, until you consider how compact and light Nova sedans are.
9. Dodge Monaco
The Dodge Monaco may be one of the most famous American police cars because it was featured as the pursuit car during most chase scenes in The Dukes of Hazzard television series. These classics were powered by a 440 cubic inch V8 with a four-barrel carburetor. The top-performing Monaco pursuit cop cars generated 230 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque. These were mighty cars to be dealt with.
10. Dodge Charger
Dodge Charger cop cars seem to dominate the modern landscape. The angry looking headlights and the aggressive Hemi engine are enough to melt the heart of many a purchasing agent. According to a Car and Driver review, 2015 Dodge Charger cop cars are capable of jumping to 60 miles per hour in just 5.2 seconds. Further enticing police agencies is the great handling characteristics of the Dodge Charger.
11. Ford SVT Raptor
One of the toughest American cop cars may not be a cop car at all, but an American police truck. When the United States Border Patrol needs a tough truck, it turns to the Ford SVT Raptor. After all, when you have to tackle mean terrain, you want a durable truck that can be easily modified for high-performance.