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Farewell to Ford Crown Vic Police Interceptor

The Dodge Diplomat, and its twin sister, the Plymouth Gran Fury, absolutely dominated the police market from 1982 to 1989.

From 1990 to 1996, the most popular police car on the road was the Chevrolet Caprice. The Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor (CVPI) has had a much longer reign.

From 1997 to 2011, for 15 straight years, the Ford CVPI has been America’s Police Car. Sure, there have been competitors—V6 FWD sedans, small V8 SUVs, large V8 RWD sedans—but the Ford CVPI retires from law enforcement with arguably an 80 percent market share. It had “adequate” power and gobs of room for officers, prisoners and gear.

The Ford CVPI, built at the St. Thomas Assembly Plant near London, Ontario, Canada, goes out of production at the end of August 2011. While the Crown Victoria, and its twin sister, the Mercury Marquis, have been retail sedans for decades, after the 2007 model year, the Crown Victoria was only sold to police, fire and taxi fleets.

It was the dominant police car, perhaps the definitive police car, so why halt production? Many reasons: The body-on-frame platform was aging technologically. Retail sales were declining. A series of NHTSA federal safety regulations made it more and more costly to update. The push was on for smaller, lighter, more fuel efficient sedans.

All of these issues are related to retail sales, of course. Police cars always have, and always will, come from the ranks of retail cars. When the ratio of police sales to retail sales nears 50:50, the low bid fleet cars simply cannot support an entire assembly plant along with updated drivetrains and safety improvements. This fatal fleet-retail ratio was reached with the Diplomat. Then it happened with the Caprice. And it finally happened with the Crown Victoria. In fact, for the past few years, the Ford ratio was all fleet and zero retail.

Panther Platform

The Panther platform is Ford’s full-size, rear-wheel-drive, sedan platform. It was introduced on the 1979 models. In the late-1970s, Chevrolet, Dodge and Ford all greatly downsized their largest police sedans in response to fuel economy concerns. All of the long (i.e., 120- to 124-inch) wheelbase sedans were history, and all of the big block (i.e., 440- to 460-cubic inch) V8s were dropped. In their place were “mid-size” sedans powered by small V8s.

The Panther platform (1979-2011) has been used longer than any other automotive platform in North America. The sedans produced on this platform fall into three generations. The first gen cars were the 1979-1991 Ford LTD, Mercury Marquis and Lincoln Continental. The badge “Crown Victoria” was added to the LTD in 1983 with a restyling. The name “LTD” was dropped after 1991. This generation of the Crown Victoria was the last American car to use a carburetor—all other engines at the time were some form of throttle-body fuel injection.

The second gen cars (1992-1997) were greatly re-styled and re-engineered. These were among the first police cars to use a driver’s airbag, the first to use four-wheel disc brakes, and among the first to use anti-lock brakes.

What really made the news in 1992 was the new “modular” 4.6L SOHC V8. This replaced both the 5.0L (302 ci) V8 and the 5.8L (351 ci) V8. Single Over Head Cam engines were totally new to both law enforcement and fleet maintenance. The Ford CVPI would retire in 2011 using this same exact engine, despite police pleas for more powerful versions, i.e., 3-valve 4.6L V8, 4-valve Marauder V8, or 5.4L SOHC V8. Horsepower from the 4.6L engine would be steadily bumped from 210 hp in 1992 to 235 hp and then to 250 hp, but the basic engine remained unchanged.

The Crown Victoria was significantly restyled and had some suspension tweaks in 1998. Most police car enthusiasts, PFM editors among them, would argue the third gen Panthers started in 1998. Others place the generation change in 2003 with the new hydro-formed frame, the overhauled front and rear suspension, and the rack-and-pinion steering replacing the recirculating ball. In 1999, the formal name of the police package version, the badged name, was changed to “Police Interceptor.”

The 2003 model was also the first year for the Mercury Marauder with the 4-valve 4.6L V8 but the surcharge versus expected take-rate to develop that engine for the police Crown Victoria was just too high. As a side note, the entire Mercury brand was dropped after 2010.

So, just how perfect was the Ford CVPI for police use? Ford has developed two new Police Interceptors to take the place of the old one. One PI is based on the Taurus sedan and another PI is based on the Explorer crossover. On the other hand, both these new police vehicles will outperform the older Ford CVPI in all aspects of acceleration, braking and cornering—while getting much better fuel economy. The Sedan Police Interceptor and the Utility Police Interceptor will be available in very early 2012.

Panther, after 33 years in police work, and 15 years as Chief, enjoy your retirement!

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Jul/Aug 2011

Rating : 9.2

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