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Vintage Police Car Show
The West Coast’s largest emergency vehicle show takes place each year in Ripon, CA on the first Saturday in October. About two hours east of San Francisco, this event attracts about 500 spectators a year to view the 75 to 100 perfect-condition vehicles on display and to peruse the police memorabilia at the badge and patch show, which is also a part of the event.
Co-sponsored by the Menlo Park, CA Police and the Ripon, CA Police, this nonprofit event has attracted participants from all over the United States and Canada. Proceeds of the event go to the Ripon Volunteers in Police, the Menlo Park Police Cadets, Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.), and the California Highway Patrol Museum.
New for the most recent event was the Cruise Night held at the nearby Sonic Drive-In, where the spectators could view the cars and informally chat with the owners over cheeseburgers and milkshakes. The following day at the mid-point of the show, all of the vehicles participated in a lights and siren parade that wound through Ripon. About half the city’s 14,000 people went out on the sidewalks to watch the passing emergency vehicles.
Richard Bull, chief of the Ripon Police Department, believes that the emergency vehicle show is a great family and community event. He also commented that the city that he serves is very pro-law enforcement.
Chris Boyd, chief of the Menlo Park Police Department, spoke highly of the efforts that Darryl Lindsay made in coordinating this annual event, which has the full support of the entire department. Lindsay, who has owned and restored several vintage police cars over the years, is a communications officer with the Menlo Park Police Department, serving since 1996.
This event has awards in several categories: best restored emergency vehicle, 1900-1969 and 1970-current, best novelty emergency vehicle, 1900-1969 and 1970-current, best D.A.R.E. vehicle, best specialty emergency vehicle, best motorcycle emergency vehicle, best in-service emergency vehicle, best volunteer emergency vehicle, best daily driver, best fire / ambulance and best military vehicle. Some classes are scrutinized by real subject matter judges. Other awards are based on the popular vote, i.e., the People’s Choice. Still others are the separate, personal choice of the two host police chiefs and the show host.
Police package vehicles differ from civilian vehicles. If one takes a standard sedan; paints it black and white, sticks on red lights and a siren, that is not a police vehicle, but it would probably be placed in the “Novelty” vehicle class. Police packages have been around since 1950 and have special electrical components, suspension, upgraded cooling systems, and in some cases, frame reinforcement to allow the police vehicle to endure the punishment that is often required of them. Thus a police package vehicle would be placed it in the “restored” category, unless it is of current vintage and would be placed in the “in service” class.
Vintage police package vehicles are not that plentiful because of the punishing conditions that they must endure. Some end up being wrecked or junked after serving their agency. The survivors may soldier on as family transportation or serve as a taxicab for a couple of additional years. Sadly, many were purchased by the hot-rod generation solely for the high-performance engine and transmission, with the rest of the body being junked. Obtaining a true police package vehicle and knowing the history of that vehicle is considered a true find these days.
The car owners are a mix of sworn law-enforcement officers and police car enthusiasts. An example of a civilian enthusiast is Kevin McLaughlin, who has owned several unique and rare law enforcement vehicles. One such car is a 1979 Chevrolet Camaro Z-28, the only one survivor of the original twelve ordered for the California Highway Patrol as a test to see the feasibility of using a “pony car” as a police vehicle. The results of this test program brought about the Mustang.
Mc Laughlin currently owns a 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont sedan, one of the few that has survived after service of patrolling California’s highways and freeways. One of his “daily drivers” is a former CHP S-70 Volvo. While never serving as a sworn officer, Kevin nonetheless loves police cars and brings his whole family out to these events.
Winner of the “Best of Show” was a 1940 Plymouth Business Coupe that served the city of Selma, CA. This was from the time before police package vehicles, when departments simply bought retail vehicles. Selma had two police cars in its fleet back then—one assigned to the chief and the other for patrol. It is assumed that the Plymouth served the department until after WWII, as new cars were impossible to obtain after 1942. After the Plymouth was retired, it was sold to a farmer who used it as a utility vehicle and then stored it in his barn until Michael Del Puppo, a sergeant with Selma P.D., discovered it and restored it.
This Plymouth is very interesting being that it is a business coupe with only a front seat. Maybe crime wasn’t that big of an issue as Selma only had a population of about 3,000 back then, and prisoner transportation wasn’t the issue that it is today. While this car had a factory AM radio, which would break up the monotony of long “graveyard” shifts, it was not equipped with a heater—and central California does get cold in the winter! Communications was another issue back then as only large departments had two-way radios. A red light on the city’s water tower, which is now long gone, signaled the officer to call the station for the next assignment.
Another interesting vehicle was a 1982 Chevrolet Camaro that served the Nevada Highway Patrol. It is now owned by NHP Trooper Jeff Leathley. Leathley, with more than 30 years of service with the NHP, was issued that car. Later when it was retired from service, Leathley bought it. Other such NHP cars owned by Leathley that have made an appearance at Ripon are an ex-NHP 1978 Plymouth Fury, and a 1953 ex-NHP Ford.
The San Jose, CA Police Department submitted an immaculate 1964 Plymouth Savoy four-door sedan that once served their city until it was auctioned off and bought by a sergeant with that department. Later the sergeant sold it to the San Jose Police Officer’s Association, which restored the Plymouth to the configuration of when it was in service. It is set up as serious police cars were back then: No air conditioning, power steering or brakes, powered by a 383ci, 4-barrel V-8 engine and push-button 3-speed automatic transmission. Department equipment includes a “period” radar unit.
The “big-block” era, when police cars had monster engines, was not forgotten. Several California Highway Patrol cruisers—383ci, 413ci, and 440ci big block Dodges were on display, as well as a couple of Oldsmobiles, a 390ci Ford Custom.
One car that had almost been continuously displayed ever since the show’s beginnings in 1991 is an immaculately restored 1961 Dodge Polara, owned by George Caravas, a retired California Highway Patrol Officer. In 1983, Caravas discovered the much-worse-for-wear Dodge sitting in a field serving as a doghouse.
About five years later, including a multitude of trips to area wrecking yards, the Polara was finally restored to the configuration of when it served the California Highway Patrol in Northern California. This Dodge has been on display at numerous CHP functions, shows, and parades. It has also had various roles in movies and TV shows.
Novelty cars included a 1946 Pontiac, a 1946 Ford, and a couple of sedans decked out as Los Angeles Police Department trim during the “Adam-12” era—a 1967 Plymouth Belvedere, and a 1972 AMC Matador. A U.S. Navy Shore Patrol Jeep and a 1943 white half-track represented the military entries.
For those looking for police memorabilia, photographs, books, badges, patches and emergency equipment there was also a swap meet at the event. Both the car show and the badge/patch swap are open to the public. Owners of any year of police vehicles are encouraged to attend…with their cars! For additional information, contact Darryl Lindsay at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Bellah has more than 25 years of experience in law enforcement and currently holds the rank of corporal with the California State University, Long Beach Police Department. Bellah restored a 1963 California Highway Patrol Dodge 880 back to the configuration of when it patrolled southern California in the mid-1960s.
Photos by Matt McLaughlin.
Published in Law and Order, Aug 2006
Rating : 8.7
Click to enlarge images.