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CASTROL CHINTHE AWARD FOR AUTOMOTIVE WRITING

Entry Number 3: A Police Car named Intrepid

(Originally appeared in The Toronto Star Wheels section)

 

The Driver’s Seat

by Jim Kenzie

 

Dodge Intrepid Police car

 

“Increases my paranoia, like looking in the mirror and seeing a PO-lice car...’‘ - David Crosby, “Almost Cut my Hair’‘.

 

Didn’t seem to happen to all drivers while I was in the Chrysler Intrepid Police car - they still blew by me at 150-plus.

I sure slow down whenever I see ANY white car, roof lights or no.

Maybe the true scofflaws KNOW that cop cars are Ford Crown Vickies or Chevy Impalas. They knew this one isn’t real - not yet, anyway.

Maybe they could see the “DaimlerChrysler Fleet Operations’‘ decals on the side - in which case they’ve got better eyes than I do.

Or maybe they just don’t pay attention - to any car.

Chrysler used to rule the police car business. I remember a late-night race car tuning session at a friend’s house in Weston that brought a visit from the Toronto constabulary. Seems some of the neighbours didn’t appreciate 6 grand at 1 a.m.

The officer did what he had to do, but soon we were talking cars. In those days, there were six Dodges patrolling the Don Valley and Gardiner. Five of them had slant-sixes - with the roof lights, extra weight and all, they were hard-pressed to do 100 km/h, let alone chase a Camaro.

Feelin’ lucky? Make a run for it.

And hope you didn’t draw the sixth cruiser - the one with the 440 Magnum V8 six-pack...

Various Dodge, Plymouth, Chrysler, even DeSoto models have been used for police work over the years. Even something called a Plymouth Crusader which, like the Intrepid, was built in Canada.

(Ironic, or co-incidence? Crown Vickies and Impalas are built here too. Maybe it has something to do with that preamble to the British North America Act, which refers to “peace, order and good government’‘. Two out of three ain’t bad.)

They’ve been out of the game for twelve years, but are coming back with a vengeance.

OK, with an Intrepid...

The police Intrepid has the high-output 3.5 litre single overhead camshaft V6, also used in the civilian Intrepid R/T model, producing 244 horsepower and 250 lb.-ft. of torque.

The electrical system is beefed up, and additional power outlets provided to handle all the electrical equipment the modern copper needs - not just lights and siren, but computers, radar gun, various radios and communications systems.

Engine oil, transmission and power steering fluids all have additional coolers, and the main cooling system is also enhanced.

The suspension is firmer, the brakes heavy-duty, and fat 225/60R16 Goodyear RS/A tires are fitted to chunky black steel wheels.

It looks pretty cool.

Gigantic adjustable spot lamps, bright enough for night baseball, are fitted to each windshield post. Very handy for scaring the bejeezus out of pedestrians, or finding addresses in the dark.

The fun stuff is inside, on the centre console (it’s been a while since I was in a new car with a column-shift automatic). A bank of switches lets you play with the roof lights - front, rear, both, strobe, red-white-blue - a regular Fourth of July deal. Just the thing to let Lady Leadfoot know I’m home early for supper.

And the siren - there are settings for “wail’‘, “yelp’‘, and “pier’‘ - the latter presumably standing for “piercing’‘, because it really is.

Or you can play with the air horn and rise-and-fall siren manually.

Keen.

But the best part is the PA system. “JUST HAND OVER THE DOUGHNUTS AND NOBODY GETS HURT.’‘

Geez - I shouldn’t perpetuate false stereotypes. Last time I went on a drunk driving spot check with the O.P.P., most of the officers at the so-called “coffee break’‘ ordered bottled water and low-fat muffins. These guys are buff...

I was very careful not to get carried way with all the attitude-correction power potential of this car - “Impersonating an officer’‘ isn’t something I want on my CV.

But I did see a guy in a black pick-up towing a trailer on the 401, blissfully unaware that his left turn signal was flashing.

He just about jumped out of his truck when he heard me mention it to him - but he DID switch it off...

The front bucket seats are covered with tough cloth, the rear seat is puke-proof vinyl. The rear interior door handles and window switches are deactivated - once you’re in there, you’re IN there. My car didn’t have a front/rear partition installed, but cars equipped for real cops would.

I had driven an regular Intrepid R/T for a week prior to the PO-lice version, just to establish a benchmark. This is a BIG car, which I’m sure will make it a favourite for police officers. These guys tend to be big anyway, and with all the paraphernalia they carry, they need all the space they can get.

(Dave Cooper, The Star’s photo editor, told me that some cops told him that because they’re laden down with all this gear, it’s sometimes awkward to reach out and grab the arm rest to close the door. So they push the door out with their left foot, it rebounds against the door stop and slams itself shut. And they wonder why those hinges get sprung all the time...).

The police car rides a lot stiffer than the base car, but handles very well - not that the base car doesn’t.

The engine won’t make anyone forget that 440 Magnum, but it gets the car down the road plenty quick.

And nobody can outrun a radio.

The Intrepid police package has been through the evaluation processes of the Michigan and California Highway Patrols, which apparently are the Consumers’ Reports of police cars - if these guys say it’s OK, then other police forces tend to take their word for it.

You can’t have one - police departments only, I’m afraid. Bit of a shame, because at $29,545, this is a hell of a car. That includes the heavy-duty gear and the spotlights, but the lights/siren package, supplied by Whelen, is another $4,300 or so.

And what fun would it be without that PA system?

So next time you see an Intrepid with roof lights, ignore it at your peril.

It might not be a security guard.

It might not be a car writer.

It could be the real thing.

As David Crosby might have added, just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean you aren’t being followed

- 30 -

 

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