Ever drive down Foothill Expressway with a Los Altos police car behind you? If so, you probably didn't notice what kind of car the officer was driving. For the record, it was a Crown Victoria.
With the demise of the Chevrolet Caprice and Impala, the Crown Vic is becoming one of America's favorite cop cars. Police say the Vic is roomy, durable and easy to handle.
"You can do just about anything with it, and it doesn't get away from you." said Noreen Sorg, Los Altos crime prevention officer. "The staff loves them because they can put in shot guns, the radio and the MDT and there is still plenty of room."
Police also like the Vic because it has balance, control in turning and powerful acceleration. Curb weight of the car is 3,927 pounds before all the police equipment is installed and that requires a working engine. The Vic comes with a 215 horsepower, 4.6 liter V8, though most police departments install high-powered engines at the factory. Los Altos police cars are equipped with a 327 horsepower engine.
Ford Motor Company claims it sold 55,100 Vics to police in 1997. Its closest rival, Chevrolet Lumina, sold 5,500 and the Ford Expedition SUV sold 2,500.
In general, auto makers take a small interest in selling cop cars since it's a fraction of what they sell to the consumer. However, Ford officials say they enjoy the dominance since police buy slightly more Vics than the public does.
In February, I drove a 1998 Vic in Florida, where the car is popular with retired people. The name Crown Victoria dates back to 1932, and many of those retired people have driven Fords for years.
Ford made changes in the Vic this year by redesigning the rear suspension for better stability and adding larger shock absorbers to reduce the body roll in hard cornering. Police requests influenced Ford to make the changes.
Ford has improved its brakes and power steering, and there is a firmer feel to the quality of the ride than the Fords I have driven in past years. This enhances the sense of control without compromising the cushy ride quality that is part of the Vic's appeal.
Space is the real strength of the Vic interior. Six people can easily be seated and there is more leg room behind the front seats. And there's lots of room for a prisoner in handcuffs to enjoy the scenery.
Ford dealers sell the Vic for a base price of about $21,540. A better equipped LX model starts at $23,740. A fully loaded Vic is close to $30,000.
You don't have to be a cop to like the Vic. It has a number of luxury options that other cars in the class have, but Ford seems to have a better product with a quiet operation, outstanding safety features, smooth ride, decent power and that big-car feel.
Comfort isn't everything as far as police are concerned. The roomy Vic is also their office on wheels since they spend an awful lot of time in them each day.
Every two years Los Altos puts their police cars up for auction. Even though the cars are stripped of police equipment, they still make an excellent buy for someone looking for a used car.