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The urban myth is that American cop cars are packed with a mysterious collection of performance parts that eclipse anything you can find at your local dealer. In reality, history's highest-performing cop cars are certainly quick, even if their ultimate performance is a little less dramatic than the lore would suggest.
2006–2013 Dodge Charger Police Package
When the Corvette-powered Caprice ended production in 1996, fans of high-performance cop cars were left with nothing but the lame-duck 250-hp Ford Crown Vic "Police Interceptor." Although popular then, and still today, the Crown Vic can intercept a truck filled with doughnuts and not much else. Without no rear-drive competition from Chrysler or Chevrolet, Ford owned upward of 80 percent of the police car market for years.
Then, in 2005, Dodge launched the new Charger, a rear-drive, Hemi V-8 muscle sedan. Just one year later, the Police Package arrived to strike fear into the heart of every speeder. The best of the early ones had a 340-hp V-8 and could hit 60 mph in 6 seconds flat. Today's even more powerful 370-hp Charger Police Package does the deed in 5.3 seconds and looks meaner than ever thanks to its menacing prow.
1983–1993 Ford Mustang SSP
In the early 1980s, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) requested a high-performance police package car that could reel in the perps at serious highway speeds. The result was the 1982 CHP Mustang—essentially Mustang GT components in the Mustang's most conservative notchback bodywork.
In 1983, the Special Service Package Mustang (same basic car) went into national use. Under the hood was the legendary 5.0-liter V-8 paired to a 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual. The quickest ones came in 1990–1993, when Ford had its speedometers certified right up to 160 mph. Ford made about 15,000 of these awesome cop cruisers. Today, well-used SSP Mustangs are the perfect project-car platform.
1969 Dodge Polara Pursuit
Chrysler practically owned the market for cop cars in the performance-heavy 1960s. The 1965 Dodge Polara Pursuit, for example, packed the mighty 413-cid V-8 that could do a quarter-mile in just 15 seconds, very quick for the time. But the real monster came a few years later.
The 1969 Polara, with the 375-hp 440 Magnum under the hood, was a beast. It was like a four-door Plymouth Road Runner muscle car in plain clothes. According to the book Dodge, Plymouth & Chrysler Police Cars 1956–1978 by Edwin J. Sanow and John L. Bellah, the '69 Polara Pursuit for decades held the record for quickest top speed of any Chrysler cop car at the company's Chelsea Proving Grounds high-banked oval—147 mph. That's a remarkable speed for an American sedan today, much less one from the '60s.
1991–2002 Chevrolet Camaro B4C
Chevy was not content to allow Ford to own the special pursuit market with the SSP Mustang. So the company developed a hot version of the Camaro expressly for high-performance police duty. The package, code name B4C, was basically a Z/28 Camaro hidden in the bodywork of a lower-performance RS Camaro.
The 1991–1992 B4C cars came at the tail end of the 3rd-generation Camaro production and were equipped with Tuned-Port Injection (TPI) 305- or 350-cid V-8s. But when the 4th generation Camaro arrived in 1993 packing the new 275-hp LT1 350 V-8 and an optional 6-speed manual, the B4C became a real monster, one capable of acceleration to 60 mph in less than 6 seconds and a top speed well north of 150 mph. With that level of performance, the Camaro became the most potent American cop car of the 1990s. By 2001, just as the 4th gen Camaro was about to depart, the 310-hp LS1 V-8 became part of the package, making this already hot cop special a supercar.
1977–1978 Dodge Monaco Pursuit
In the heart of the so-called malaise era, Dodge was still packing a (relatively) potent big-block monster under the hood of its midsize police cruisers. When police forces opted for the top E86 option on the Monaco Pursuit, they got the heroic 230-hp 440-cid V-8 topped with a four-barrel carb that generated 330 lb-ft of torque. Car and Driver tested the car in 1977 and clocked it to 60 mph in 8.1 seconds. That made this cop car one of the quickest American cars of the day—the top L82 350 V-8 in the Corvette made just 210 hp in 1977, so the Monaco was a serious performance car.
What sealed the Dodge's reputation was a starring role as the police chase vehicle of choice in The Dukes of Hazzard. Any cop car that can keep up with the General Lee is pretty stout.
1994–1996 Chevrolet Caprice 9C1
The rear-drive sedans GM produced from 1991 to 1996, like the Chevy Impala SS, Buick Roadmaster, and Cadillac Fleetwood, are some of the most sought-after American cars of the early '90s. Why? These cars were the last big rear-drive full-frame cars GM made, and more important, under the hood of each one was a de-tuned version of the Corvette's LT1 V-8 with 260 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque (a Corvette of this generation made only 40 hp more).
The police version of these cars was the legendary Caprice 9C1. It would smoke through the quarter-mile in around 15 seconds, and proved so desirable and durable that it was rumored police agencies spent their budgets restoring these cars rather than buying new Ford Police Interceptors.
2012-2013 Chevrolet Caprice PPV
The Pontiac G8—an Aussie-made GM rear-drive sedan that was imported here from 2008 to 2009—was a solid sport sedan. A 256-hp 3.6-liter V-6 or a 361-hp V-8 came in the regular versions, while a 415-hp 6.2-liter V-8 from the Corvette was part of the high-performance GXP model. For 2012, GM brought back a stretched version of the G8 for police duty.
The Caprice's top engine is a 355-hp V-8 paired to a 6-speed automatic. The performance of this Chevy should appeal to those officers who fondly remember the Caprice of the '90s; even V-6 versions are rated for a top speed of 150 mph. If an officer needs to pick one modern cop car to chase a villain up a canyon road, the Caprice would probably be the best choice.
2010 Ford Raptor Border Patrol Service Package
The U.S. Border Patrol doesn't ordinarily order a fleet of high-performance vehicles. The terrain they cover is dirt, rock, and cactus, not billiard table–smooth pavement. But that rough ground demands heavy-duty truck equipment, and the agency has been known to modify regular production pickup trucks and SUVs for extreme off-road use.
When Ford's SVT Raptor came along, the Border Patrol had a perfect rig for running hard along our desert-lined southernmost border. The U.S. government ordered a few Raptors, but because of the rigors of the job, these trucks had to be equipped with cloth seats instead of leather. We can't imagine any better vehicle for patrolling miles of rough and rugged dirt two tracks.
1975 Chevrolet Nova 9C1
The '75 police package Nova was a collaborative effort between Chevy Camaro and Nova engineers. The team dropped in a 165-hp 350-cid V-8 topped with a four-barrel carburetor and mated to a 3-speed automatic. That's hardly sounds "high-performance" by today's standards, but the Nova was a compact sedan, so it was relatively quick. Chevy took the brakes from the larger Impala sedan to haul the Nova down from high speeds without drama. Keeping the cop Nova level in the corners were parts that came directly from the Z/28 Camaro. Here was a real GM sports sedan for the 1970s.
2013 Ford Taurus Police Interceptor
As the old Crown Victoria Police Interceptors are phased out, Ford will have two new models to fill the void—an Interceptor based on the Ford Taurus and another based on the Explorer. The Taurus Interceptors borrow the hot 365-hp 3.5-liter Ecoboost V-6 from the SHO model, so it was no surprise that these cars topped the competition in acceleration in a recent Michigan State Police test, hitting 60 mph in just 5.75 seconds—a couple tenths quicker than the Caprice PPV. The Ford maintained its lead all the way up to 100 mph, though the Caprice did slip past the Taurus' 150-mph top speed by 4 mph.
The bottom line? Between the Charger Police Package, Caprice PPV, and this Taurus Interceptor, America now has the quickest lineup of police sedans it's ever seen. Lead-footed drivers beware.
[Related: 12 Surprising Cars Under $30K]