There’s no use trying to explain why auto enthusiasts like the cars they do. Usually, it’s a passion born at an early age or driven by an extraordinary experience. For most people, 1957 Chevys and ’65 Ford Mustangs fit the bill, but there are legions of car nuts who march to the beats of vastly different drums.
These enthusiasts have bonded with classic big rigs or developed an affection for fire trucks. In fact, the whole range of professional and emergency vehicles is subdivided by those who prefer only police cars. There’s even a surprisingly large contingent of hearse aficionados.
Chances are, you’ve got your own left-of-center automotive quirks. For this author, it’s a decided tendency toward police cars – an interest sparked in childhood by The Blues Brothers and reinforced years later with the purchase of a just-retired 1989 Caprice 9C1 (see sidebar story). And yes, it had the “cop tires, cop shocks,” etc. It wasn’t the fastest thing on four wheels, but it looked and sounded like it – and the way people double-checked their rearview mirror and moved out of the way for my “cruiser” was the icing on the cake.
Only a few years ago, like-minded enthusiasts of unordinary cars had few outlets in which to indulge their passion. There were loosely organized national clubs that may or may not have placed tiny ads in the back of magazines. But along came the Internet, and every fanatic of air-cooled German micro-cars found a spiritual home.
Indeed, the Internet opened up the world of quirky automotive interests, allowing owners to easily link up with fellow nut jobs…er, enthusiasts of a common interest. We recently scanned the Web and were amazed by the number of portals devoted to non-mainstream interests.
Although there’s not enough space to list all the clubs for every quirky automotive interest, we’ve nonetheless compiled a healthy collection of organizations that cover the broadest range of narrow interests. Interestingly enough, however, we didn’t find any clubs catering to classic clown cars, airport step trucks (like the one on “Arrested Development”) or the pickups/SUVs you see from the railroad companies that can drive on rail tracks. Go figure.
Not surprisingly, there are more than a few national clubs for police car enthusiasts. Some are general, while others focus on a specific model, such as the Mustang SSP.
Your first stop should be the Police Car Owners of America (policecarowners.com), a club formed in 1991 for owners of restored/replica police cruisers, owners of retired police cars used as daily drivers, collectors of police car memorabilia and pretty much anyone else interested in cop cars. The club sponsors a national convention and participates in car shows around the country through local chapters.
Enthusiasts simply looking for police car reference material should log onto copcar.com. It’s an online photo repository of countless police car images from around the world.
If those 5.0-liter Mustang police specials are your thing, the online club at the SSP Mustang Page (sspmustang.org) is the place to go. This “arresting” web site has more technical and production number data than you could ever hope to remember. There’s also an active forum of preservationist-minded members who swap restoration and history information, along with tracking SSP Mustangs that come up for sale.
Caprice police car fans should check out 9C1.com. The Web Site isn’t much to look at, but there is some helpful technical information (mostly on 1991-96 models) and parts resources. Another Caprice-focused Web site, The Caprice 9C1 Forums (9C1.net), is a more active forum but is definitely slanted toward the later-model cars.
Fire trucks and emergency vehicles
The big daddy of emergency vehicle clubs is the Emergency Vehicles Owners and Operators Association (evooa.org). It accepts the whole universe of police, fire, ambulance and even military vehicles. The web site offers a members forum with more than 1,200 registered users, and the club sponsors national “get together” meets, along with other events, mostly in California and along the West Coast.
Classic fire trucks enthusiasts will heat up with the Society for the Preservation and Appreciation of Antique Motor Fire Apparatus in America (spaamfaa.org). Despite its four-alarm-long name, the club claims more than 3,000 members and more than 50 chapters. Its members and their vintage fire trucks participate in plenty of events each year, and they even publish a magazine. The club’s web site also has links to more specific fire truck sources, such as seagraveowners.org – a club for those interested in Seagrave fire apparatus.
For those who believe a vehicle looks its best in olive drab, the Military Transport Association (mtaofnj.org) is recruiting you. Ranging from militarized production cars to armored transport carriers and tanks, the organization is dedicated to restoring, preserving and operating vintage military vehicles.
If your service vehicle interest lies specifically in the World War II-era Jeep, check out g503.com. Likewise, enthusiasts of the unique GMC CCKW, that ubiquitous 6x6 hauler, should check out cckw.com. And if the CCKW’s amphibious DUKW “duck” offshoot floats your boat, go to dukw.com.
Classic trucks – the big ones!
If old big rigs and professional trucks are your passion, the Antique Truck Historical Society (aths.org) is the preeminent organization that caters to it. It’s been around since 1971 and draws the country’s most magnificent old trucks to its national conventions.
Another great resource is the Antique Truck Club of America (antiqueclubofamerica.org). Vintage Macks, pristine Peterbuilts and resplendent REOs are in the garages of its members. Their web site is packed with photos of vintage trucks and offers a lengthy list of links to related web sites.
Checker taxi cabs
Once an ubiquitous sight in cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, the Marathon models of the Checker Motor Company looked sort of like four-headlamp ’55 Chevys throughout their production into the early 1980s. They were the classic taxi cabs, but often were driven to death – making the remaining examples all the more interesting. The Checker Car Club of America is the keeper of the flame for these cars – and the defunct builder’s older models – and you can access it through the associated Web site, checkertaxistand.com.
A generation ago, old station wagons were as a popular as higher taxes. Not so any longer. In the age of irony, station wagons are now respected for their classic lines, abundant trim and unique features. They’re the anti-muscle cars, and if you’re a fan of them, the American Station Wagon Owners of America (aswoa.com) is the organization for you. It runs one of the better web sites we encountered, and members’ rides appear to include everything from valuable Pontiac Safaris to, well, less-valuable Ford Fairmonts. Classic American wagon styling, however, is the glue that holds this club together.
If your taste for wagons leans towards those with room for only one passenger, there are numerous outlets. In fact, the hearse subculture appears to be one of the most “lively” corners of the automotive universe. Most clubs and web sites lean toward the Gothic image and lifestyle. If that’s your thing, turn up your favorite Bauhaus songs and head to hearsedriver.com – it’s the repository for links to other sites like graveyardhaulerz.com and chariotsofthedead.com.
Preservation-minded enthusiasts of hearses – also known simply as coaches – will find sympathy at the Professional Car Society (professionalcar.org). We counted about 20 affiliated regional clubs around the United States and Canada. The forum-style Web site is very helpful and interactive, too.
Indy pace cars
Straddling the line between muscle cars and quirky collectibles are the annual special editions that commemorate the Indianapolis 500. While most during the last few years have been Corvettes, there’s a rich history of varied makes and models – including rarer, non-production festival cars and support vehicles that ended up in private hands after each race.
The closest we could find to a national club was an all-encompassing web site: indypacecars.com. However, it was noticeably incomplete when it came to showing photos of past pace cars, particularly models from the 1970s, and its message board was virtually empty. Beyond that, there are a few owner sites for individual models, such as Indy Fieros, Indy Mustangs, etc. Seems to us like there’s a hole to be filled in the pace car club market.
Movie and TV cars
If you’re drawn to famous cars of the silver screen and TV tube – and be honest, who isn’t? – check out Star Car Central (starcarcentral.com) for photos and information on dozens of on-screen cars and replicas. We also located a number of movie/vehicle-specific clubs and Web sites, including:
- Dukes of Hazzard Dodge Charger – dukesofhazzard01.com
- Christine 1957 Plymouth Fury – christinecarclub.com
- Mad Max/Road Warrior Interceptor – madmaxmovies.com
- Fast and Furious cars – fastfuriouscars.com
- Starsky and Hutch Ford Torino – starskytorino.com
- Herby Volkswagen – lovebugfans.com
- Knight Rider Pontiac Trans Am – knightreplicas.com
- Blues Brothers cop car – bluesmobile.net
My Caprice 9C1 – The Blue Box
Although, I’d long been interested in old police cars, I never seriously considered buying one until I saw a notice from the department of public safety from my university, Central Michigan University. They were auctioning off a trio of retired, three-year-old 1988 Caprice 9C1 police cars.
The notice said the university was accepting sealed bids, and the cars were available for inspection. So, after classes one day, I hiked over to the public safety office to check them out. They were used but didn’t appear abused.
It being a university and all, I figured the cars had seen plenty of time idling in front of the football stadium on Saturday afternoons and the occasional underage offender, but probably hadn’t been on many high-speed pursuits that resulted in frame-bending leaps over railroad tracks. I placed a bid on car “2” and waited for a response. It was the pre-internet days of the early 1990s, so everything was analog. I submitted a written bid in an envelope, and the school called me on the corded land line at my apartment to say my bid was accepted. Compared with today, it seemed only a couple of degrees removed from the Pony Express or maybe a Western Union telegram.
My “new “car was a distinctive (ugly) light blue, except for the grey primer patches on the doors and rear quarter panels where various decals had been removed. The school also removed the spotlights (rats!). Inside, there were some holes in the dash where the police radio and other equipment were mounted; and there was no carpet, just a rubber floor cover. Also, the rear doors didn’t open from the inside. My friends thought that was the coolest.
What I loved about the Caprice was its all-business attitude, with a tightly sprung stance on its heavy-duty suspension. It rode on chunky Goodyear Eagle GT+4 tires that wrapped dog-dish-capped steel wheels. Yeah, it looked the part.
Under the hood was a 350 engine that made a “buh-WHAH” sound whenever the pedal was mashed. By today’s standards, its 190-hp small-block was tame, but in those days only the 5.0-liter Mustangs, as well as the TPI-powered F-cars and Corvettes, offered greater power – and none of those cars was even rated at 250 hp!
My 9C1 was very recognizable around the small college town, and other drivers mostly moved out of its way – especially if they were, say, illegally parked in front of the video rental store. It also triggered fellow students to scurry off their porch when I pulled up to the curb for a party.
The only time my Caprice’s high visibility became a liability was during some off-campus unrest that followed a football game with archrival Western Michigan University. While driving some friends home, we unknowingly turned down "fraternity row” – ground zero of the strife – and the car was instantly pelted with bottles and other projectiles thrown by inebriated frat guys who mistook it for the real deal. It only reinforced my reasons not to pledge a frat.
My time with the Caprice was short, but fun. I sold it to buy a more economical car during my last year at school, but I soon regretted the sale. It had an attitude and a presence quite unlike anything I’ve since owned.