Jay Leno’s first up-close experience with a police car wasn’t exactly ideal. That’s because he was being thrown into one on charges of vagrancy. Now, though, Leno is a well-known TV host, comedian, and car enthusiast. And although he often features new cars like the Porsche Taycan in his videos, he also has a passion for classic cars. Which includes the classic police car that he drove recently under much more convivial circumstances.
The 1966 Dodge Coronet police car
The 1966 Dodge Coronet police car comes courtesy of Fred Iversen. Although now retired, he served as a cop in California for many years. And his first day on the job featured a Coronet much like the one he now owns.
While the Coronet is now a classic, back in the 60s it would have been another solid mid-size sedan. Admittedly, it did feature some powerful engine options; appropriate, considering the Coronet was the basis for the first Dodge Charger. Jay actually owns a civilian Coronet with equipped with a 7.2-liter V8. Iversen’s Coronet, though, ‘only’ has a 5.2-liter V8, though it does have a twin-barrel carburetor.
To be fair, Iversen’s Coronet isn’t actually an original police car. Instead, it’s a civilian car that he modified to resemble his original squad car as closely as possible. It’s intended both as a tribute to fallen officers and as a way of reliving fond memories. Or, as Iversen puts it, “trying to go home again.”
In addition to the siren and roof-mounted lights, Iversen also installed a vintage Motorola 2-way radio. He also installed a bigger alternator, something the 1966 Coronet shares with modern police cars. The only differences are the bench seats—the original had buckets—and the inclusion of power steering.
Not only did the original police car not have power steering, it didn’t have A/C or a partition between the front and rear seats. It didn’t even have disc brakes, just drums all around. Iversen mentions that police duty wore the brakes so quickly, they all had to be replaced every 5000 miles. The cars would annually see about 100,000 miles, and the cops didn’t baby them. Although departments usually replaced the cars every 2 years, they were really worn out after just 1.
How did Jay Leno like it?
The 1966 Coronet isn’t actually the first police car Jay Leno’s driven on his show. He previously made a video featuring classic California Highway Patrol vehicles. And, just like then, he enjoyed driving Iversen’s police car clone.
Although the Coronet’s shocks are getting old, and Iversen mentions there’s some rust underneath, overall Leno found the ride fairly comfortable. There are air shocks in the rear, and the automatic transmission is fairly responsive, especially considering its age. Iversen considers his Coronet more of a show car than a daily-driver, although he does own some classic muscle cars that he also drives.
Cop cars today
Leno and Iversen also discussed how police cars and training have evolved over the years. Back then, cops could ram people. Now, though, Iversen believes officers have better training. And they certainly have more technology at their disposal.
In addition to heavy-duty alternators, modern police vehicles have laptops to quickly lookup suspect information. They also often have secondary batteries and power outlets for all their gear and lights, as well as removable cargo containers. The police car’s moved on quite a bit from Iversen’s day when officers had to handwrite logs and wait 10-20 minutes for someone to look up a license plate. In fact, many police cars nowadays aren’t even cars at all.
That being said, police departments still use quite a lot of passenger cars. Only, they’re not exactly the stereotypical Crown Vics. One department in Australia has a BMW M5 for high-speed pursuits, for example. Then there’s Dubai’s police car fleet, which includes supercars like the Bugatti Veyron and Lamborghini Aventador.
But despite the new speed, at least Jay Leno finds time to appreciate the classics.
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