Cars

To Protect and Drift: The Japanese Mustang Mach 1 Police Car

Cops have to match their wheels to their environment. In US cities, for a long time, that meant the ultra-durable Crown Vic. In more rural areas, that might mean a pickup truck or an SUV. For Dubai and its concentrated supercar population, that means other supercars. In Italy during the 1960s, police got Ferraris. You’d think, then, in the land of the Nissan Skyline GT-R, that police would use an equivalent JDM chaser. But one Japanese city chose a Ford Mustang Mach 1 instead. And weirdly, it may have seen more real-world action than the Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift’s Mustangs.

Tochigi Prefecture’s Ford Mustang Mach 1

1973 Tochigi Ford Mustang Mach 1 police car
1973 Tochigi Ford Mustang Mach 1 police car | Hagerty via Instagram

Tochigi Prefecture is located a few hours’ drive north from Tokyo. But while the area’s removed from the capital city’s bustle, there’s one vehicle here that’s famous enough to get its own unique die-cast model, Hagerty reports. That’s the local police department’s 1973 Ford Mustang Mach 1.

To be sure, the Mustang Mach 1 is now retired from police duty. But from 1973-1984, it was part of Tochigi’s high-speed division. Which, to be fair, it was rather suited for. And, in contrast to how long it takes US JDM fans to get their dream cars, this Mach 1 was actually sold directly in Japan.

1970 Ford Mustang Mach 1
1970 Ford Mustang Mach 1 | Ford

According to Hagerty, Ford sold Mustangs in Japan from 1971-1973, among them the Mach 1 trims. Although these cars were exclusively automatics, they were all Cobra Jet models. That means they had 7.0-liter V8s putting out 335 hp and 440 lb-ft. 0-60 was measured at 5.5 seconds. Considering the GT-R of the time made roughly half as much power, the Tochigi police were seemingly well-equipped for chases.

American cars actually enjoy something of a cult following in Japan, Donut Media, and Petrolicious report. Some of this likely started due to American military presence around Japanese bases after WWII. In fact, in Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift, that’s how the main characters get their hands on a classic Mustang. The American protagonist’s dad, who’s in the military, owns it.

But it’s actually the Tochigi Mustang Mach 1 that’s been involved in more high-speed pursuits.

The truth about Tokyo Drift’s Mustang

In the movie, the 1967 Ford Mustang receives an engine transplant from an R34 Skyline GT-R. However, according to Road & Track, that’s not quite what happened in reality.

According to Craig Lieberman (Tokyo Drift’s senior producer) and mechanic Sean Morris (who built it), the R34’s twin turbochargers wouldn’t fit into the Mustang’s engine bay. So, the film’s build team fabricated a custom single-turbo setup instead, using what appears to be the engine from an R32. But the car was genuinely functional. When Edmunds put the swapped Mustang on a dyno, the car put out 340 hp.

However, the six-cylinder Mustang never actually got the chance to drift. Instead, in a not-unusual move, several stunt Mustangs were drifted instead. But all of those had V8 crate engines—the swapped Mustang just provided the sounds audiences hear.

So, while the Tochigi Mustang Mach 1 is now retired, it’s probably been used in anger more than the Tokyo Drift ‘Stang. But, if the Mustang cop car is unusual, New Zealand’s police once used something even odder.

The Subaru 360 police kei car

1992 Autozam AZ-1
1992 Autozam AZ-1 | Bring a Trailer

In Japan, kei cars are built and used as inexpensive, compact transport. They’re cheap to run, cheaper to insure and register, and can fit even in Tokyo’s tiny streets. There are kei trucks and kei sports cars, like the Autozam AZ-1. And there’s also kei police cars. Though not all of them are in Japan.

Subaru’s first car was actually a kei car, the 360. The name comes from its 360cc, two-stroke engine, Autoblog reports. It was made in a variety of configurations, including a van and convertible, and its fiberglass monocoque design made it light and fairly advanced. Perhaps that’s why, despite its slow speed, the New Zealand police once used one. And as of this writing, it’s actually up for sale.

1970 Subaru 360 police car
1970 Subaru 360 police car | RM Sotheby’s

RM Sotheby’s is offering the 1970 Subaru 360 police car shown above for sale at the October 2020 Elkhart Collection auction. The car previously sold at another RM Sotheby’s auction for $16,500. And again, it was a genuine police vehicle—it’s got the livery, lights, and siren.

Though I imagine the Mustang Mach 1 is a great deal faster.

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