Frugal Dad Files: Dadmobile Edition Part 1, The Crown Vic

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More wordy version, the Crown Victoria Interceptor Street Appearance Package.

While the main focus of this blog feed has been photography for a while I tend to dabble in other areas of interest. In the past, I have dabbled in tech, in cataloging Dadisms and Random Neural Firings that resulted in two books being published, and general commentary. For the last few years, everything has gone so bat dung crazy that satire is nearly impossible and stating the blatantly obvious stands as enlightened commentary so cameras it has been. Also dabbled in automotive musings as a result of my being a car nut.

My Dad hooked me on cars early starting with my love for his Plymouth Road Runner.

Cousin Johnsie and I in front of my Dad's Road Runner.
Cousin Johnsie and I in front of my Dad’s Road Runner.

Before I get too far on this Dadmobile Part 1 post this is a good time to mention that I no longer have this car. Not because I did not like it. Loved it in fact. But my Dad took a great liking to it and as a token of appreciation for all he has done for us my wife and I gave it to him.

Why this Frugal Dad post on cars?

  • Love big rear wheel drive, V8 cars. That is what I grew up riding in and what I first learned to drive in.
  • Spent many years pushing minivans as the sensible Dadmobile choice. They served their purpose and I made my peace with them, but they did nothing for my inner gearhead.
  • Now that the kids were getting older I could start looking at more conventional transportation. But I still had no interest in spending a lot of money.
  • Buying second hand minivans broke me of the thinking that you had to spend a lot on a daily driver. As a result spending many multiples on a less utilitarian vehicle was not going to happen.
    • Hard to spend 5 figures on one car when you have gotten over 200,000 miles out of a couple of minivans that did not cost 5 figures combined.
    • Plus I earned a great deal of respect for bic lighter vehicles. Nice enough to drive daily, but not so dear that you could not sell, trade, or replace (or give away in this case) with little fiscal or emotional hardship.
  • Back when we lived in NYC I used to joke with my wife that the perfect Manhattan commuter car would be an old Crown Vic or Caprice Classic with a push bar. Then…

Props to the Mrs.

Years after joking about buying a land yacht and after our southern relocation my wife was visiting the local State Surplus site and made a find. She then called me and uttered those words every man wants to hear (Ok, maybe just me.), “Didn’t you say you always wanted a Crown Vic?” I love this woman. What she had discovered was the Blues Brothers Bluesmobile dream lot. And later that same day the deal was done.

“It’s got a cop motor, a 440-cubic-inch plant. It’s got cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks… …it’ll run good on regular gas.”

Staff explained to my wife and I that Crown Vics do not show up often so we better jump on it. And we did. Vehicles in rougher shape are auctioned online, but the better examples are not listed online at all, but put out front and have to be reviewed and purchased in person. Like some sort of not so secret, secret club. Here is the rundown.

Bluesmobile upgrades.

In short these are retired, well maintained state trooper vehicles. Some Interceptor upgrades for the Crown Vic:

  • Performance
    • Dual exhaust.
    • Per the internets the airbox from the Mercury Marauder.
    • Heavy duty running gear like a heavy-duty alternator.
    • The base V8 is admittedly weak in citizen guise, but the enhancements above and other items yield roughly an extra 30 HP and 30 ft. lbs. of torque. Many modern V6s can do better, but nonsensically I still prefer a V8 if I can get it.
      • Horsepower:
        • Standard 220 and Interceptor 250
      • Torque:
        • Standard 265 and Interceptor 297
    • Sidebar: There are plenty of aftermarket upgrades for the 4.6L that can get this engine in to license losing power levels if that is your thing.
  • Handling
    • While having an old-school live axle I read that the Interceptor has a Watts linkage set up that greatly improves handling over the standard model.
    • Upgraded brakes, wheels, etc.

Result? Followed my wife driving a rather spry V6 VW (with lower weight, modern suspension all around, and 30 more HP) around an on-ramp at speed taking it home expecting the Crown Vic to take it on its door handles to keep up. Not at all. Forgot this was a bluesmobile. This Crown Vic Interceptor handles better than any land yacht has any business doing. As an added bonus it exited the ramp with verve. Way better than it’s pedestrian retiree favorite variants.

Cosmetic condition.

These cars are the cream of the surplus crop.

Exterior:

Very few cosmetic blemishes and most are forgivable. The Crown Vic was remarkably clean. A bit of touch up paint here and there and that about did it.

Interior:

There was nothing wrong with the interior that a can of upholstery shampoo could not fix. The interior was in great shape. Could have left it as is, but I easily replaced the slightly cracked ashtray and color mismatched driver sun visor on eBay for peanuts.

Note: Would recommend the Street Appearance package as it has the cloth rear seats instead of the plastic seats that make one wonder what manner of activity transpires that necessitated plastic seats. Also brings chrome trim on the exterior.

What about reliability concerns?

Legitimate concern. These surplus cars are packing over 100,000 miles. But they come with a folder stocked with all of the service documents. And there are a few things that helped me get past my concerns:

  • This car only cost $3,300. I can forgive a lot for that price.
  • There are a bazillion of these on the road so parts are readily available and reasonably priced.
  • The only major repair for this car in nearly two years was a replacement alternator. That was it other than a $5 rear door window switch when I first purchased it.
  • My folks have been driving it trouble free since. They both took a liking to it so there previously favorite vehicles are often parked.

Purchasing strategy.

Same as you would use anywhere. They do not let you drive the cars, but they will let you start them and open them up. Ran through the usual checklist:

  • Do all power windows, door locks, mirrors, and other auxiliary equipment work?
  • Run the engine with no radio to see if there are any errant clicks, squeaks, whines, or ticks.
  • Get low. Look in wheel wells, at the exhaust, and under the car for any signs of corrosion or leaks.
  • Test A/C to see if the cold blows cold and the hot blows hot.
  • Cigarette lighter check for cell phone power.
  • Open the hood and trunk to gauge the state of things. Any fluid leaks or rotted plastics or rubber up front. Feel around the trunk for any signs of water leaks.
  • Check the tires for how much life is left.
  • Look through the provided service records to see if big service items have been addressed.
  • Gun it. Purely for the sake of science of course.

There is no haggling by the way. Price is as posted. Reasonable price for a well-maintained vehicle in great condition with well-sorted factory upgrades.

My upgrades.

Did not need anything. Three things I chose to change due to personal preference below.

Looks and quality of life. Wheels. In stock hubcap guise…

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… I used to get flocked by other drivers either:

  • Slowing down in front of me wondering if they were about to be pulled over.
  • Hovering beside the car trying to figure out if it was a cop car.

Funny at first, then exhausting when you are just trying to get where you are going.

Solution? Swapped them for a $100 a pop five spokes from Discount Tire and it made a heck of a difference.

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Maintained the look enough to keep on-ramp merging a breeze. Amazing how polite other drivers are when you are driving a decommissioned trooper car.

Secondly media. Admittedly the stock stereo was fine sound wise, but it was radio only.

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Nope.

Solution? A $70 Bluetooth head unit from Crutchfield. Came with all the wires, adapter, and tools needed and took all of about 20 minutes to put in including prep time.


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Lastly removing the police gear in the center console left a big gap…

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that was easily filled by a $29 mail order cupholder/armrest.

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Conclusion.

If you are an old land yacht car head that enjoys the rumble of a V8, a smooth ride, ample interior space, but does not want to spend a ton of money I highly recommend that you look for one of these old decommissioned cruisers. If you are fortunate to have one of these surplus facilities near you even better. For around $4,000 all in my folks are riding in style in a whimsical vehicle that does not embarrass itself when the odd evasive maneuver is required. They love it (I did miss it more than expected which led to a future purchase, but more on that later) and I am happy for them.

I present to you the Dadmobile 5000 redubbed the GrandP 5000:

_DSC2811-01

ELW

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