Why I lust for a Ford Crown Vic
A love affair across an ocean. My unlikely fondness for a big lump of American steel.
No, I haven't gone mad, lost all my marbles or starting sniffing petrol. Despite their barn door engineering and less than cutting-edge design, I would love to one day bring a big piece of America to sit on my quaint British driveway. It would look hideously out of place, would cost an arm and a leg to fuel thing. Also, God help me if anything ever went wrong and I had to start sourcing parts across that small drop of water they call the Atlantic Ocean.
On the face of it, the big, ponderous slice of Americana would not be ideally suited for a practical daily driver, in the UK. Take off your sensible head for a minute though and look at the Crown Vic for what it really is. A lumbering, lazy V8 engine, comfy interior and looks that bring to mind an early 2000's cop drama. What's more, you aren't likely to see another one in the supermarket car park and you will be driving the least offensive car in the entire country, how could anyone possibly hate the doughy eyed, bulldog rugged looks of the Ford Crown Victoria. I think one of these cars is just the sort of break from the monotony of EV's and lease cars that we need in the UK and here's why....
Across the Pond
A Crown Victoria has to travel over 4000 miles to reach the UK (luckily these won't add on to the odometer), with importing a car no small undertaking. There are multiple hurdles to tackle even once the car has made the great journey across the sea. Import taxes and other charges will be coming out of your ears, plus a million miles of red tape to get the vehicle registered for UK road use and don't even get me started on insurance costs for imported vehicles. The process can all be made easier by using an importer that will sort all the paperwork and just give you a landed price for the vehicle, though the bigger importers generally focus on Japanese cars I'm sure there are plenty for American imports also.
All this effort and cost makes American market cars a relatively rare site in the UK. You might see the odd left-handed machine though, Mustangs are by far the most popular with a few Corvette's, Camaro's and Dodge muscle cars also tearing up the roads here in Blighty. Outside of this we see very few cars that are American market only, which makes them a rare and exciting site out on the road. This will not only make your purchase unique and exciting compared to every other car on your street, but will also earn you some serious respect from fellow enthusiasts. Owners of these cars live safe in the knowledge that their vehicle of choice is an individual choice, they don't follow the crowd, but take their own path instead.
To Americans a Crown Victoria may just be another saloon, one that has been used as a mule for years, as police cars and taxis, pounding the blacktop in major cities of every state. But to us Brits we see these cars as the undercover detective special, the infamous New York cab and the definition of American mass motoring for an entire era. We may be looking through rose-tinted spectacles but you have to let us fantasise a little.
Less Racecar More Taxi-Cab
A Lumbering Oaf
I think one of the biggest draws for me, to this ole lump of pig iron, is the big lazy nature of the vehicle. They aren't the last word in sporty handling or G-force but that, to me, isn't the point. I envisage wafting along smooth A-roads and Motorways with the big auto 'box slurring the gears and music pumping from the cassette radio (the 15-year-old speakers may require an upgrade). The interior of these vehicles is again not the last word in technology or high-quality materials, but is comfortable enough for a patrol officer to sit in for 8 hours or more, so I'm sure I can handle by 2-hour cruise up the M6 every now and then.
There is something about the car's big, lazy V8 that also draws my interest. These engines are common it seems among many American mass-market cars over the years, but none more fitting a home than in the Crown Vic. The engine may displace a huge 4.6-litres but, can only muster up around 200hp depending on specification. The engine does however make around 270-280lb ft of torque, meaning you can ride the low-down grunt of the engine without ever having to really work it hard. Talk about a perfect partner for the basic body-on-frame construction and circa 2 tonne kerb weight. This relaxed powertrain and massive interior space is not something we are accustomed to over in Europe (thank narrow roads and higher fuel costs for that) making the experience ever more special.
Not all Crown Vic's were this lowly though. Bob Bondurant (a legendary American racing driver) wanted more than the standard car offered for his performance driving school students. Talks between Bob, Ford and tuning company Roush resulted in 18 Crown Vic's being converted for use on the circuit. The 2-valve engine and slush'o'matic gearbox were ripped from the car and replaced by a 5-speed manual gearbox, mated to a 4-valve per cylinder 4.6-litre V8. This gave the car around 350hp, nearly double the standard vehicle and more than the Chevrolet and Dodge rivals at the time. The extra power was complemented by suspension upgrades, high performance brake pads and Recaro bucket seats. I cannot imagine the look of bewilderment as students watch Bob take the new Crown Vic through it's paces. I imagine it's kind of like watching your Granddad doing professional level breakdancing.
In It's Natural Environment
Cop Car of Choice
Ford Crown Victoria's are synonymous with their use by the American authorities and this is well justified. Even though they were pulled from showrooms back in 2007, authorities could still purchase the car all the way till 2011, when production finally ceased. They were also used by the authorities in Canada and even Saudi Arabia in some instances. Cars destined for police forces were modified extensively with computers and gadgets on the inside, they were also subjected to engine modifications that raised power by around 50bhp. This was enough to enable sufficient performance in a pursuit situation, apparently.
The Ford Crown Vic's made perfect sense for a police car; plenty of room in the cabin for perps, big trunk for police gear, comfy seats up the front and a big low-stress V8 under the hood for long term reliability. The body-on-frame construction meanwhile meant that the cars were not only cheap to fix but chassis generally didn't take any serious damage. This meant that even examples that had been involved in large crashes needn't be written off due to chassis' bending or high repair costs.
Luckily, while police interceptor models were not available new to the public, they have been sold on as used vehicles (albeit without the computers, gadgets and handcuffs). This means they can be picked up for a similarly low budget to the standard cars but, with the enhanced performance and exceptional service record that is generally upheld by government owned and operated vehicles.
The police links showed up throughout American TV shows as well, appearing in my favourite detective specification on shows like "Law & Order" and "CSI Miami". These cars are still be using by more recent cop shows like Brooklyn 99. These appearances and the fact that it appears in every American airport scene where the lead calls for a cab will only help to cement this cars place in history.
Infinitely Cooler With a Bullbar
Come on Though, in the UK, Really?
Alert, this section of the article contains much more sensibility than above, you have been warned.
Okay, I know I have waxed lyrical about the romance of owning a Crown Vic and how I would proudly romp down the A50 in sublime comfort, V8 rumbling and Guns 'n' Roses blasting from the cassette player. But there are a few hurdles to overcome first, namely getting one on a boat and across the big ole Atlantic.
These cars, in America, can be found for very reasonable prices, even well-kept models can be found for $2,000-$3,000 (£1,500-£2,300 at current exchange rates). There is then the small fortune that is required to be spent on shipping, taxes, registration etc. Firstly, the car needs to get to the port in America call it $1k (£700) for flights out there and the time spent staying in a hotel etc. For shipping, factor in $1-2k (£700-£1,500) and add some insurance into that as well. This is all then taxed at 20% meaning that by the time the car is landed in the UK and passed through the DVLA it will likely have cost you a minimum of £5,000 ($6,400) plus any work that is required to get through emissions standards testing. This means that they aren't all that cheap once landed and this will by no means be a small undertaking, using an official importer will save you some heartache but likely add a couple thousand pounds to the price. For me the best idea would be to buy one already imported, starting at around £5,000 ($6,400) for a nice example without all the headaches, hurdle one is overcome, what other cool American V8 can you get in the UK for this price? None, before you try. Word of advice, make sure any cars that have been previously imported have been done so properly and registered accordingly to avoid issues with the authorities or insurance companies.
So you've got your hands on your dream Crown Vic, this is where you will encounter the second hurdle. These vehicles were not designed for our tight and twisting stretches of asphalt, know commonly as B-roads. The huge length, width and weight of the car, attached to some less than direct steering and relatively small brakes would turn any B-road blast into an activity more akin to getting in a ring with Mike Tyson, one wrong move and you'll be out cold. So you're probably better sticking to the A-roads and motorways, and maybe keep your foot off the right pedal when the road starts getting difficult, or wet for that matter.
But, despite the difficulty of finding one, the expense of the specialist insurance and the less than ideal driving characteristics I still want one more than my next breath (almost). For around £5,000 I cannot think of a cooler and rarer American car on British roads, packing that V8 and classic American undercover cop styling. This is something that would bring a smile to my face every morning. It's a big slice of cheesecake in the middle of a Lancashire hotpot, in every way it's out of place, but you cannot deny the uniqueness and the special impact you will have on fellow enthusiasts that see you cruising in your bulbar adorned Crown Victoria.
So as you can tell, I've got a soft spot for these big, soft American beasts. Do you share my rose-tinted view or think that the Crown Vic is just old American junk, better left in the land it was made?