Saturday, December 11, 2010

The "Flip" - 2002 Ford Crown Victoria P71 Police Interceptor a.k.a. "the Cop Car"

There's something about the Ford Crown Victoria that just makes it an icon. For ages it's been recognized, sometimes affectionately, but more often with dread, as the all-American "cop car."

The Crown Victoria name was first used by Ford in 1955. It grew increasingly popular as a police fleet vehicle beginning in the 1970s because of its heavy-duty, old-school body on frame construction, which allowed the body to be repaired quickly and economically after officers had accidents. Of course, we can't forget about the V-8 engine and live rear axle... the Crown Victoria isn't a sports car by any stretch of the imagination, but it's definitely fun to drive.

The Police Interceptor naturally had a spot on my unwritten "Drive Before I Die" list.  My opportunity to cross it off that list came quite unexpectedly one day in the Summer of 2010.

Some impulse bidding on a municipal government auction website won me a 2002 model, with the incredibly low mileage of 225,000. [end sarcasm.] I made a low-ball bid on the site and forgot about it until about a week later, when my phone buzzed during dinner and I saw the subject line "You've won! Please make arrangements to pick item 2002 F..."

Once my confusion cleared and I actually remembered bidding on the car, I did what every responsible car buyer does after making a legal commitment to buy and reviewed the photos and description....  being government surplus, I had typical pictures from 50 feet away, and a description that said something along the lines of "starts with jump has scratches dents dings and rust. may be drivable"

Challenge accepted.

Two days later, I called up a friend and kindly requested their help/begged them to drive me to pick up the car. Naturally, it was located on the other side of the state, in some small town that I'd never heard of in my life. Perfect roadtrip. The next day, we hopped in the car and took off into the cornfields. Two hours later, we were at the sheriff's office.

"I'm here to pick up the car," I said to the court clerk/secretary/jailer woman behind the counter.

"Oh, we don't have any cars in the lot yet. It must still be on the impound tow truck. Check tomorrow." Several minutes of confused conversation ensued. After about an hour of waiting, a deputy sheriff wandered out to greet us.

"It runs good, but it ain't been started for 'bout a year," he told me as we walked back to the car. "And we usually make the prisoners strip the decals off, but someone forgot. We can either get some out here, or you can use this razor blade and do it yourself." Now I know why I've always been such a DIYer.

A couple hours of decal-scraping followed, and then I started the car to hear lots and lots of knocking, ticking, banging, backfiring, and squeaking. "It might have a bad exhaust manifold. That's real common with these cars, but it ain't no big deal." Clearly, the Deputy didn't quite understand that my intention was to drive the car at 70mph down an interstate highway for two hours.

Some fresh gas and a couple minutes of runtime helped the old car come partially back to life. Aside from the flashing Check Engine light, a profuse smell of raw gasoline, and two completely broken sway bar links, it didn't seem so bad! We hit the road, eager to get back home and more thoroughly assess what I had just gotten myself into.

I pulled out onto the main road, and hit the gas. That's when I wondered just how insane I was. The engine misfired terribly. I had trouble getting the car to go above 35. Anyone wanted by the cops in this county could have easily evaded capture.... even if they were driving a lawn mower.

In a true miracle fashion, we rolled into Columbus two hours later. The P71, once up to speed, didn't do so bad.... as long as there weren't any hills or headwinds. And I had burned about 20 gallons of gas in just two hours of driving. A quick trip upstate to pick up a car turned into a day-long saga. I decided to save the start of the project for the next day.

Day Two. I hooked the Interceptor up to an OBDII code reader. A flashing check engine light can never be a good thing. In this case, it meant that four of the eight cylinders were "severely misfiring," and that both oxygen sensors were showing bad readings, along with a whole other list of fun projects. 

A quick trip to the parts store brought home new spark plugs, new coil boots, some Motorcraft oil, and a couple of other miscellaneous odds and ends. Everything seemed great.... until I discovered the root cause of the misfire.

Each spark plug well on the passenger side was completely full of antifreeze. "Shiiiiiiiiiiit," I thought to myself. "What the hell can cause that?"

I had forgotten about the infamous tendency of the Ford plastic intake manifold... they crack more often than fine china. Even though my car was a 2002, which was outside of the range that Ford formally acknowledged had a manufacturing defect, it had a cracked intake manifold. I tried to think of an acceptable solution to the problem that wasn't half-ass (stop-leak), but didn't involve replacing the manifold. Google searches, calls to friends, and close reading of Ford forums came up with nothing. So I ordered a new Dorman intake manifold and started tearing the current one out.

The job is a lot easier if you flip the throttle body up instead of removing it- that way the cables don't need to be disconnected.

While waiting for the replacement to arrive, I thoroughly cleaned the surfaces with brake cleaner, and vacummed the antifreeze out of the spark plug wells.

Old intake manifold. The aluminum crossover manifolds do not fail as often as the 100% plastic ones.

I won't go into a write-up on how to replace the manifold, because there are already many good ones out there on the Net. The job can be done in one day by someone with a good set of tools. It's not really difficult- just remember to depressurize the fuel system, cleanliness is key, and the torque values on the manifold bolts are absolutely essential for the new gaskets to seat properly. I was very careful with all this; doing the job once isn't so bad, I actually had fun. Doing it a second time would have just pissed me off.

Miraculously, I put everything back together, hit the key, and the Interceptor fired right up. It sounded beautiful! A spirited drive around the block revealed that the check engine light was off, and that cop cars can smoke the tires even after 225,000 miles of service. The rear axle was a bit jittery, but replacing the sway bar links tightened up the rear end like new.

I spent the next two days stripping the remaining decals and adhesive residue. If you need to know how to remove the decals from a police car, here's a hint: a 3M Stripe Eraser Wheel, which can be found on, makes this job ten thousand times easier. I was hesitant to spend $30 on something like this, but it was worth every penny. I slapped it on a cordless drill and about an hour later, every single bit of adhesive residue was gone. With an electric buffer and some rubbing compound, the paint looked like new. I was pleasantly surprised- there weren't any traces of fading from the decals, even when looking at the car from an angle in intense sunlight.

Don't be quick to condemn paint that's been abused; it took work, but this was a LOT cheaper than a new paint job- and it looks better, because it's the original paint.

I drove the car for a few weeks, about 1,000 miles. As much as I loved it, the original goal was to quickly re-sell it, possibly making a small profit. I threw a For Sale sign in the back. Two days later, I got a call from a man who was "very interested" in the car. He met me in a parking lot that very day.

"Looks really shiny! This wasn't a marked car, right?" he asked inquisitively. As an honest seller, I assured him that it was in fact a marked car.... for 225,000 miles, in fact. My honesty, the folder of service records, and the fresh detail paid off. He bought it the next day, without even taking a test drive. Signing over the title in the bank, I was happy to see that he was even more excited about the car than I was.

I was sad to see the black tank ride off into the horizon, but the pocketful of cash helped dissuade my feelings somewhat. 

After all, this definitely won't be the last Interceptor I own.


1 comment:

  1. you're right about the stripe wheel, that thing is a godsend. thx for the tip


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