Police cars have taken many shapes, sizes and body styles over the decades. I think that’s one of the reasons I am so fascinated with the old ones. The new ones quite frankly don’t do much for me. With the newer Euro body types and multi-color paint schemes, I am not sure they convey the sense of authoritarian importance that the old ones had. When I was growing up, one of the first ones that I recall in our small town was a an early 1950’s Ford, with a red gumball light on the roof and a movable hand spotlight mounted on the driver’s side. I’m not sure if the old Ford even had a police radio in it. A black sedan with few markings and probably a flat-head V-8 under the hood. Not many bells and whistles, but it was pretty cool. At least that’s the way I saw it, although it was mostly used by the night watchman to cruise the alleys and streets and keep a vigilant eye on the good order of the town while the residents slept.
I’m willing to bet there are lots of folks like me who love the old police cars. At the Toledo Police Museum one of the big attractions has always been the 1948 Ford Paddy Wagon. Black in color, the ubiquitous “police-car black”, compete with the gumball on top, the hand controlled spotlight and a police radio. The iconic paddy wagon was a popular site for many years on the streets of Toledo used not only to patrol the streets, but a way to carry suspects back to the station or the jail, or even used for a number of years as a makeshift ambulance, to transport crime and accident victims to area hospitals.
What got me to musing about police cars today is that I noted that this week in history, in 1921, the city of Toledo was about to enter the brave new era of police cars. Real cars. Fast cars. New cars. That’s right, until January of 1921, Toledo Police officers only had a few police cars on the beat, and they were mostly discarded junk. Seven cars and four motorcycles that had been picked up over the years, as surplus, or resurrected wrecks. That’s all Toledo’s Police Department had to offer its officers and detectives who in this new century of the modern era were in a life and death struggle with bootleggers, bandits and crooks who were using the latest new muscle cars of the era. Many were heavier and faster and could easily beat Toledo’s embarrassing “fleet”of ragged old police cars. So on January 25th, in an effort to prove to Toledo City Council members that money was urgently needed to buy some decent cars for the “good guys”, Police Chief Herbert lined up for display all of the “tin cans”(as he called them) that were being used as the city’s crime fighting fleet. Council was so shocked by what they saw, they approved the money, about 30,000 dollars to buy 6 new high-powered “speed cars” for the department and 15 new motorcycles. Within weeks, the vehicles arrived and Toledo’s finest proudly took to the streets with the “wheels” that not only gave them some equity with the criminals on the street, but a renewed sense of pride in what they were driving.
With thanks to the Toledo Police Museum, I offer a gallery of some of Toledo’s early Police cars over the years. If you have some you would like to add, email me at Lou@Voicefornews.com.