Today’s cop cars are highly connected mobile policing machines, able to track down suspects and respond to emergencies with tools that once were strictly science-fiction. But police cars have always been a breed of their own, outfitted with features that helped the good guys catch the bad guys, and Jay Leno was given a chance to take a classic 1961 Dodge Polara out onto the roads of southern California to experience life on the other side of the law, as seen in the video above.
This particular Polara was specially ordered by the California Highway Patrol back in the early 1960s, and when the CHP placed its order, it had a few specifications that included bigger brakes, and features that would make life a bit more comfortable for your typical cop.
Among these features were the white roof and white steering wheel, the latter of which actually borrowed from Dodge’s sister brand, Plymouth. Why a white roof and steering wheel? California’s famously sunny weather also had a warming effect on vehicles, and because the Polara didn’t come equipped with air conditioning, these little features went a long way towards keeping officers cool and collected. There is also the certified Motorola speedometer that Leno brings up a few times during the course of the video.
But keeping officers comfortable was only half the battle, as Dodge also needed the Polara to be a pursuit car. This included 12-inch brakes borrowed from Chrysler and a beefier suspension designed to handle some light off-roading. Dodge even reinforced the frame as part of the police package, knowing these cars were going to be pushed to the limit. Interestingly enough, many of the police car features we take for granted today, like push bars and a glass partition, aren’t on these classic CHP vehicles.
This particular car, one of just two restored to pristine condition, was found as more a rust bucket than a restorable car. But through the power of the Internet, the Automobile Club of Southern California was able to source authentic parts to bring this classic cop car back to life, including the 325 horsepower 383, through it made 332 horsepower and over 400 lb-ft of torque on the dyno, in no small part due to the upgraded carburetor and HiPo camshaft borrowed from the 413 V8.
As cool as it is to talk about this specially specced Polara police car, it must be even more fun to drive. Who hasn’t wanted to drive with the impunity that cops do, and Leno even gets to be the first guy to take this restored cop car onto the highway. It may not be the high-dollar restomod that often crosses through Leno’s garage, but it’s still a blast to drive all the same.