Is there a movie ride more useless than anything being driven by law enforcement? It’s rare that a cop car actually catches anyone on-camera, and you can almost guarantee that when the red and blue lights flicker on, the protagonists have nothing to worry about. The lowly police car is cinema and television’s favourite punching bag. Need to wreck 50 vehicles in a high-speed chase? No problem – we’ll spin out as many black-and-whites as you want, douse them in kerosene, light a match, and walk away at the end of production.
These expendable automobiles have long been used and abused by good guys and bad guys alike, but there are a handful that stand out as being especially worthy of the poor treatment they’ve received. Check out our list of the nine worst police cars ever to have been shown on the big or small screen, and see if you agree with our choices.
Dodge Diplomat / Plymouth Gran Fury
We’re leading off with possibly the worst police car to have ever been forced upon North American law enforcement fleets: the Dodge Diplomat. Alongside its twin, the Plymouth Gran Fury, this four-door clunker had a dozen-year run from the late ’70s to the end of the ‘80s where it appeared in almost every single television show or movie involving cops and robbers. Distinguished by its square appearance, its incredible lack of handling prowess, and a 318 cubic inch V8 engine that threw down a stunning 165 horsepower, this car was cannon fodder at best in any chase.
With a 0–60 mph time of 10 seconds, thieves and gangsters probably didn’t even need a get-away car – a scooter or bicycle would have worked just as well. In recognition of the car’s impotence, Chrysler briefly offered a larger 360 cubic inch V8 option, but in 1977 it actually produced less power than the four-barrel 318 would eventually make available. That’s dedication to failure.
A Touch of Frost might have been one of the longest-running police dramas on British television, but its star – the titular Detective Inspector Frost – was saddled with perhaps the least-intimidating police vehicle one could possibly imagine. Oh, the terror that must have struck the hearts of evil-doers when DI Frost pulled up in his… light blue Volvo 240 wagon? In Britain, the police don’t carry guns, and the cars don’t carry horsepower.
Renault 19/21, Peugeot 309
Luc Besson’s Taxi series of films about a young Marseille cab driver who drives a tricked-out Peugeot 406 and somehow gets involved with an endless series of international crimes provides the perfect demonstration for just how sad the casting for European police cars can be. To be honest, there are times during the four-installment series where it seems as though Besson simply sought out the cheapest crap-cans money could buy so he could pile them one on top of the other in mega-crash scenes during futile Peugeot pursuits.
An endless series of Renault 19, Renault 21, and even Peugeot 309 wrecks remind us of what happens when both police and production departments base their fleets around cost, not performance.
Miami Vice’s Fake Ferrari Daytona
Speaking of cost – how about that iconic Ferrari Daytona piloted by Miami Vice’s too-cool detective Sonny Crocket? Pretty slick, right? Certainly, until you realize that the car was actually a C3-generation Chevrolet Corvette in Italian drag. Budget-conscious producers weren’t willing to risk a real Daytona Spyder in daily shooting, so they created the Fauxtona from readily available, and considerably less groovy Corvette parts they had lying around.
How can you possibly root for a cop driving a kit car? If you find this revelation upsetting, consider how Ferrari felt when its PR department found out about the ruse: they insisted that the ultra-popular TV show cut the shenanigans immediately, and offered a pair of Testarossas in exchange for the producers blowing up the fake Ferrari on-camera with a Stinger missile.
CSI Miami’s Hummer H2
We’re not quite ready to leave TV Miami behind yet, because CSI: Miami managed to one-up the Vice boys with an even more egregious example of excess – the Hummer H2. It’s hard to imagine a requisitions officer signing off on this over-the-top SUV as a daily driver for anyone on the CSI team, particularly in a place as flat as Miami, Florida, where opportunities to off-road are limited to beaches and swamps. There were seven seasons of this Hummer. Oh, and seven seasons of the show, too. We can’t decide which was worse.
Columbo’s Peugeot 403 Cabriolet
When Peter Falk, star of Columbo, first found the car on the Universal lot, it didn’t even have an engine in it. Over the course of the show, the car would become a favoured topic of ridicule among the characters, with even perps getting the occasional crack in about just how terrible its condition was. Despite Columbo at one point referring to his cabrio by saying, “There are only three in the country,” they made over a million Peugeot 403s in total. This is the only one you’ve ever seen being driven by an officer of the law. We can’t imagine why that is.
AMC was always struggling to match the success of Detroit’s Big Three, and a campaign to place one of its most boring cars in front of the camera for popular productions like The Dukes of Hazzard, Adam-12, CHiPs, The Gumball Rally, and Convoy in police car form probably didn’t do much to move the sales needle. They did give us plenty of crashes and bangs involving this mid-size also-ran sedan, at least until the cash ran out and Chrysler took over equipping law enforcement in Hazzard Country. Fun fact: it took 43 seconds to hit the mid-’70s Matador’s 125 mph top speed.
Dodge St. Regis
William Shatner has inhabited many different personas during his career, but it was his time as Sgt. TJ Hooker that put him behind the wheel of that esteemed police ride, the Dodge St. Regis. Leaving aside the almost completely ridiculous name, this badge-engineered take on the same platform that underpinned the Gran Fury featured the same pair of underpowered V8 options that were better used as boat anchors than pursuit engines. Also appearing in MacGyver, the St. Regis was so bad it was only built for two years before being pulled from the market, after which Hooker found himself driving the much quicker Ford LTD.
Japanese audiences love their police dramas, and Seibu Keisatsu, or Police: Western Division was one of the most popular entries in the genre during the ’80s. It also proved to be a slaughtering ground for entry-level versions of the Nissan Cedric, a fairly dowdy sedan built in the ’60s and ’70s. Although performance models were built, you won’t find them in Seibu Keisatsu: the heroes had their Skylines and 280ZXs to drive around instead. Beat cops could only watch with resignation from the front seats of 115 horsepower Cedrics as the rest of the world blew by them in a blur of performance. Quicker Cedric 430 models were also part of the cast, but they were rarely allowed to be used in action scenes, as the production team was scared to death they’d get damaged.