If you saw Top Gear last week, you saw the boys compete to find the best sub-£900 replacement for the British standard Opel Astra police car. They shouldn't have bothered. There's already something bigger, stronger and faster in the colonies — and we've driven it. Just ignore the price tag and fuel economy. —Ed.
Barreling down the highway in the 2008 Dodge Charger Police Edition, I'm on a mission. It's 106 miles to Chicago, I've got a full tank of gas, and I'm supposed to meet Hardigree on the Southside in an hour at the 95th Street drawbridge. Legally, there's no way for me to make it on time, and even though this is a cop car, I've no sirens or flashing lights to assist me in pursuing above-the-law speeds. What I've got instead is a stripped-down, blacked-out cruiser that feels like the spiritual successor to the Dodge Monaco Elwood Blues picked up from the Mt. Prospect city police auction. Though that may just be the black suit, sunglasses, and fedora talking.
It's got cop tires, a rough n' ready cop suspension and rubber floors. Most importantly, it's got a Hemi under the hood — the big 5.7-liter 345 cubic-inch 'plant. The engine helps this big Dodge make me feel ready for some silver-screen type stunts. Thoughts flash through my mind of arriving at the opposite side of a slightly raised drawbridge at full speed, but unfortunately, the bridge was down — my hopes of truly testing the stout suspension dashed. I'd have to settle for the curbs I'd hopped coming off the expressway to give me a feel for the resiliency of the Chrysler tested and police-approved chassis.
I slide up to see Hardigree wearily checking his watch, anxious to continue our pilgrimage across the city. No, we're not on a mission from God, not looking to reunite a band and save an orphanage. We're here to reunite this car with its spiritual home.
There's something universally menacing about the blacked-out Charger. Yes, anyone on the highway noticing the spot lamp poking out of the driver side A-pillar will move out of your way, but that's true with any decommissioned police car. The Charger, however, has an extra level of attitude, emanating from that strong centerline, the aggressive front grille and those big rear haunches — a truly scary feeling even a blind pianist can sense.
So, as we pull up to the Museum of Science and Industry onto the very familiar footbridge out front, I felt I could scatter Nazi Illini with a greater efficiency than Jake and Elwood ever could with their '74 Monaco.
But if we really want to make this car feel at home, we need to get pulled over. The whole film pivots on an unfortunate encounter with the Illinois State Police, but we'll settle for Chicago PD. Since we'd rather not actually get a ticket, we happen upon a police station and Matt hops out to talk with the sergeant in charge. Though rebuffed officially, one of the officers motions to us he wants to speak with us outside the earshot of his supervisor. Outside, he agrees to help us. He's not pulling us over, just parking behind us — with his flashing lights on — in the middle of the road. Other cops gathered about grumble jealously. "I wish they'd buy us some of these," says our friendly officer.
We bid farewell to The Man and head over to pick up Chicago-style hot dogs from a local stand, consuming them in a parking lot across the street from Wrigley Field. Not quite four fried chickens, but they'll do. Getting back in the Charger, I pull down on the column shifter, noting how different the equipment on this model is compared to the usual creature comforts we all take for granted in most modern cars. For example, no cupholders. But never mind because the floors are rubber, making clean-up simple should I spill something. No cigarette lighter either — true to Blues Brothers form.
Matt and I head downtown, but are disappointed to find neither mounted patrol or National Guard waiting for us. I continue on to Lower Wacker Drive, rolling down the windows and selecting a low gear on the Autostick. The echoing roar of the V8 chases me through the underground street. Even if you're not on a mission from God, you can't help but feel the divine reverberation. Sadly, we only had the car for a few days, and with our time almost up, I had to head back to Michigan.
On my drive back, the jazz station crackling on the radio lulls me into losing track of time, worries, distance, and apparently speed. I guess you can only get pulled over when you don't want to be. "Do you know what I stopped you for?" asks a blindingly bright beam of light in my passenger side window. I've never answered "no" to that question. So, after my quick slick answer, the uniformed man with the inquisitive flashlight goes back to his Crown Vic for a minute. I hope he doesn't have SCMODS. Thankfully, he returns with only a written warning and a guilt trip. "You should feel privileged to drive this car." states the officer. It's true, I should.
Remember that, people: No matter who you are and what you do to live, thrive and survive, there are still some things that make us all the same. You, me, them, everybody... and respect for a police-spec Charger is one of them.