Top Gear USA is starting their new season tonight on HISTORY and it looks like the boys will be hooning some cop cars. Since we learned almost nothing from Adam and Rutledge we went to RallyCross champion and Top Gear cohost Tanner Foust all about it. The man had lots of interesting things to say. Read on!
Jalopnik: So, this is a big treat to have you on. Anything you'd like to tell us about this new episode, Police Cars?
Tanner: This episode, to be honest, it's an episode that always came up on the board for each season. It's always a popular conversation, it hits close to home for car enthusiasts, because we've all basically become masters at recognizing Crown Vic headlights.
Jalopnik: Absolutely. That's a key part of all this.
Tanner: Yeah, yeah. And, if you think about it, that's been going on since you were 16 years old. The Crown Vic is probably the most common of all police cars for most of our driving careers.
Jalopnik: And that's why so many of us slow down when there's a taxi behind us.
Tanner: Yeah— It's hard to differentiate the regular Crown Vic rental car with the little blue-haired people in it and what you think might be an inspector vehicle that happens to be sky blue. There's definately something that's not just that we can understand on paper, but we have an emotional attachment to the work of the Crown Vic. That's a real deep way of saying that we wanted to beat up on some Crown Vics. I spent some time in rental cars, and the Crown Vic has always been my favorite rental car for that very reason— they're tough. They've been made tough by police departments throughout the decades. They're fun to jump, they're fun to do all those things you're not supposed to do with rental cars. And, we knew if we had a police car episode we could do all the above and we wouldn't get tickets for it AND we'd have lights on the top of the cars we could flip on and off and fool people with.
So, it was something we really wanted to do, and when we finally got to do it it was so much better than I thought it would be.
Jalopnik: That's awesome. So you got to drive some old Crown Vics as well as the new cop car options?
Tanner: We did— we had to pay homage to the current king. The more that we got into this episode, the more I realized what's happening here. The Crown Vic has evolved, and has become this purpose-built police machine. And by Ford stopping production of the car, it's a huge void. Millions and millions of cars. Talking over the span of the life of the car. It's a huge void, it's a huge profit center, so it's a huge fight for the business. To earn the business, especially the Big Three, have gone out and pitched— kind of like… shoot what's that movie? You know, military arms dealer-style? Where they have demonstrations of the armor and the little Raptor drones show their stuff? You can picture full-on military arms-dealer demonstrations going on to the different heads of police departments, showcasing the bulletproofing on the Ford Taurus, or the acceleration of the Charger, or whatever. This is a big battleground, and we were right in the middle of it. And I think Adam, Rut, and I really found what we think will make the best police car. And realized what a big task that was, after the Crown Vic has been evolved into this task for so long.
Jalopnik: I've talked to cops here in LA, and they're pretty sad to see the Crown VIc go. They also told me that the LA requirements are that the car must be RWD and body-on-frame. Are any of the new cars body-on-frame anymore? I think they're all RWD, or AWD…
Tanner: Body-on-frame? Not really. I don't know about the Charger— no, it's definitely not. And the Taurus isn't RWD— it's all-wheel drive.
Jalopnik: In this context, why do you think RWD is so key that LAPD would require it?
Tanner: I don't have an answer for that. The toughness of the Crown Vic— basically an F-150 skeleton— is important because I know they load the hell out of the trunks of those cars. They almost need to have some payload capacity. I know rear-wheel drive is how the training has been for a long time. But that should be easy to change. The training shouldn't be focused on RWD v. FWD v. AWD. If that's the reason, it's not such a good one. There's a big pressure not to change things too much. You have to work for the lowest common denominator, potentially a relatively inexperienced police officer in a high-stress situation— the stress of a chase. They want this to be as easy and familiar as possible.
Jalopnik: I saw one article that showed you driving the Taurus. Did you get to try out all three new ones?
Tanner: I will say I tried out all those cars extensively. I've actually spent the most time in the Charger, as I used to do drifting demonstrations when those were first introduced. I genuinely believe that in the real world, the Taurus would be the best one. It's fast, it's all wheel drive, it's easy, the modifications Ford made to make it a police car were awesome. Armor, and they even went in to change the traction control settings for police work, and I thought it would be the one to take them down. I won't say what happens, but… Well, the car I see most often replacing the Crown Vic is the Charger. I don't have any numbers, but I see the Charger all over the country.
Jalopnik: The Ford is the only armored one, correct?
Tanner: I think Ford is the only one that added armor to the doors.
Jalopnik: Did you guys shoot guns at it for the show?
Tanner: Well, we wanted, but there are potential imagery issues with shooting police cars.
Jalopnik: Oh? I guess that makes sense.
Tanner: No, I'm just kidding. I just made that up. I can't really say what we did with them, but we tested their "police-ness"
Jalopnik: As you know, Jalopnik has a vast criminal readership. Maybe like half our audience. Are there any hints you can give our readers about Achilles' heels in the cars? Good protuberances to whack your head on so it looks like a cop did it?
Tanner: I'm going to say, if the Taurus is behind you, don't go down a dirt road. That thing is quick on dirt, no doubt about it. It's like 365 HP— almost double the Crown Vic. The thing that your criminal readers have going for them is that most police departments are adopting a no chase policy. Instead they'll just send a helicopter after you and find you when you stop and write you a much bigger ticket.
Jalopnik: So don't try to outrun the cops, is what you're saying.
Tanner: Yeah. It's not the best idea. But, feel lucky. Because I've made 14 trips this summer, and you never see police cars, but there are speed cameras every five freaking feet. And the fact that some brilliant, wonderful lawyer, I don't use that term lightly, figured out how to claim that speed cameras were an invasion of privacy, is a great thing for driving in this country. Because throughout Europe, you just tip over the speed limit and you're quickly nabbed. And the tickets are SO expensive. This is actually a pretty nice place to drive if you have a little of the speeding gene. Just trying to be positive.
Jalopnik: I appreciate that. So, based on what you've learned, if you could create your own idealized cop car, money's no object, what would it be like?
Tanner: Wow. Um, well, on a simple note, I'd like there to be a complete separation between perps and officer. A full-on boundary layer, plexiglass, none of this spitting through the fence stuff that people can do now.
Jalopnik: So the cars you tested just had a mesh or grid type of divider?
Tanner: No, these cars had plastic back seats where you could pin— lock in the perps in the back, but no barrier. I'd much rather have the barrier. I'm not a big fan of, um…
Jalopnik: Being spit on by criminals and meth addicts?
Tanner: Yeah. I would say that. I wouldn't think rocket launchers would be out of the question? Actually, no. That's a bad idea.
Jalopnik: Alright. No rocket launchers.
Tanner: I would like for it to be RWD, if more than 400 HP. That way, it could compete in drifting sessions and improve the image of cops and help with recruiting. The police should be your friends.
Jalopnik: I like that. Okay, now for the inverse of the last question. You have $1500 and Craigslist access and you have to get the best cop car you can. But you can't get a Crown Vic, because, you know, too easy. What do you pick as your cop car?
Tanner: Obviously, I'm going to get an Initial D-style AE 86 but with an SR-20 swap.
Jalopnik: Oooh, that's a good one. Will you have enough room in there to throw someone in the back, you think?
Tanner: Um… that's a valid question. It's a hatchback so it'd got a lot of utility. Mine would probably be tubbed out, a little bit, in case I wanted to do any drag racing. So there may not be a lot of room back there.
Jalopnik: You could throw a pillow back there and just handcuff him to the cage, I guess.
Tanner: Yeah! A pillow, cuff ‘em to the roll cage! That'll work. Rutledge would probably pick his Volkswagen truck. Actually, he'd choose an ice cream truck.
Jalopnik: An ice cream truck's not a bad choice— it's undercover.
Tanner: Rutledge as an ice cream truck driver undercover would be the deepest undercover ever. He'd forget his own name, he would just go from small-track neighborhood to small neighborhood, just living the life and loving it. He'd start his own ice cream brand.
Jalopnik: Wow. He'd go native. That's kind of beautiful. Okay, back to the cop cars— any advice for picking out headlight patterns on these new cars?
Tanner: Good luck. Because— first of all, between these three— new American sedan lights are so hard to pick apart now. I think the art of picking out headlights coming at you is a dying art.
Jalopnik: You know, we had a quiz just about this on the site not long ago. About picking out headlight patterns.
Tanner: Oh my gosh. When I was six, I was a MASTER at that. But come the early 90s, they all started looking the same. It's not easy anymore. And to just throw a real wrench into things, the Charger often has foglights. It used to be if you saw foglights, you were A-OK. Not anymore.
Jalopnik: Man, that blows.
Tanner: Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. The Charger lights are pretty easy to pull out, the Taurus and Caprice, not so much.
Jalopnik: I'm sure you can't tell us who won, or who raced the Corvette, or who won— but I did see something about the ultimate perp escape vehicle. Can you tell us about that?
Tanner: Think about what an ultimate escape vehicle would be— it's a sport bike. They can duck through sidewalks— I had a friend who told me he had a garage door opener on his bike, and he'd cut through neighborhood sidewalks, open a garage, go right in, and close it. Horrible example for the rest of us, but… they're insanely fast, they have like twice the power to weight ratio of the fastest cars, so in the hands of the right people, they can be the ultimate escape vehicle. The problem is you see police videos, and when it goes wrong, obviously, it can be very bad.
Jalopnik: Right. And, if you're a criminal who specialized in grandfather clock theft, you're out of luck.
Tanner: Yes. If you can't open safes, but steal safes— there's not a lot of practicality. But if you just like running from police, they're hard to beat. That's why we picked one to use in the show. Whoever won the battle would have to try and take down one of those. I can't tell you the results of that. I will say the location where some of this stuff was shot— the ultimate police chase to stop the ultimate perp— was shot in Long Beach, on the Vincent St. Thomas— what's the name of the bridge that goes between the piers? The perp had every possible chance to escape, I will say that.
Police cars have to be fast. You have to know when you see lights behind you, they're going to be able to pull you over. Personally, I think police officers should be well trained. They should be trained in car control all the time, that's their office, and they should be comfortable in their office. They should be given a weapon— a fast car.
Jalopnik: Makes sense. I do have one unrelated question— I saw you have a degree in molecular biology. Any advice for molecular biologists looking to transition into racing?
Tanner: Yeah! It's a real clear path! You'll notice as you get into your third year of genetics that race car driving is starting to make a lot of sense. Yeah, I think it's one of those paths that leads itself into a fluorescent-lit dungeon. Where you're either going to be a lab rat or in school for another nine years so you better find something fun to do. That's how that worked out. My family are all doctors. I got weeded out of aerospace engineering— I wanted to design cars. At the time it was a very competitive industry, and I didn't realize that only 60 year olds got to play in the wind tunnels with the smoke stick. That was the end goal- that looked so awesome. But that involved less than 50 days of skiing in the semester and apparently that was a problem for me. So I ended up in molecular biology, and very quickly was living in the back of my F-250 and trading mechanic work for time in race cars.
Jalopnik: I'm guessing many universities will be offering a molecular biology/auto racing combined major.
Tanner: Yeah, I think it's like a time-release capsule. They should just bore you to tears with something and then force you to go do what you've really wanted to do. It's an interesting strategy for schools.
Jalopnik: Anything else to add?
Tanner: I'm really happy with the way things have gone with the show. Adam and Rut have only called me short four times, which is not a bad ratio.
Jalopnik: Not bad at all. I'm the short guy at Jalopnik, so I understand. Thanks again from all us Jalops!