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1984 Impala Fit for a President

An Impala squad car that first served duty for a prairie town in Kansas now stands guard at Reagan Library.
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This 1984 Impala began its career modestly serving the
citizens of a small Kansas prairie town, but life took a couple
of exciting turns after its retirement.

This is the story of the odyssey of a police car. A journey from being a humble public servant to a reincarnation as a show car and museum attraction and then on to yet another life as a key element — a primary fixture — in one of the most hallowed institutions in America.

The odyssey began more than 20 years ago on the wind-blown streets of a Kansas prairie town when Haysville PD Unit 01, a 1984 Impala, was placed in service. This honorable machine served the officers and citizens of Haysville faithfully for many years before it was eventually replaced with a new recruit.

Many cruisers are recycled into taxicabs when they are retired from police duty, but Haysville Chief J. E. Kitchings had something else in mind for Unit 01. Haysville Unit 01 was sent off to a local body shop where the years of parking lot and back alley rashes were massaged out of the sheet metal and the finished product was given a fresh coat of gleaming white paint decorated with all new gold metallic stripes.

Upon its return to the Haysville PD, Unit 01 was welcomed into a small fleet of other Haysville units Chief Kitchings had lovingly restored. This group included one Haysville cruiser from each of the three previous decades (1950s, ’60s, and ’70s). The restored units were proudly displayed in and around Haysville at parades, car shows and civic events.

While Unit 01 was enjoying its status as the newest member of Haysville’s show car/police car fleet, 100 or so miles to the northeast, Sgt. James Post, recently retired from the Kansas City Missouri Police Department, was busy creating his own tribute to America’s finest sedans. In 1991, Post rounded up a couple dozen friends who shared his passion for old cruisers and they became the nucleolus of The Police Car Owners Of America, which would soon grow to become the only international car club dedicated to the restoration and preservation of retired police vehicles.

Post believes in putting his money where his mouth is and, as his club grew, so did his own fleet of restored cruisers. First came a 1986 Wyoming Highway Patrol car, then a 1984 CHP Diplomat, then a jump back 30 years to rescue a 1964 Dodge 880 KCMOPD unit. Others followed.

In 1994, Post and his wife, Terri, relocated to their new home in the beautiful Ozark hills of northwest Arkansas. With a little help from friends, their growing fleet of black-and-whites (and two parts cars) made the 250-mile trip south caravan-style with them. The move was part of Sgt. Post’s dream of building a police museum as his way of honoring the men and women of law enforcement.

Between 1994 and 1996, Post and family were busy building displays, finding more artifacts and restoring more police cars for the museum. About this time storage of the restored Haysville cars became an issue for Kitchings. He had heard about Post, and the PCOOA, and he called Post to ask if he could advertise his Haysville units in the club’s quarterly publication, The Rapsheet.

Post’s museum, The Last Precinct, was nearing completion and, naturally, he wished he could buy the whole fleet himself, but on a retired sergeant’s pay, that was not practical. So he advertised the cars for the chief while he started counting his own pennies. Post was able to buy one of the Haysville cars: Unit 01, the ’84 Impala. All of the cars were very desirable, but he felt the ’84 would make a neat museum attraction because, besides having a pristine, complete restoration, it was also an alternative fuel vehicle. (The ’84 had been converted to propane when it was new due to the availability of the fuel in Haysville.)

The purchase was negotiated, delivery made in November of 1995, and when The Last Precinct doors opened for the first time in 1996, Haysville Unit 01 stood proudly with nine other cruisers from around the United States.

The Last Precinct had a spectacular six-year run with more than 25,000 people through the doors before it closed in 2002. The Last Precinct also served as World Headquarters for the PCOOA so, fittingly, the last people to tour the museum were PCOOA members attending an annual convention there.

After the museum doors closed that last time, Sgt. Post faced the sizeable task of liquidating the memorabilia and police cars. Family members got first pick, then other friends and club members and past museum visitors were allowed to chose. Several donations were made to other museums around the county.

Post and his wife picked the few cars they wanted to keep and good homes for the rest were searched out. A rare CHP 1979 Camaro went back home to Sacramento; a Missouri Highway Patrol Diplomat went to a Missouri Trooper for restoration; a Special Service Package pursuit Mustang went to Maryland to join a growing private fleet of restored police Mustangs; a 440-powered ’74 Dodge Monaco “Bluesmobile” went to a Blues Brothers fan in Texas, and so on.

But the final destination of Haysville Unit 01 was the most significant of all. The ’84 was offered for sale on eBay Motors, as were many of Post’s cars. There was mild interest from a few “tire kickers,” but the car languished for 10 days without a sale. It was re-listed, and the second time around it sold. The winning bidder was a fellow in California who is actually an eBay agent — someone who will buy or sell something for someone else.

Upon contacting the winner, Post was told he would soon be contacted by someone from the Los Angeles Police Department’s historical society, as that group was the actual buyer. From there, things got even more interesting. A couple of days later, Post was contacted by Richard Kalk, a retired LAPD sergeant and a member of the LAPD Museum staff. He confirmed that the society was the actual buyer and the Impala was scheduled to be shipped directly to the LAPD Motor Transport Division where it would receive one last makeover — this time into a LAPD unit.

But the LAPD garage was not Unit 01’s final destination. The Haysville Impala, now wearing the colors of L.A’.s finest, would live on as an escort for President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 limousine at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif.

The Impala was lovingly restored by the capable employees of the LAPD garage and it, along with two restored LAPD motorcycles, was donated to the Reagan Library by the LAPD Historical Society. (The Impala’s title was assigned to the “Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation”). The LAPD vehicles, and the presidential limo, form a static motorcade that includes an “Air Force One” Boeing 707 that Reagan traveled in all over the world during his tenure as president. Also part of the display is a presidential helicopter, “Marine One.” This massive display opened in October 2005 and the vehicles can be viewed on the lower pavilion at the Library.

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