By Garry Melnyk
Patrick James collects memorabilia of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. As a constable on the force, buttons, tunics and other odds and ends are easy to obtain. Last year he obtained the ultimate piece of RCMP history: a restored former highway patrol car.
For decades MoPar vehicles were considered by many police officers who drove them as ideal for patrol and pursuit work. By the mid-1970s, strangling emissions regulations were having a an effect on vehicle size and performance. Among the "Big Three" automakers, Chrysler was the slowest to downsize. When revised “R” body cars premiered in the late 1970s, a Plymouth version was not available. This upset dealers who sold to police fleets. As a result, the Plymouth Gran Fury “R” body, basically a Newport with a different front grille, debuted for 1980 model year.
The 360-cid V-8 was the largest engine offered in the “R” body sedan. While not providing neck snapping performance for pursuit use, it was durable for patrol work if the problematic Lean Burn electronic spark control system was not acting up.
The Plymouth Gran Fury was also popular in Canada with police agencies from coast to coast. Among them was the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The 1980 sedan owned by James was used for a short time in the province of Saskatchewan. The blue and white Plymouth was in service for only a brief period before it was damaged in a collision at around 13,000 kilometers (about 8,000 miles) and written off by the force. Later sold at auction, the former patrol car ended up in a storage lot in Edmonton, Alberta, where it sat for a number of years before being found by another RCMP member, Gordon Baker, in 1997. Baker remembers the car sitting in tall grass and examining it to see how badly damaged it was. “The body was mint” said Baker. But it did require enough work that he passed on buying it. A police car enthusiast did eventually buy it and repaired the damaged driver’s side floor pan, and replaced the oil pan, transmission and drive shaft along with the exhaust system. The engine was also rebuilt.
Baker bought the Gran Fury and gutted the interior, replacing original seat material from fabric sourced from the U.S. He also repainted the sedan and collected and installed original police equipment including lights, siren, radio, spike belt and traffic cones. Those items came through a connection at the police garage and remain with the Gran Fury to this day. While the patrol car had a red/blue roof light bar while in service, Baker said to avoid a problem with transport regulations he finished the car as a “slick” with red/blue lights behind the grille and on the rear shelf. Baker enjoyed the Gran Fury until selling it in 2006.
In the back of his mind, James felt an RCMP patrol car would be the ultimate piece of memorabilia for his collection. As luck would have it, he heard from an acquaintance that an old patrol car was for sale. Not long after James bought the Gran Fury in 2014 and displayed it at some car shows.
Looking factory fresh, the Gran Fury now has just over 21,000 kms (13,000 miles) on the odometer. It was built in April, 1980 at the Lynch Road Assembly plant in Detroit. One of 12,576 civilian and police cars produced that year. It has the optional code E58, 360-cid (5.9-litre), four-barrel high-performance V-8.
According to information in the book; Dodge, Plymouth & Chrysler Police Cars 1979-1994, “The E58 360-cid, four-barrel-powered MoPar squads, full-size or mid-size were faster than the competition. In most cases, they were a lot faster.” The comment stems from testing conducted by the Michigan State Police in 1980.
The car remains a rare item of Canadian police history and a noteworthy Plymouth fleet vehicle.
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