Its the Cops!
Some of the most popular programs on television today are the series dedicated to Police stories. Generations of children grow up respecting the men and women in blue. Unfortunately some end up on the wrong side of the law. But many hours of childhood are spent playing "Cops and Robbers". It is no surprise there is an abundance of die cast police vehicles. There are so many, in fact, that it would be nearly impossible to describe them all. I have chosen a random sampling of subjects that represent whats out there for the dedicated collector of law enforcement transport.
Ertl Dick Tracy
Collectors of vintage cars will like the Dick Tracy Police Car made by Ertl for the Disney movie of the same name. The car is a black and white, 30s sedan. It is hard to determine exactly what make and model of car it is meant to depict because the grill has been disguised in the same manner of the cars used in the movie. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say it is a 1939 Chevy. The car is decorated with a gold star on the side that says "Police". Black "Police" lettering on the sides of the hood, and yellow "Dick Tracy" logo on the humpback trunk in the rear. The base is chrome plated plastic. The wheels are chrome plated plastic with rubber tires. The care measures 2 5/8 inches long, 1 inch high, and an inch wide. Despite the small size, the casting detail is quite good. You will find it very difficult to find this car. It was in stores for some time when the movie came out, but was not restocked very often. They have long since sold out and will only be found at toy shows and other secondary market outlets. There were three other cars in the series with similar features. A micro version of these cars was also made, along with some very large plastic ones that were intended to compliment the action figures made for the movie.
Ever since 1970, Mattel has offered police vehicles in the Hot Wheels line. The first to appear was the Paddy Wagon, a fantasy show vehicle dreamed up by Tom Daniels. While it is unlikely that such a vehicle ever conducted official police business, it is a fun rendition of a 1912 Mack "Black Maria" that could have been used. It was re-released in 1993 as a part of the 25th Anniversary Series. There were several different colors available. The original version came in midnight blue with "Police" written on the sides in gold, a chrome engine and gold metal interior.
Another popular casting, the Sheriff Patrol has been with us for a number of years. First introduced in 1982, it has been revised many times. The 1985 version from the Pop N Play building set is metallic blue and white with various "Sheriff" markings and the number 701. A later version of the same casting is black and white with "Police" markings and the number 123. This is one of the most common police cruisers in the Hot Wheels line, only recently augmented by four other castings.
First there is the ex-Corgi Buick Regal in black and white with "Police" and "Interceptor 27" markings, from the collector number line. The Oldsmobile Aurora, first produced for the Demolition Man movie, has been redecorated as a "City of Hot Wheels" police cruiser with "K-9" and number 54 markings. Officer Muldoon would have been proud!
Then there is another collector number series car, the Holden Commodore, bearing the "Auto City" banner and the number 96 on the roof. Last but not least is the Grand National casting or "Buick Stocker" that has very basic "Police" markings on the hood and doors. The Holden and Buick Regal feature light bars on the roof. The Sheriff Patrol has lights molded in and a portion of the window plastic doing double duty as a light bar.
The Action Pack Police Force set comes with the Sheriff Patrol casting in yet another variation, but still in black and white. Included in the set are an Officer and a "Crook", an armored truck, a bag of loot, and a visual message that crime does not pay. Many collectors found it difficult to get one of these sets because the armored vehicle was very popular. These days, the set has been restocked and should be pretty easy to find.
With a new line of Gift Sets, Mattel has released a nice 5 pack, the "Police Force", which features five different vehicles. Along with the Olds Aurora previously mentioned are the Propper Chopper "Infrared Tracking Unit", Hummer "Anti Drug Unit", S.W.A.T. Delivery Van, and "Prisoner Transport" bus. All bear the "City of Hot Wheels" crest. The Delivery Van and Chopper are thought to be sold exclusively in the 5 pack.
The Matchbox line also features a number of good police vehicles. Unfortunately, I missed the best set in recent memory the Premier series Police Cruisers with authentic markings from six different states. They all had rubber tires and came with storage boxes. It has been a year since these came out and I am not sure what luck I will have finding a complete set. I still see them singly, here and there in stores so I suppose there is still hope.
In the regular line, there are many to choose from. The ubiquitous Ford LTD has been done in several variations. One is the metallic blue "State Police" with number 16 on the roof and rear pillars, red and blue lights on top. The other is black and white with a police crest on the doors with the number 21 in orange on the roof, with the same lights on top. Both cars have a radar detector molded into the roof on the drivers side, most likely to catch those speeders in "scale miles per hour". Both cars have chrome plastic bases.
The 4x4 Chevy Blazer casting has been around for some time, and is featured here in no less than three variations. As Number 22 in the new Mattel "To The Rescue" series of vehicles, it is white with a black bed cover. A nice touch is the whip antenna. It is marked with an eagle Police crest on the doors, "Off Road Patrol", and designated "Emergency 50" on the front fenders. The roof carries a clear blue light bar. The mold may be getting a little long in the tooth as the leading edge of the hood is a bit jagged. In a previous iteration, #50, this casting was done in blue and white and has the number 50 on the roof in Day-Glo orange. The new Police 5 Pack contains this vehicle in all blue with white striping, lettering and white bed cover. The doors are decorated with a shield that says "Matchbox Police". It is marked "Unit 14" on the hood.
When I first saw the next casting, I could not help think that it was silly. After all, where in the world could you expect to find a Camaro police cruiser? But sure enough, there is such a thing and in fact, as a tool of law enforcement, it has been very effective. A recent documentary featured a spot that showed such a device in active service in the western states where speeders are lured to long stretches of open highway. I found two copies of this casting that are very similar but for a small variation in the star on the doors. The earlier of these two black and whites has finer tampo detail and gold instead of black colored filling. This version of the Camaro was widely sought when first introduced and remains a very popular collector item. In my opinion, this move away from the multicolored tampo marks a change away from the quality that Matchbox was once known. Both versions have chrome and red lights on the roof.
The "Mattel Wheels" Police 5 Pack contains vehicles that have exclusive designs. The 4x4 Chevy Blazer is joined by the Police Air Rescue Apache Mission Helicopter, Unit 84 Camaro Z-28, Unit 22 Ford LTD, and RV Command Vehicle. All have white diagonal stripes on the sides, Matchbox Police shield and Dial 911 markings. They come in the new see-through package that affords a great view of both sides of the contents.
I also have two Matchbox vehicles that I bought loose. One is undoubtedly from the Graffix or Graphic Traffic series. It is an all-white car with a blue molded in light bar on top. The car is marked as a Vauxhall Astra GTE / Opel Kadett Gsi. Matchbox made this series of cars so that kids could decorate them with markers and stickers (supplied). As any garage sale cruising collector knows, kids do not need a white car to try their hand at decorating. This series of cars was short lived and might be one of those sleeper items for future treasure hunters, especially if the markers and stickers are still intact. The other loose vehicle is the Peterbilt Wrecker. It too is done in white, but decorated with blue markings and booms. It is quite unusual looking, but makes a good prop to go with the larger vehicles during animated play, and the aftermath of those high-speed chases!
While it may be a stretch, I must mention the Intex/MC Toys Alarm Busters Desert Patrol VW Bug. This car is from a series of toys made that have flashing lights and sound. This one is red with various colored markings, the number 844 on the roof, red flashing lights and a siren sound. The wheels are chrome with black plastic tires. After five years of being displayed on a shelf, the lights and sound finally gave up the ghost, sounding one last time before the photo shoot for this article. Since the base is riveted onto the body, I doubt that I will be able to replace the battery. But it was always great fun for the cat to chase around!
Next up is the Johnny Lightning L.A.P.D. Funny Car. This is from the immensely popular Dragsters USA series. This was one of the most desired castings. It was done in several "fantasy" color variations as well as the "real" colors. It is a replica of Tony Fotis real-life 92 Camaro funny car. It has a blue and red light bar on the roof, chrome blower protruding from the hood, and Centerline wheels. The tampo detail is quite good. While most variations of this car have sold out, it may still be possible to find the limited edition version with rubber tires at Kay Bee toys.
Another in a long line of Volvo subjects in my collection is the Metosul Volvo 1800. This is another pure fantasy car as far as I can tell. From personal experience with stock 1800s, I can say that it would be very hard for Police to catch any decent car if they were using this Volvo. The model has a plastic whip antenna, steel wheels with rubber tires, a clear blue bubble gum machine on the roof and old-fashioned decals that mark it as the "Brigado Transito". Metosul of Portugal has ceased the manufacture of die cast vehicles. When current, this and other castings like it sold for about $15 dollars. Of late I have seen Metosul subjects selling for $40 or more, depending on condition, and of course, whether or not the original box is included .
The crowning jewels of the police cars covered in this segment are the Racing Champions "Police USA" cars. Using castings that have been part of their popular Mint and Hot Rod series, RC has taken a little time, researched these vehicles and come up with authentic decorations and period accessories. Each car features detailed tampo, "gumball or spotlights on top, opening hoods with very nice painted details on door handles, head/tail lights, and engine compartment. All cars have the same chrome "baby moon" wheels and rubber tires.
Number 1 in this series of limited editions (9,998 of each) is the 56 Ford Victoria with Colorado State Police decorations. It is white with a gold star on the doors, number 462 below the star, and a chrome siren on the roof.
The second car is a 49 Mercury Florida Highway Patrol cruiser. It is black and tan with orange markings. It also has a siren on the roof. A silver Flathead V8 can be seen in the engine compartment.
The 57 Chevy Washington State Patrol is blue with silver and white tampos. I was pleasantly surprised to find the Chevrolet lettering and insignia tampo were correctly done in gold. It is even readable under magnification! The black interior nicely sets off the exterior colors of this car.
The last car that I found from this series is the 68 Plymouth Los Angeles Police Department. Another black and white, it has a beautiful LAPD logo on the doors, chrome rearview mirror, lights and siren on the roof, and great detail painting. It even has a cage that separates the front and back seats. I do wonder at the fact that it is only a two-door vehicle, but perhaps it was a command car?
Paul M. Provencher
Layout and Design © 1998 Paul M. Provencher All
Contents of this Web Site may not be used without written permission.
Visits since 2/12/99