Be honest-when you see the black and white on these pages, a chill runs down your spine. It's not a car you want to see in your mirror, let alone in your favorite magazine. But you're a GM fan, so after the initial shock your thoughts turn to the lump under the hood. You wonder what it'll do. The answer is 12.7 seconds at 105 mph. You think, "Can I outrun that? Does my local law have anything that fast?"
If you're following this line of thought, Chuck Williams has you right where he wants you. Williams is a lieutenant in the Phoenix Police Department with 17 years experience carrying a badge. The Caprice is part of an outreach program designed to direct street racers and other octane junkies to the racetrack, where the need for speed can be satisfied in a safe, legal manner. Williams is a life-long gearhead from a family full of big-block Chevrolet enthusiasts. He has a number of high-performance Chevys and is currently building a '57 with an LS motor.
Years ago Williams got involved in the PPD's Racing for Education program, which campaigned an '89 Caprice police cruiser. That Caprice was trailered to and from the track; Williams felt that the outreach efforts of the program would be better served by a car that could take to the streets as well, so he secured permission to grab an old, used-up patrol car that was destined to be auctioned. Disaster struck on the way home from the auction yard, though. Williams noticed drivers around him waving and pointing, trying to get his attention. He turned around to find the back seat on fire-the prisoner partition had shielded him from the smoke and flame, but it had also allowed the fire to burn unnoticed long enough to ignite the headliner and spread into the trunk.
"The muffler was very plugged up-that's why the car was sent to the yard in the first place," Williams said about the cause of the fire. "But no one told me that!" The fire was extinguished, but suddenly Williams could see a larger-than-expected project ahead of him. He had no choice but to forge ahead-"the next alternative was a Ford Interceptor, and I didn't want a Crown Vic!" he said.
Once the car was back on the road, Williams began bringing it to street racing busts. "We find out about the races both through confidential informants and through MySpace, Facebook, and other online sources," Williams says. Usually the racers gather when prompted by group messages sent to mobile devices, typically about 30 minutes before the meet-up time.
After the bust occurs and while cars are being towed, the racers are being booked, and parents are being called, Williams says he will bring the Caprice in and spend a few minutes with the racers. "I tell them that if they want to meet me at the track, I will race any and all of them," Williams said. "I want to spread the positive message that [going to the track] is the safe way to go racing, and I try to guilt them into coming out."
This strategy of taking his message straight to young street racers seems to be working, according to Williams. "They'll say, 'I remember you, and I'm out here because of what you said.' I know I'm having an effect because I see videos of me racing them on their forums and on YouTube. They may not be saying positive things about me, but they're talking and they're posting, so I know I'm getting through."
The car stands out even in the midst of a police bust, in part because its old-school paint scheme contrasts with the all-white-with-decals scheme of the PPD's regular cruisers. But it's what's under the hood that really sets this car apart. After Williams flogged the car's original LT1 until it died, he sought out the assistance of General Motors in looking for a replacement engine. Years earlier GM had given the police department a 502ci crate motor for the '89 Caprice.