California Highway Patrol 1969 Chevy Suburban

I follow the Driveway Finds Instagram Account and was pretty shocked when they located this missing California Highway Patrol (CHP) 1969 Chevy Suburban. I had seen some black and white photos of it, but like most people, I figured it was long gone.

This isn’t that classic story where the vehicle was rumored to exist, and after extensive research, it was finally located, and a deal was struck. Well, not quite. This rare find actually showed up on Facebook Marketplace. The guys at Driveway Finds are known to love these old Chevy trucks, so it’s no wonder that it caught their attention. It’s fortunate for this Suburban that they did, because someone else may have beat what life was left out of it, or just salvaged parts from it.

Now to the credit of the guy that they purchased it from, that guy actually had a passion for vintage police vehicles, tracked the Suburban down, and managed to purchase it. But he eventually realized that the Suburban needed to much work and decided to sell it. Kudos to him because he didn’t just sell it to anyone. He realized that Dustin and John from Driveway Finds would be the best stewards of the vehicle, and its best chance for survival.

This is how the Suburban looked when the guys bought it. It doesn’t scream former California Highway Patrol vehicle, but the dual black spotlights and white roof suggest that it has a law enforcement past.

The Suburban’s CHP History:

Chevy only made 545 Suburban’s in 1969, and of those only three of them went to the California Highway Patrol. The fact that any of the CHP Suburban’s are left after 55 years is pretty amazing!

Of the three Suburban’s purchased, this Suburban and one other were stationed in Placerville, and one was stationed in Auburn. This Suburban came equipped with a 307 CID V-8 engine, Muncie SM465 4-speed manual transmission, Rockwell T221 transfer case, and a Leece-Neville alternator. The Suburban had two separate special paint codes probably for the white roof and white doors on the black body. You can see above that the doors were black when the guys bought it. It’s not uncommon for the California Highway Patrol to paint the doors before selling vehicles at auction. The California Vehicle Code section 27605 states, “No person shall own or operate a motor vehicle painted in the manner… to resemble a motor vehicle used by a peace officer or traffic officer on duty.”

Once the CHP got the vehicle, they added a heavy-duty rear bumper and a heavy-duty front bumper with a Ramsey PTO (Power Take-Off) winch. The PTO winch has a small driveshaft that runs back and connects to the Rockwell transfer case. So, this winch turns from engine power, not electric power. The CHP also added their agency decals, push bumper, snowplow mount, shotgun mount, Motorola radio and antenna, Federal Model 28 mechanical siren, red and clear front spotlights, red light in the rear window, and an amber Federal Beacon Ray Model 17 beacon on the roof. The Suburban also has an outlet on the front passenger fender for jump starting other vehicles. In addition to all of that, the Suburban had a collapsible stretcher, first aid kit and blankets, so it can double as an ambulance.

Speaking of that Ramsey winch, the 1999-2003 Ford Expedition is the last California Highway Patrol vehicle that I’m aware of to be equipped with a winch. Below is a photo of one of their Ford Expeditions equipped with a Warn winch.

Newspaper Article (November 27, 1969):

Placerville CHP office gets vehicle for rescue work in snow

The California Highway Patrol off at Placerville has a new piece of rolling stock – a four-wheel drive Chevrolet Suburban Carryall equipped to help motorist disabled in the snow.

“We’re really pleased to have this snow truck,” Captain Kramer reports. “It is equipped with chains and a winch to help people out of snow banks, a snow plow, a battery booster system to start small vehicles, push bumpers, and ropes for getting up and down the sides of cliffs. We’ll be able to provide a lot of service with this equipment!”

The vehicle has a rotating amber light and flood lights in the rear for night work, double rear doors and collapsible stretchers, first aid kit and blankets, so it can double as an emergency ambulance.

Although intended primarily for rescue work in the snow, the vehicle will also be used for rescue work during the summer to reach places not accessible to an ambulance and it will also be used by the traffic officers who carry portable scales to weight trucks.

The carryall was purchased as a result of major problems on US50 which Kramer calls “an inadequate road where traffic volume far exceeds its designed purpose.”

That Beacon On The Roof:

It’s interesting that the article above states that the Suburban has a ‘rotating amber light’. Back in 1969 the California Highway Patrol didn’t normally use roof top lights. The California Vehicle Code specified that emergency vehicles were to have a steady-burning, forward-facing red light. Drivers were taught to stop for a steady red — either in front (traffic lights) or coming up behind you (emergency vehicles). Flashing red or amber lights were only there to get your attention, it was the steady red that had authority. This could be anything from a spotlight to lights mounted on the roof. In the case of the California Highway Patrol, they used a red spotlight. These cars were also equipped with a red stationary and amber flashing stationary light in the rear window. The California Highway Patrol 1969 Dodge Polara shown below is a perfect example of what a California Highway Patrol vehicle looked like in 1969.

It is quite likely that the article is correct, and that the Suburban had an amber beacon on the roof and not a red one. Looking at the two Model 17 beacons below, you can see that the amber lens is more transparent (clearer) than the red lens.

You can see that in the photo below the lens is pretty transparent.

You can also see how transparent the beacon is in the photo below. In this photo you can see the red stationary light in the rear window, but in 1969 there should have also been an amber stationary light that flashed. In this case, the amber wasn’t needed because of the amber beacon flashing on the roof.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the guys at Driveway Finds were wrong for putting a red beacon on the roof. For all I know that amber beacon may have been switched to red at a later time. I’m just making an observation based on the article written at the time, the lighting setup used at the time, and from what can be seen in photos. The thing to remember here is that the steady red spotlight was the emergency light that had authority, not the beacon. The light on the roof was just an extra warning light to get people’s attention.

Bringing The Suburban Back To Life:

The guys at Driveway Finds removed the 1990’s era engine that was in it and replaced it with a 1969 Chevy 350, replaced the brakes and brake lines, added period correct wheels and tires, got the winch working, painted the doors white, added the California Highway Patrol decals, and installed a Model 17 Beacon Ray light on the roof. Aside from painting the doors, they have not done any other bodywork to the Suburban other than cleaning it up and polishing the paint. Their goal has been to preserve it and honor its history. They’ve actually taken the Suburban to several shows and were even invited to the California Highway Patrol Headquarters and Vehicle Fleet Command where they got a tour of their facility.

The Future Of This Vehicle:

Driveway Finds have received mixed opinions from people as to whether they should leave the vehicle as it is to show its history and wear and tear, or to restore it back to new condition. I myself have mixed feelings about it as well. Because it’s the only one known to exist, I think it would be great to see it restored back to the condition it was in when it started its service. But on the other hand, I’ve seen people restore police vehicles back to brand new condition and I hate that they erased the cars history that you would see in its wear and tear. When I look at a vintage police vehicle, I want to see that it had an action filled life. I don’t want it to look like a brand-new vehicle that’s never been driven.

I would strongly suggest that you follow the Driveway Finds Instagram and YouTube pages to see more photos and videos of the Suburban. The videos are definitely worth watching.  I know I’ll be watching to see what comes of the Suburban’s future.


Driveway Finds – Instagram

Driveway Finds – Youtube

California Highway Patrol Website

California Highway Patrol – Placerville


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I started my career as a police officer in 1989 with the Geneva on The Lake Police Department. I worked part time as a police officer and full time as a Security Sergeant doing armed mobile security patrols for a local security company. In 1990 I became a State Trooper with the Ohio State Highway Patrol. During my career as a State Trooper I was certified as a Technical Crash Investigator, OPOTA Police Instructor, OPOTA Police Driving Instructor, LASER Instructor, and received awards for ACE (Auto Larceny) and Post Trooper of The Year. Code 3 Garage is a mix of my inner automotive gearhead, and public safety background. I hope you enjoy it!