This semi-retired ’92 Mustang SSP still serves an active role with the Michigan State Police.
In the more than 90 years of the MSP, tradition has infused its operations and public presence, perhaps no more visibly than the distinctive blue state police vehicles. Of course, the cars have changed with the times, but they’ve almost always incorporated visual cues that are among the most unique in the nation, including:
A MSP-specific (special order) blue exterior color that’s been used since 1956
Door shield graphics that have remained unchanged since 1956
A red “gumball”-style roof light that is exclusive to MSP cars, making them instantly identifiable from a long distance
A lighted, hood-mounted “stop” sign known as the “shark fin” that predates modern roof lights and was originally developed to provide an indicator for motorists to pull over – when the MSP pulled alongside your car and the stop sign lit up, you pulled over.
When it came to its patrol cars, the Michigan State Police tried and used all the conventional full-size sedans and, thanks to its proximity to the Big Three, became – and remains – influential in field-testing police-package models. In fact, the agency’s annual testing of all special service vehicles is followed by police agencies throughout the country.
In the late Eighties, the MSP cruiser of choice was the stalwart Chevy Caprice 9C1, but the department launched a several-year experiment with higher-performance patrol cars, starting with the Mustang SSP. Fourteen of the cars were pressed into duty for the MSP in 1989. Another 20 Mustangs were employed in 1992. Interestingly, the agency also experimented with a couple of 1991 Camaro police cars.
So, there were only 34 MSP Mustang SSPs, which was a drop in the bucket compared to the more than 2,500 purchased by the California Highway Patrol and 1,600-plus ordered by the Florida Highway Patrol. Of the 34 MSP cars, we don’t know how many are left in private hands, but the fully dressed 1992 example seen here is still owned by the Michigan State Police. It’s not on road patrol any longer, but it’s still in the department – think of it as desk duty for a seasoned veteran. (MSP also still owns one of those Camaros, as well as an LT1-era Caprice, a ’75 Plymouth and a 1937 Ford with the original-style “stop” signs.)
With the assistance of Sergeant Matt Rogers, a driving instructor at the MSP training academy and keeper of the historic cars’ keys, we photographed the Mustang on the grounds of the Michigan State Police academy.
Under the hood, we spotted the dog tag-style buck tags clipped to the core support behind the driver-side headlamp that outlined the DSO number and SSP identification. “DSO” stands for Domestic Special Order and all true SSPs have one, which is a code for the regional sales office through which the cars were channeled. The car also sported the original VIN tags on the front fascia, front fenders, doors and trunk lid, suggesting it led an accident-free life running down speeders and bad guys on Michigan’s freeways and byways.
In fact, considering it’s been almost 20 years since this car put into service, its condition is pretty remarkable. It shows only 58,000 miles on the six-digit odometer, which is very low for a police car. That it survives at all in Michigan these days, too, is a testament to the importance of heritage to the department. The state has been hit the hardest by the economic downturn and statewide budgets have been slashed. It would be all too easy to get rid of the historic cruisers to save a few bucks.
The cars are popular four-wheeled ambassadors for the MSP and are loaned to different state police posts throughout the state for display special events. Unsurprisingly, the Mustang draws plenty of attention. Here’s to hoping the historic cars of the MSP are never fully retired.