Jefferson County Sheriff John P. Burns’s 1955 Ford Fairlane Town Car is more than a collector’s item.
It’s a black and white police car in mint condition, replete with chrome accents and all the trappings of a law enforcement vehicle. The floor-operated siren works, the Sireno R5R emergency light flashes and, in a pinch, the sheriff could even pull over an offending motorist if need be.
“I probably could, but I probably wouldn’t,” Sheriff Burns responded, smiling, when the question was posed.
He bought the car with his own money two months ago from the Rev. Christopher C. Carrara, a Roman Catholic priest who serves as chaplain for both the Jefferson County and Lewis County sheriff’s departments.
According to Father Carrara, one of the questions that came up last year during parades in both Jefferson and Lewis counties was, “Any taxpayer money in that?”
Once inquiring minds were put to rest, compliments took the place of interrogation.
“It’s the looks and the enthusiasm that young and old alike have for it when they come up and they wave that really makes that historical connection,” Father Carrara said.
He obtained the car a year ago when he put out the word to a friend that he was looking for a classic police car. Through a network of collectors, he was able to track down a car in Wilmington, Del.
The car represents a replica of the type of car likely used by the chief of the Wilmington Police Bureau in 1955. It has a standard engine and parts.
Today, police cars are equipped with special engines, sophisticated equipment and heavy-duty components. The practice of outfitting police cars in this way did not begin until 1956.
Parked across from the Fairlane was Sheriff Burns’s departmental SUV. When asked to compare the 1955 version of an official cop car to the vehicles his deputies drive today, Sheriff Burns said there’s no comparison.
“We’re driving Dodge Chargers now along with the Chevy Tahoes. The Chargers have got the big V8 Hemis in them. They’re a lot quicker, have a lot more speed and handle a lot better,” Sheriff Burns said.
The Fairlane doesn’t even have power steering, something that caused Father Carrara some problems when he took it to a show at the New York City Police Museum. “Driving all over Manhattan with no power steering was not fun,” Father Carrara said.
Though most of it may be old-fashioned, the 1955 Fairlane has one surprisingly modern piece of equipment. In place of a two-way radio, there is an early version of a car phone. “You’d pick it up just like a telephone and you’d call in and you’d get your complaints that way,” Sheriff Burns said.
The car can be seen in the Watertown Christmas parade today, provided it doesn’t snow.