Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Oct. 20, 2020

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Seattle police museum restoring 1949 patrol car

The Columbian
Published:

SEATTLE — Most home garages are pretty ordinary. Some are filled with tools, forgotten toys, cleaning supplies and the all-too-familiar family van.

But in one garage in Westport, on the Washington Coast, a little gem of history was tucked away and only recently rediscovered: an original 1949 State Patrol car.

The recently acquired old Ford sedan, which was found largely disassembled and stored in boxes in the garage, is being restored to its former squad-car glory by the Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum.

In the early 1950s, the old black-and-white was used as a patrol vehicle in Ellensburg.

Little is known about the car’s history in the decades that followed, but about four years ago, it found its way to a Westport man who bought it as a mechanics project for his son.

The museum plans to add the restored car to its collection of historic police vehicles and display it at events.

Although the museum is in downtown Seattle, it keeps many of its 17 cars at a warehouse next to its maintenance facility in Ellensburg, where the 1949 patrol car is being restored.

Something special

Nicknamed “The Shoebox” for its compact structure, the 1949 Ford sedan was the first “police package” vehicle manufactured in the country. Police package cars were equipped with special amenities for use in law enforcement, according to Seattle police Officer Jim Ritter, the museum’s president and founder. Before that, police “used civilian cars without any special suspension or brakes or engines or anything on them,” Ritter said.

But the ’49 model was something special from the start. It was loaded, with a mechanical siren, heavy-duty brakes, a spotlight and a flathead V-8 engine that could create 110 horsepower with the help of a three-speed overdrive transmission, according to Ritter.

After the car’s stint from about 1949 to 1952 in Ellensburg, Ritter said, it was sold at auction.

Little is known about its journey until Ralph Voorhis bought it with one of his sons in the Renton area and hauled it to Westport about four years ago. Voorhis said he does not remember the name of the previous owner.

The Voorhises did some work on the car but eventually put it up for sale, because the family was moving to Hawaii.

Ritter said he learned about the car from a friend, who had seen it on Craigslist. Ritter drove to Westport in December, inspected the car and bought it for $600, then donated it to the museum.

“It was in amazingly good shape considering that it’s a 64-year-old vehicle,” said Ritter. “Most police agencies that restore old cars, they are simply civilian versions they’ve mocked up to look like police cars. This is actually an original.”

Keeping the car in the garage helped protect it from Westport’s harsh coastal elements, Ritter said. “If it had been outside, exposed to the weather, it would have rusted away to nothing.”

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