Barry Kluczyk
December 25, 2013

Surprisingly, while other states put Special Service Package (SSP) Fox Mustangs into service by the hundreds, the Michigan State Police—in the home state of Ford Motor Company—pressed only 34 of the performance-oriented pony police cars into service. Fourteen of them hit the Wolverine State highways in 1989, followed by 20 more in 1992. And that was it, although in 1991 the agency also experimented with a pair of Camaro police cars (see sidebar story).

In the late 1980s, the MSP cruiser of choice was the stalwart Chevy Caprice, but the department also launched a several-year experiment with higher-performance patrol cars. Factory performance was on the upswing again in Detroit and, while the Caprice was rock-solid in reliability and delivered respectable performance from its venerable small-block engine, its sub-200-horsepower output was outgunned by turbo Buicks, TPI-fed Corvettes and IROC-Z Camaros, and lightweight Fox Mustangs with 225hp 5.0-liter V-8s.

Indeed, the MSP's Mustangs represented a comparatively radical departure for an agency that was long on tradition, especially when it came to hitting the highways in full-size sedans. MSP vehicle models 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 blue exterior color and door shield graphics, both of which have remained unchanged since 1956. A red "gumball"-style roof light is exclusive to MSP cars, making them instantly identifiable from a long distance, albeit with LEDs replacing the revolving bulbs. Also, the lighted, hood-mounted "stop" sign, known as the "shark fin," predates modern roof lights. When the MSP pulled alongside your car and the stop sign lit up, you pulled over.

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The agency's SSP Mustangs matched those cues except for the large roof light, which was too large for the compact Mustang. The same case could have been made for the shark fin hood sign, but on it went.

Interestingly, although Ford was able to handle the special-order, MSP-specific exterior color for the steel parts of the body, the company apparently wasn't able to do it for the plastic bumper covers. So the cars were delivered—and went into service—with dark blue bumpers.

With only 34 ever used, finding an authentic MSP Mustang is rare. A handful of restored examples exist and you're looking at one of the best on these pages. It's one of the 20 '92 cars and is owned by Detroit-area SSP enthusiast Mike Patterson, sharing garage space with his restored Missouri Highway Patrol Mustang. Truth be told, however, Patterson wasn't responsible for the car's meticulous restoration. That was taken on by Bruce Howard, who owned the car previously. The SSP Mustang community is tight and the cars often trade hands without going "public."

Howard was able to trace the car's service history from the MSP, which was helpful throughout the car's restoration, including the donation of period-correct state police license plates, which are installed for show only. The Michigan State Police technically leased the car from a company called Wheels Inc., a fleet management company, which bought this particular Mustang on July 9, 1992, for $13,806.20. It was originally assigned to the Paw Paw post in southwest Michigan (just west of Kalamazoo) and later transferred to the Bridgman post southwest of Paw Paw near Lake Michigan. It was retained in service until September 30, 1997, when it was retired with only 48,279 miles.

The MSP only drove the Mustangs in fair weather, so in the precipitation-prone state of Michigan, that meant plenty of down time—particularly throughout the winter.

So only about five years out of service, Bruce Howard dove into the restoration and the result was fantastically authentic, right down to period citation books and other items. Its roster of equipment includes the shark fin sign, Unity spotlights, Sound Off headlamp flashers, Ham Sar flashback flasher, Whelen Mini-Max red grille lights, Whelen Responder oscillating red light, Peterson red deck lights, Federal Signal PA500F siren control box, Whelen Project-A-Flex siren speaker, Motorola Syntor X Systems 90-S VHF high-band and UHF low-band radios, Kustom KR-10 SPF radar/TSS VASCAR, and a door-mounted shotgun rack. Troopers carried a small shovel in the trunk.

Like other MSP Mustangs, this one is fitted with a 5.0-liter engine backed by an AOD, a trans that sapped some of "oomph" from the Mustang's performance feel. All '92 MSP Mustangs were believed to have black interiors, as this one shows.

The 160-mph "certified calibration" speedometer is an SSP-specific feature. This example was built with many of the items commonly assumed as standard-issue but were actually optional—full-size spare tire, single-key operation, and relocated trunk release button. By the way, the 160-mph speedo became part of the SSP package in 1990; earlier models used a 140-mph unit (while non-SSP Mustangs had an 85-mph speedo).

More than a decade after its restoration, this retired cruiser's appearance looks fresh and meticulous, owing to its owners' dedication to preserving its historical importance. Besides, it works pretty much only as a show car because covering the lights and insignias for even a brief jaunt onto the highway is a time-consuming process, which we witnessed first-hand when we asked Patterson to drive a short distance for our photo shoot.

"It's a lot of fun to own one of these cars, even if you can't drive it everyday," says Patterson. "It generates all kinds of questions and it's great to know I'm helping maintain a piece of history."

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MSP's Pony Car

At the Michigan State Police's training academy just outside of Lansing, a small fleet of historical state police cruisers greets visitors. It includes a '92 Mustang, a '91 Camaro B4C, a '95 Caprice 9C1, a '75 Plymouth, and even a '37 Ford that shows an early version of the "shark fin" hood sign.

And while all of them represent significant eras in the agency's patrol history, it's the Mustang and Camaro that get the most attention. The Mustang shows less than 60,000 miles on the odometer and has been cosmetically maintained, although it is admittedly a few details shy of the stunning condition on the privately held example in our main story.

We gave the car a quick inspection under the hood, spotting 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.

Although retired from active duty, the Mustang continues to serve as a four-wheeled ambassador for the agency, making appearances at car shows, county fairs, and other events.