Leno turns the tables, takes the wheel of a 1966 Dodge Coronet police car

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1966 Dodge Coronet Police Car YouTube / Jay Leno’s Garage

Jay Leno remembers a time when the sight of a Dodge Coronet struck fear into the hearts of teenage drivers everywhere. Today he’s more than happy to get a glimpse of one—and drive it himself.

“When I was in high school, you didn’t want to see one of these in the rearview mirror,” Leno jokes in the latest episode of Jay Leno’s Garage. “This was pretty much the police car of the ’60s.”

No longer. Coronet police cars were retired decades ago, and the 1966 Coronet that visited Leno’s garage never actually saw active duty. Retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Fred Iverson built the replica as a reminder of the first squad car he drove after graduating from the police academy.

“I think I was trying to go home again,” Iverson says. The Coronet also honors five fallen officers who gave their lives to the San Fernando Police Department, where Iverson’s  law enforcement career began.

Leno explains that Coronet police cars came with 440-, 383-, and 318-cubic-inch engines. “You always tried to find an old police car,” Leno says, “because, as they said in The Blues Brothers, it had the cop motor, had the cop brakes, had the cop transmission. The police stuff was always perceived to be heavy-duty.”

Like its actual police counterparts, Iverson’s Coronet is spartan inside—just a two-way radio, with no divider between the front and back seats and no air-conditioning. Iverson begs to differ.

“It had 460 air,” he says.

“What’s that?” Leno asks.

“Four windows down at 60 mph.”

The actual police cars also had a shotgun mounted between the two officers up front, and the seats were buckets—not a bench, like in Iverson’s clone. The retired officer says each car was used for two years, about one year too long for most of them. He estimates that each car racked up 100,000 miles a year, “and those were a hard 100,000.” Without disc brakes, Iverson says the cars required new brakes every 5000 miles.

The highlight for Leno—and for folks who want to hear a few police stories—comes when Leno takes the wheel. The first thing he wants to do, of course, is try the siren. Leno and Iverson admit that Coronet’s ride is far from luxurious, but it gets the job done, especially since Iverson takes the car out only three times a year. Leno is just fine with that, as long as it doesn’t appear in his rearview mirror.

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