Goodbye Saabs, hello Ford Explorers | VailDaily.com
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Goodbye Saabs, hello Ford Explorers

Tamara Miller
Vail Daily/Bret Hartman The Vail Police Department will soon be driving Ford Explores instead of the old Saab Sedan's.
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Sad as it may be, there’s a lot to be said for the Ford Explorer as the new Vail cop car.

They’re spacious inside, making it easier to fit the array of equipment typically found in police cars these days. They’ve got four-wheel drive, which comes in handy when hustling to a call in deep snow.

And they sure are cheaper – over a five-year lease they’ll be $6,000 less than what the police department drove before. They’re no Saabs, though.

“There is a little bit of sadness of losing them after 30 years,” said Todd Scholl, fleet manager for the new troop of cop cars. “(The Saabs) did drive well.”

And let’s be honest here. They were cool.

“It will be interesting to see what the public response will be,” Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger said.

By the middle of April, the era of the Vail police Saabs will be over. Officers are already trying out the shiny black Ford Explorers, getting a feel for the Vail Police Department’s new official patrol car.

For all the lamenting that has gone on in town hall, residents and tourists think the change is for the best. “I was surprised when I first heard about it,” said Jennifer Hilger, a Denver resident in town on spring break. “Then I thought it makes sense since they are in the mountains. I don’t know how a Saab would do in snow.”

The Saabs performed well, actually, Scholl said. Space and budget constraints drove the department – and ultimately, the Vail Town Council – to replace the sleek Saab patrol car with the more practical Ford Explorer.

Police began driving the Saabs in 1974 as part of a testing program. The department leased two vehicles every six months for $1; in exchange the company used the department in a promotional campaign, according to town officials. The Aspen Police Department continues to participate in the program.

The leases were subsidized until Saab recently announced it would discontinue the low-cost program. The price difference would have been dramatic, from $319 per month for the fleet to $350 per vehicle, per month. The department has seven Saabs.

After analyzing their options, the department opted to switch to the Explorers.

Cost savings are as good a reason as any, said Elvira Martinez, an Avon resident.

“I know I like to save money,” she said, with a laugh.

Scholl and his maintenance team are switching equipment out of the Saabs and installing it into the Explorers. Cramming a radar, scanner, cameras and now a computer was a challenge in the more compact Saabs.

The Explorers also will be equipped with backseats designed to make it easier and more comfortable for a handcuffed suspect. The seats are made out of easy-to-clean plastic. This presents a considerable advantage over the black leather interior found in the Saabs.

“(Officers) were taking people and wrapping them in plastic so if they soiled themselves it would spare the seat,” Scholl said.

Det. Dirk Etheridge prefers the Explorers. He took one out for patrol for the first time this week and was impressed with the vehicle’s power and more spacious interior.

“They are well set up for what we have to do in a patrol function,” he said. “The Saabs were fun to drive, but not practical, in my opinion, for police work.”

Riding around in a sports utility vehicle is much more comfortable for the 6-foot, 2-inch detective. “It’s hard to climb in and out of a Saab for 12, 14 hours a day,” he said.

Tourists frequently asked Etheridge if they could pose for a picture in front of his patrol Saab. So far, no one has approached him about taking photos of the new car.

“Most of the people, it’s more of a joke,” he said.

The new cop cars got Vail resident Eric Archer’s approval.

“I don’t think tourists really care what cops are driving,” Archer said. “I think the SUVs look cooler anyway.”

Staff writer Tamara Miller can be reached via e-mail at: tmiller@vaildaily.com or by calling 949-0555 ext. 607.


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