Classic 1951 Chevy Joins East Texas Police Department

Gladewater police Chief Robert Vine is among millions of classic car enthusiasts who dream of restoring an old ride to its former glory.

The Tyler Morning Telegraph reports he knows many vintage vehicles are worth preserving, as they are well designed and carefully crafted with old school techniques and pride.

So when the idea dawned that perhaps an old car could be repurposed to represent the department in public, the chief's mental wheels started spinning.

Was it possible to transform an antique into a fully functioning patrol unit?

"It had to be functional," Vine said. "Our goal was, for one Saturday a month, to have it downtown. We also wanted to have it in parades and at special events in our community."

The police department's journey from brainstorming to buying could be described as both simple and complex.

If a suitable retro ride could be located, it needed to offer more than just a pretty grill.

Police hoped to find a car for downtown security and a fun conversation starter between cops and curious minds.

But no tax dollars could be harmed in the process.

Police started talking about the idea, and found that many people liked the idea of combining old and new.

Gladewater is, after all, the antique capital of East Texas.

McKaig Chevrolet Buick and private donors stepped up with offers of support, giving the department some cash flow, about $11,000, to do a little shopping.

"We wanted something from the '40s or '50s," Vine said. "We started looking on line and saw a possibility – it was out of Missouri and the owner only drove it occasionally."

On the police radar: a reasonably priced, four-door, mostly original 1951 Chevy Deluxe, a monster of a car that offered an elegant style and top shelf comfort.

It featured smooth lines, a pristine interior, a great engine and a solid body adorned with gleaming chrome.

The exterior needed attention, but it was primarily cosmetic.

Apparently, there was instant attraction.

A deal was struck and the rest, as they say, is history.

"It was exactly what we had been wanting," the chief said. "It's a great car. You just don't find them in this condition every day."

Acquiring the unit was the first of many steps expected to unfold over the next few months.

The car, dubbed Unit 53, has a new station to call home, but it still needs work.

Police envision the faded gray-green former family car transformed into a spiffy, black and white, old school squad car, but that type of work can be expensive.

Kilgore College auto body instructor Joel Laws admits he jumped at the opportunity to volunteer his services.

He's a veteran paint and body expert, who recognizes the benefit of giving his students real world experience.

And in this case, the fruits of their free labor will become a piece of Gladewater's history, to be enjoyed for generations to come.

"It's in great condition," Laws said. "You're not going to find an original car any better than this one. This is a great project for our students."

Police Capt. Michael Kirkwood volunteered for transport duty, driving the cruiser – windows rolled down – from Gladewater to Kilgore without issue.

He gives the experience two thumbs up.

"It floats," he said. "I'd never driven anything that old, but I really liked it. It's just a big tank, but it runs and drives really smooth."

Kilgore auto body student Ethan McKamie, a resident of Gladewater, is among those assisting with the car's transformation. He and others appear eager to explore the rolling piece of history.

"It feels pretty good to help because I get to see it around town and say, 'Hey, I worked on that,'" McKamie said. "I like the idea of working on a vehicle to help people out."

Student Nick Flippo agreed, adding, "I think it's a gorgeous car. My uncle owned one, so I've seen them, but not a lot of people have them."

Laws, the instructor, said his students are to spend the next several weeks dismantling, cleaning, repairing, painting and reassembling the car.

Components that cannot be salvaged will be replaced, while others – such as radios and siren will be added.

Police already found a bubble strobe light, still in the box, to mount on the hood.

Authorities hope to raise about $1,500 more to cover incidental costs associated with bringing the car into service. To learn more, contact the department at 903-845-2166.

"I think this is something our community will be proud to have on display," Vine said. "Gladewater is known for our antiques."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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