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First drive: Caprice police car not for civvies

Cops only: Holden's arresting Chev Caprice PPV will be the exclusive property of US police forces.

Holden’s Chevy PPV cop car is for neither Oz police nor US public consumption

14 Jan 2011

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS in PHOENIX

GENERAL Motors has confirmed that the Holden-developed Chevrolet Caprice PPV (Police Pursuit Vehicle) will not spawn a civilian version for private buyers in the United States.

“We want the police departments to know that this vehicle has been specifically engineered for their needs,” said GM’s fleet and commercial operations manager for law enforcement vehicles, Dana Hammer.

“I think it would dilute the Caprice’s appeal if the public also have access to it.” Conversely, for different reasons, Australian police forces will not be offered a variation on this specific Caprice, despite the fact that all Caprice PPVs are built in Elizabeth, South Australia.

Speaking to GoAuto at a police demonstration day near Phoenix, Arizona, this month, Holden’s chairman and managing director Mike Devereux said he believed Australian police forces were happy with the VE Commodore sedan and ute-based ‘divvy van’ models.

“There’s no market for a PPV Caprice car in Australia,” he said.

“It’s interesting. In America they put the bad guys in the back of the car. In Australia we use the ‘divvy’ vans – so the long-wheelbase Caprice thing has come about because of how the police in America use the vehicle. And frankly it’s not going to change. So there’s no demand for the short-wheelbase car.

“So there’s not really a lot to put into the Australian police cars from the PPV Caprice, since a lot of the seat sculpting front and back is for US-spec weapon holders and radio units, and that’s not something we would want.”

137 center imageLeft: Chevrolet Caprice PPV. Below: GM Holden chairman and managing director Mike Devereux.

But Mr Devereux indicated that the experience gained in engineering the WM specifically for PPV work would probably flow-on to Australian cars eventually – but only where applicable.

“There are some basic things we’ve done to all of the vehicles to make them more suitable to this country, such as improved corrosion prevention, and the pounding that (the US police) put their vehicles through.

“So there could be changes that we do that we could integrate into future versions of the Commodore and Caprice, but this is a very specific vehicle, with specific engineering done for this market over the last couple of years. Longer term maybe, but not straight away.

Holden started the Caprice PPV program two years ago, altering a number of items over the standard vehicle that has been available in Australia as the WM Statesman and Caprice luxury sedan range since late 2006 (Holden dropped the former and cut about $10,000 from the price of the latter with the Series II update in September last year).

The WM Caprice basics are there – rear-wheel drive, 51:49 front/rear weight distribution, MacPherson strut front and multi-link independent rear suspension, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock brakes, and variable-ratio rack-and-pinion steering system.

Initially, GM’s Chevrolet-built, E85 Ethanol-capable 6.0-litre V8 will be offered, mated to an electronically controlled six-speed automatic gearbox with sequential shift facility and recalibrated upshifts for maximum performance response.

In this state of tune, it delivers 265kW of power at 5300rpm and 520Nm of torque at 4400rpm, for a 0-100km time of “under six seconds”, according to Holden.

In US EPA tests, it returns 13.1 litres per 100km is the combined test, and 9.8 and 15.7L/100km for the city and highway cycles respectively.

In contrast, the Australian-market 260kW/517Nm Caprice V8 returns 12.3L/100km on the different Aussie combined cycle.

Production of the 3.6-litre Alloytec V6 model begins later this year. GM is not releasing any specs, but expect it to improve on the local Caprice’s 210kW and 350Nm. Its availability in the US is to overcome police departments who do not want to be seen using V8s.

Combining some of the emissions and US-specific airbag calibration work (as many Americans don’t wear belts, their force needs to controlled) done for the late (and very much lamented Stateside) VE Commodore-based Pontiac G8 series, as well as the Middle East-bound WM Caprice exports (which still account for a few thousand a year), Holden and Chevrolet engineers developed the Caprice PPV at Milford proving ground in Michigan as well as at Holden’s proving grounds at Lang Lang near Melbourne.

The suspension is basically the FE2 pack developed for Aussie police but revised with a higher ride height and other minor recalibrations to create the FB3 set-up.

Stronger front struts, stronger front-end knuckles and larger brakes with specific heavy-duty rotors, callipers and pads all increase durability. Holden says front-end kerb strike capability testing increased ten-fold, while the steering ratio has been altered for the US car.

Other mods include the availability of the VE ute’s curtain airbag (rear occupants are not catered for here because of the re-design of the cabin partition to protect the police up front), and heavy-duty rubber floors and vinyl seat coverings.

Speaking of seats, the front items have softer honeycomb padding, bolstered upper sides and scalloped lower sides to accommodate bulky gun holsters and other such items without the need for them to be removed. The rear bench is a new one-piece item without the cargo load-through item found on the regular Caprice.

Two PPV models are available – the 9C1 ‘Patrol’ and the 9C3 ‘Detective’ package.

Other than the obvious differences (livery for the former), they are virtually identical save for the Patrol car’s wheel centre caps instead of full hubcaps, the option of vinyl in lieu of standard cloth trim, and a different centre console with a newly-designed floor lever that is offset to the driver’s side to accommodate patrol radio and communications equipment. And then there are issues of safety and cost that GM is leaning on heavily to convince the Americans.

As most US police cars are based on the outgoing Ford Crown Victoria four-door sedan with 1950s-era body-on-chassis truck-like construction, Chevrolet is making much of the Caprice’s monocoque body construction, standard electronic stability control, traction control and limited-slip differential. The latter have been recalibrated for this role.

Other compelling selling points include a 55-hertz body structure (making the Holden significantly stronger and stiffer than the opposition), near-50 per cent application of high-, advanced high-, and ultra-high-strength steels, advanced safety cage tech with front, side and rear crash-energy load path dissipation, class-leading crash performance for high occupant safety, and the anti-fatiguing quality’s of low noise, vibration and harshness measures.

Low running costs also figure highly. As the Caprice PPV’s $30,995 MSRP is upwards of 10 per cent more than the Crown Victoria, GM emphasises the WM’s unique bolt-on front-end module that – as with all VE-based vehicles – eliminates welding on re-application. These and other spares are also stocked throughout the US as to allay fears of long waiting times.

GM says that while the 492-litre boot – or trunk in American-speak – is officially about 15 per cent shy of the Crown Victoria’s, the optional spare wheel does not impede cargo area volume as it does in the Ford, which then puts the Holden ahead.

At 1932kg, the US car is 59kg heavier than the much more heavily equipped Oz-spec Caprice V8.

As there will be no civilian version of the Australian sedan, GM is also emphasising the expected high resale value as another reason for the police to go Caprice.

“We’ve been doing this for a long time – so we’ve had plenty of experience and input from police,” Mr Devereux said.

“We’ve had people at Milford (GM proving ground in America) driving and assessing with police forces here, and we do the same thing in parallel at Lang Lang and they do all the big work in Australia as well.” Along with the Caprice, Chevrolet offers the front-wheel drive Impala sedan, Chevrolet Tahoe SUV and Chevrolet Express Prisoner Transport van to the US police force, for the widest range of police-duty vehicles on the market.

Drive impressions: HOLDEN flew an Australian media contingency to a racetrack in Phoenix, Arizona, to sample its latest export success, the Caprice PPV.

Only three laps of a mile-long course and a further two speed and slalom routes of similar length were allowed, so we only had the briefest taste of what the US cop car can do.

Yet what was immediately apparent on the tight winding turns was how much more of a taut vehicle the Caprice is, with more responsive steering than we expected. GM switched off the ESC so the tail would wag, but of course it is still controllable and catchable (as well as a lot of fun!).

We couldn’t really ascertain if the American model is any faster than the Aussie WM, and there is about two-tonnes of car that needs to be hustled along – but hustle along the Caprice PPV does, with especially strong mid-range acceleration and that always-welcome V8 burble.

Interestingly, Holden has recalibrated the up and down-shift cycles, so the PPV coming out of a slow corner is already held in a lower ratio for more instantaneous acceleration – handy when the criminals in the getaway car ahead are trying to scramble away from the fuzz through the mean streets of San Francisco.

Chevrolet’s PR people made much of the braking performance, and – sure enough – the Caprice’s stopping power matched the hype. GM says no other police vehicle is as eager to come to a halt.

About the only down point is the palpably firmer ride, but the members of the US police force from Arizona that were also there to sample the Caprice could not find fault at all with the performance, braking and dynamics of the Aussie-built machine.

“We love it,” said one enthusiastic cop. “It is better in every single way than the awful front-drive Chev Impala we’re stuck with. Bring on rear-wheel drive!” Holden, it seems, has a big hit on its hands with the boys in blue.

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