Special Service Package

“SSP”, that’s what they called me. A couple dozen siblings and I were being loaded up onto a truck. We were being sent away, but not to a dealership. The only thing I knew was that the trailer we were getting on had Texas plates.

After a long journey, we arrived at a warehouse assembly plant. This plant was filled with police cars. They lined us up and rolled us in groups of seven where we were then filled with all sorts of equipment. Shotgun gun-rack, CB radio, halogen lights on my front grille and behind the rear seat, radio antenna, search lights, decals that read “Texas Highway Patrol” on both my doors, and a big one across my trunk lid that read, “State Trooper.” During this time I learned what SSP stood for, Special Service Package.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was part of a special order of Mustangs built for highway pursuits. A wrecked Dodge Diplomat at the assembly warehouse mentioned that my year, ’85, was the second order of Mustangs to be drafted for service. “What an honor”, I thought. “A sports car used to catch other sports cars. Genius!” I couldn’t wait to get started.

 

 

Officer Ray T. Cannon – My First Partner

He was my first partner. The man stood like an oak tree at six feet tall as he towered over me. At first glance I had no idea how he was going to squeeze himself into my driver seat. A decorated officer in the DPS, Ray was somewhere in his late 30’s with a buzz cut hair cut under his hat and a devil’s grin.

The day he came to see me at the motor pool a weather worn looking mechanic tossed him the keys and said, “Take care of it Ray. Don’t make the department regret getting these machines for you cowboys.” He placed his oily red rag on my hood before putting his hand over it and leaning on me. Ray stared at me in silence for a moment before saying, “Don’t worry Doc. You’ve seen my wall of trophies.” Doc smirked before exhaling abruptly. “Yeah, but interstates aren’t roundy-rounders kiddo.” It took weeks for me to find out what he meant by roundy-rounders.

Ray used to race semi-professionally on dirt tracks before joining the force. That’s why he was chosen to drive me. It was encouraging to know that my partner understood car control. He was a gentle soul who loved people almost as much as he loved speed. On our first day together he tested out my 5.0 liter V8 to see what I could do. He slammed through all five gears as I accelerated hard up to 110 mph before he backed off with a huge smile. “Woo! Atta Boy!” he exclaimed with delight and padded my dashboard with his massive sun tanned hands. His excitement only motivated me more. I wanted to chase somebody.

I was not a regular police unit, my job description was simple – catch speeders. My creators at Ford once said I could catch Porsches in one of their ads to get law enforcement on board with the idea of using sports cars to catch high speed junkies. Apparently it worked, but it had been months and I had not seen any real action.

We were assigned to a section of I-35 North of Waco. A black top section that was arrow straight with nothing to see for miles, a perfect temptation for any who-be speed freak in a hot machine. We were ready. Our favorite spot was hiding behind a bill board with the radar gun pointed towards the road. Anyone heading northbound wouldn’t be able to spot us until it was too late. All we had to do was sit and wait… and wait.

One day, Ray got so bored that he decided to take a drive on a dirt back road he knew. The road lead through a neighborhood of ranches separated only by their fences. On these roads Ray liked to practice high speed maneuvers. Kicking my clutch as he floored the throttle to make me dance across the wide dirt roads side to side. Always in control, Ray loved counter-steering through the soft dirt as I zig-zagged along the road kicking up a sand storm of dust behind me. On the turns he let me swing loose and pitch it at nearly 90 degrees like a rally car I’d seen on a calendar in the motor pool garage. It was time much better spent that just sitting idling in the Texas sun. Afterwards, Ray quickly took me to the nearest truck stop to clean off any evidence of our rebellious behavior. Clean as I was, I spent the rest of the week shaking off clumps of dried horse manure in my suspension.

1986, On the Job

My first year as a Texas state trooper was mostly uneventful. The only times I got to run was when Ray got too bored to sit still. Beyond that I rarely went over a 100 mph – I didn’t need to. All the speeders we came across offered no contest. Soon as they saw us coming in their rear-view people would stop immediately. One driver in a station wagon locked up its brakes when he saw us coming and slid off the road into the grass median. Ray gave the driver a warning. I guess the fear of seeing us and the shock of sliding off the road was enough punishment for going 10 over the speed limit.

One night we stopped a drunk driver in a souped up Dodge pickup. It was fire engine red and low to the ground with a 440 big block that sounded like it wanted to bare-knuckle punch its way out through the front grille. Unfortunately for the truck, the driver was so drunk that when we flashed my red lights he floored it, spun out, and crashed straight into a telephone phone. The driver was thrown through the windshield, but survived. I can’t say the same for the truck…

A Flash in the Dark

It was December in ’86, Ray and I were at our usual spot behind the billboard. Close to midnight I heard Ray’s stomach begin to idle and I knew we would be going to the truck stop for a snack soon. He was already reaching for the CB mic when a flash of light whooshed past us! Even I had no idea what it was but Ray wasted no time. He turned the key and through me into gear. I was still struggling to find traction when he shifting into 3rd gear with his two fingers while still holding on to the CB mic.

“Dispatch. I’m 10-80 heading Northbound on I-35. Suspect in a black car. Unknown make. Just blew my doors off! Traveling way over a 100!”

Dispatch: “Copy that Unit 44. Do you need assistance?”

“10-12. I’m going to try and catch up to him first.”

Dispatch: “10-4 Unit 44.”

“10-80!? We’re in pursuit!” I thought as we passed a semi-truck on the left at 105 mph, still accelerating hard to catch up with the dark shadow that was still a mile ahead of us. Ray pushed the gas pedal firmly up against my floorboard. I was running wide open at full throttle. My tires started to feel light as I shot past 120 mph. We were starting to reel him in. Sirens blaring as my halogen lights cut through the winter night. We caught up with the black shadow a few minutes.

“Dispatch. Still 10-80. Suspect is driving a black…Buick Regal.”

GN 86

Ray’s baritone voice went high when he uttered the word Buick, as if he couldn’t believe it. I was rolling at 123 mph when I started to inch closer to its rear bumper. Suddenly, the black Buick started to pull away from us! Nothing I could do but watch it pull away as if I were standing still. I hear the Buick whoosh away in a hum. It wasn’t a V8, but I couldn’t match its speed. Ray pounded on the steering wheel in anger at being made to look like a fool.

“Dispatch. Suspect traveling over 130 mph. Sum bitch must have a rocket under the hood!”

Dispatch: “10-4 Unit 44. Can you continue pursuit?”

“Negative. Too dangerous. My car can’t keep up. Struggling to maintain visual. Are there any units up ahead?

As soon as Ray asked for other units we flew by two crown vic’s sitting by the median.

“Whoa! Dispatch! A black car just tore past us… Ray is in hot pursuit but falling behind!”

Dispatch: “10-4 Unit 164.”

I was reaching my limit and struggling to hold on to 126 mph as the black car continued to pull away like a shadow chasing the sun. It was lunch time which meant a lot of patrolling officers were not ready to chase down a speeder like this. Continuing the pursuit just to bust him for speeding would mean putting a lot of innocent people at risk. Ray had no choice but to call off the chase in the hopes that the black car would slow down. I watched the Buick disappear into the horizon as I slowed down to highway speeds – feeling defeated. My first real chase and I blew it…

Up until that point I had never seen Ray lose his temper. Being a giant meant he always had to watch his cool as to not frighten those around him but when we got back to the station I could see that he was fighting to keep his composure. He was angry with himself for letting a reckless speeder go, not because he wasn’t good enough but because his car wasn’t fast enough. I could feel his disappointment in me and I too felt ashamed for letting my partner down.

Off the Record Tune Up

The following night, I sat parked in the motor pool until Doc the mechanic moved me to the very back of the lot where they kept the wrecked patrol cars. An hour later, Ray showed up wearing street clothes in his 70’s Chevy pickup and had a group of men riding in the bed of the truck. The 6 men were going to try something that was completely off the books. Working as a team, they removed extra weight off me, and make adjusts to my suspension. Then they opened the hood and removed my engine entirely!

Using Doc’s tow truck as a hoist they removed my heart and placed it to the side. Then they uncovered an engine that was sitting in the back of Ray’s truck. A small block 302 V8 from my creators. Decked out with silver valve covers that read “Cobra” and neon bright distributor wires sitting on top of a Ford blue engine block. It was a crown jewel of an engine.

“Ray, where did you get this mill?”

“From my old stock car. Don’t worry, I removed all the serial numbers.”

“I still can’t believe we’re doing this. It’s not the 70’s anymore, Ray. Times have changed.”

“Yeah I know, but that Buick is far from stock and it’s still out there. It already thinks it can outrun us, so I’ll bet you money it’ll try it again just for kicks.”

“How can you be so sure? It could be in Canada by now, and you said it was running with stolen plates.”

Ray stopped turning the wrench and stared blankly into the engine bay.

“I’m not sure, but that’s the last time I let a bastard get away because I didn’t have enough power.”

The trash can was over flowing with crushed beer cans when they closed my hood down in a loud thump, just as the sun was beginning to peak over the horizon. Doc rode shotgun while Ray drove me out of the motor pool for a test run. The other men followed in the truck. We went to our usual spot on I-35. The place was still empty as people near Houston were just started to pour their first cup of coffee. The truck was a few miles up ahead holding a radar gun and flashed their high beams to give Ray the all-clear. “Alright Ray-Ray. Hit it!” Doc shouted as he snapped his fingers and pointed to the sunrise horizon. Ray followed orders.

I hunkered down and launched like a jaguar, attacking the pavement with my tires as they dug their thread deep into the asphalt looking for grip. I was cranking 400 horsepower now! I felt unstable but unstoppable as the speedo spun all the way to 130 and was starting to run out of numbers. Doc was hollering the whole time like a rodeo clown while holding on to the dashboard. We were approaching the men who were standing by the side of the road cheering us on with one of them pointing a radar gun at us.

“Just about broke the sound barrier Ray! Radar clocked you at 143 mph!” A voice said over the radio. Half a mile later Ray backed off the throttle, spun me around in a handbrake turn. I slide sideways in a straight line for what felt like miles while Ray corrected the steering and pumped the brakes. 180 degrees later I was facing the opposite direction and heading back to the station. I was thoroughly impressed by this maneuver, but Doc was terrified and angry that Ray didn’t warn him first.

Regal Redemption

Ray never told his Captain what they had done to me, so nobody besides them knew I was probably the hottest cop car in the state. But we didn’t want anyone to know until after we proved the reason for doing it, by catching a notorious speeder. It was the day before Christmas Eve when we got our chance once again. Ray had moved me further down the road to a truck stop. We hid behind a row of tractor trailers with a clear view of the overpass in front of the truck stop. Ray had a gut feeling about the driver in the Buick and waited patiently for his second appearance.

It was 3 am when we spotted the black Buick Regal traveling southbound across the over pass. I painted thread marks as we left the parking lot and charged up the on-ramp at full throttle.

181844863

“Unit 44 to Dispatch. 10-80 on that Black Buick again. Request 10-74 before the city of Abbott. ETA 10 minutes.”

“Dispatch. Unit37 is 10-17 on location for immediate 10-74. We’ll catch the mother this time!”

“10-4 Unit 37.”

A roadblock was being set up a few miles ahead but I wanted to catch the Buick before that. We were rolling at 120 when it spotted us and made a run for it. We had the jump on him so we caught up to his bumper before he could start pulling away. The Buick made a whistling noise as it accelerated. “Its turbo charged!” I thought. Ray put his foot down hard and pushed me up to 135 mph and stayed right on its tail. The lines on the road were starting to turn into a solid line. We were passing cars as if they were going in reverse. It would have been fun if I wasn’t focused on the task at hand, which was running this mother down. I was beginning to think like Ray.

“Ray. We are all set. Careful coming around the bend; we’re at the end of the turn.”

“10-4.” Was all Ray could say as he was too concentrated on maintaining the 140 mph speed behind the shadow Buick.

The road opened up and traffic disappeared, as if they knew there was a high speed showdown between two enemies. Ray pulled to the right and we were able to get alongside the Buick. An emblem on its fender read “Grand National” as we got door to door. Up ahead I spotted another Trooper on the side of the road looking out for us and blocking any traffic. His hat blew off when we rocketed past him.

“Holy shit! They’re running flat out! Watch out they are about to reach the bend!”

“10-4. We’re ready!”

The Buick and I were swaying up and down with the slightest imperfection on the highway as we stayed side by side into the turn. The bend in the highway was a mild left turn. Almost unnoticeable at regular highway speed but it might as well been a hairpin turn at 140 mph – at night. The Buick and I dove forward as we leaned on our brakes to slow down and not fly off the road. I could feel my rear tires wanting to let go as we went around at triple digit speeds. Ray making micro adjustments at the wheel to stay in control. I felt the back of his shirt starting to stick to my seat. He was sweating. The Buick had the inside line and got ahead of us coming out of the turn. I could see the roadblock half a mile ahead.

“We see you Ray! Back off a little and let him run into us.”

Ray didn’t back off, instead he charged me forward to try and bump the Buick. Scare him into stopping before reaching the roadblock. A little shunt chipped some of the black paint off the Buick as it shimmied side to side from the impact. The Buick wasn’t slowing down!

As we approached the roadblock it locked up its rear brakes and steered hard to the left and blew past the roadblock on the shoulder as Troopers dove onto the hood of their cars to get out of the way. Ray took the right and got into the grass in a sideways drift around the roadblock. There was a moment where all I could see was grass and I felt that we were going to wreck. Ray didn’t dare touch the brakes and pointed me towards the highway. As soon my tires hit the pavement again I lost traction and began to spin. Clutch engaged, Ray steered into the turn to make a full 360 spin, tapped the brakes to regain control, and straighten me out. I was still going 55 mph when I spun back around in the right direction. Into 2nd gear and back on the gas.

The Buick has spun out as well and was still on the grass fishtailing trying to prevent a roll over. Its headlights danced side to side in the dark. It was the opportunity we needed. Redlining into 3rd gear to get ahead of the Buick before it took off again. As the Buick was crawling back on to the road Ray reached for the handbrake and surfed me sideways in front of the Buick to block its path. Leaving the handbrake on Ray leaped out of the driver seat with his gun drawn on the Buick. “DPS! Freeze! Show me your hands!” he shouted in his booming voice. Ray waited for backup as the roadblock broke up and started driving towards us. The Buick was completely blacked out with tint on the windows. Looked like a ghost under the moon light. All you could see was two glove wearing hands gripping the top part of the grey steering wheel. Suddenly one of the hands fell down. “I said Freeze!” Ray shouted, pulling the hammer back on his revolver as backup arrived and blocked the rear of the Buick.

The sound of shotguns being cocked was carried by the wind as everything went silent. “Get out with your hands up. Now!” Ray shouted at the driver. I idled steady in suspense watching the stand-off. The Buick hummed like an electric transformer before letting out a snarl as the driver revved up the black car. Suddenly the silence was broken by the sound of glass shattering as the driver opened fire through his windshield as us! Ray ducked behind my door as the black car lurched backwards into the two units behind it trying to push them out of the way. The Troopers quickly spread 12 gauge bullet casings onto the ground as they riddled the Buick’s rear window with buckshot. Flashes of fire ripped through the darkness and into the Buick as its rear tires spun wildly trying to push the Crown Vic’s out of the way.

bullet-holes

Ray stood up to shoot .357 rounds into the Buick’s front grille. Piercing through its body work in loud metal bashing dings before the radiator gushed steam out like a geyser into the air. Droplets of blood stained the front windshield as the black Buick clunked itself to death and fell silent leaving nothing but the sound of steam hissing from the engine bay. Troopers stormed the driver and passenger side doors and dragged the lifeless bloody suspect to the ground and handcuffed him. The clicking of handcuffs was followed by the sound of 220 pounds collapsing to the ground. It was Ray.

Max the Interceptor

Ray survived being shot twice. One bullet broken his left leg and the other cut through his left shoulder. It took 6 months before he was able to get back to work on desk duty. I had bullet holes on my driver side door, but Doc replaced my door and had me repainted all black while Ray was recovering. The aftermath of the chase resulted in the identity of the Buick driver. He was a drug runner. Picking up kilos of cocaine at the border and running them up north. The drugs were hidden in the rocker panels of the car, soaked in gasoline to cover the sent. A known criminal with a record that decided to go out in a blaze, taking anyone with him, before being sent back to prison.

Ray was given a medal for his bravery, but the news reports made no mention of my unique modifications. It was kept secret among the department. I was now the ace of spades in their sleeve, a hidden secret weapon only to be used as a last resort. Ray was promoted to Sergeant and I was allowed to go home with Ray and be used as his assigned patrol car.

undercover SSP

Ray spends a lot more time behind a desk now, but we are always ready to chase down the highway scofflaws of Texas. Other Troopers stared calling Ray “the Road Warrior” and they even gave me a nick name, “Max the Interceptor.” I recently heard the department ordered more SSP Mustangs. Low mileage rookies.

Read more “If They Could Talk” stories here.

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