Senior officers with the Marietta Police Department, Andrew Colquitt and Don Smith, are leading a team to recreate an old Marietta police car by restoring the 1966 vehicle.
The project is part of the Marietta Police Explorers program, which was started in 1988 for children over 14 years old. This year’s group has 17 participants.
Colquitt was part of the group until he aged out at 21.
“I knew I wanted to be a police officer,” he said.
Colquitt said the Explorers are like the Boy Scouts, but for promising police officers who are taught how to de-escalate situations and handcuff people.
After hearing about the project, Rupert Raines, 76, who served on the Marietta Police Department from 1959 to 1985, said he looked through old scrapbook pictures with a former assistant chief of police, Clarence Robinson, 88, who served on the force from 1946 to 1980.
“I like old things, because I am old,” Raines said.
Raines said he remembers the big V8 engines and the fast speed of the 1960s’ Ford model cars.
In his day, officers only took a few classes on maneuvers, mostly in the giant parking lot at Six Flags Over Georgia in south Cobb, which opened in the summer of 1967, Raines said.
“You learned it by driving,” Raines said, in what he called “hot pursuit” exercises that simulated chases through city streets.
Those classic touches
At the large Marietta city garage, surrounded by big utility trucks and fire engines, sits a nearly mint condition 1966 Ford Galaxie.
Smith, who found the car on Craigslist for $2,500 after eight weeks of searching online, drove to far west Georgia to load the Ford on a truck and haul it to Marietta.
Smith said the Ford was built in Atlanta, and the single owner only put 54,000 miles on the car.
The car has the original body paneling and cream white paint with shining chrome decals. The whitewall tires with special hubcaps look like large silver saucers, which were required on 1960s police vehicles, Smith said.
Inside, the Ford has a pristine radio with large flat buttons, no air conditioning and light-blue interior on large bench seats with one long lap belt.
City mechanic David Drafall has already completed some suspension and brake work at the garage.
The Marietta Police Explorers are hoping for donations to complete the restoration, which is estimated to cost another $10,000 to $15,000, Smith said.
Auto parts stores, like NAPA, have already contributed and local trim shops are also promising to donate services.
The group hopes to be done by June, in time for the Fourth of July parade, to show off the remodeled car in the downtown neighborhood, “right in front of the fire department,” Colquitt said.
The old sights
Because the 1960s models were big, it was easy to get people in and out of the back seat, Raines said.
It was also a period before metal caging partitioned the front and back sections of the vehicle, Raines said, which meant one partner had to ride behind the driver next to the suspect after an arrest was made.
The police department also had to manually remove the window cranks and door handles in the back two doors to keep suspects from slipping out, Raines said, who added it was a time when officers also had to provide their own gun.
Raines said another big difference was the flashing light on the top of the squad car was red, but switched to blue soon after he joined the force.
“The blue lights were just one bubble on the top,” Raines said.
The sirens also had a slow whooping sound, instead of the high-pitched scream of modern models.
“You can hear them coming further off,” and people are able to pull off sooner, Raines said of the newer sirens.
The 1960s sirens were a hazard because many drivers could not hear a police car trying to speed through a roadway until “we were right on top of them,” Raines said.
In the 1960s, Raines said police cars would be driven for 100,000 miles, wearing down the shocks and breaks. The new models are much safer and better protect the officers inside, Raines said.
Smith said, based on black and white photos of old Marietta police cars, he thought the actual cars were painted black and white. It wasn’t until after researching for this project that former officers told Smith the squad cars were painted white and deep blue.
The converted 1966 Ford Galaxie will have a red light, with a “period-correct” police radio and antennae, which have already been purchased and are being stored until the work on the car is complete, Smith said.
The car will be displayed for special events and functions, such as car shows, and taken to various schools to demonstrate the history of law enforcement.
Raines said he is excited about the restoration project that will educate the public about the past and “how far we’ve come.”
Robinson said he remembers the days of riding around the city in a squad car when he was 20 years old, after three years of service in the Marine Corps.
He said residents will be surprised by the simplicity of the vehicle.
“A 1966 police car is part of old Marietta,” Robinson said.