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20-year-old Chevrolet Caprice still patrolling for McHenry County Sheriff's Office (with video)

WOODSTOCK – The first day McHenry County Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Stadler patrolled in his new squad car, he was the one being stopped and questioned.

Stadler drives a 1995 Chevrolet Caprice, a car that was produced for only three years and was one of the first performance vehicles made for police. Equipped with the LT1 engine seen in Corvettes of the time, Stadler said the 20-year-old police cruiser is the only one of its kind still in service with any police department in the country as far he knows.

Stadler said he assumed people wouldn’t see the appeal of the cruiser. He even wondered if people would think it was an actively patrolling police car, but they do appreciate it.

“A lot more people recognized it for what it was,” Stadler said. “Younger people, older people, car guys, non-car guys, they all wanted to see it. It almost became a little ambassador, if you will, that we had never planned.”

The car had been collecting dust in a climate-controlled barn for more than a decade until January 2015 when Stadler was offered a chance to use it after his mid-2000s Chevrolet Impala died. Set aside as the sheriff’s parade car, it was the one Caprice remaining from a 1990s bulk buy. The car had only 4,000 miles on it.

“I could see the diamond in the rough,” Stadler said. “Your non-car person would look at this thing and think, ‘Why would I want this 20-year-old thing covered in dirt?’ Where I was, ‘I really want to clean this thing up.’ ”

It took about a month for sheriff’s office fleet manager John Trotter to put in a modern communication and computer system, as well as a new light bar. The car still doesn’t have USB ports like modern cars, but Stadler said he’s content with the AM/FM radio. He also has to work with the car’s rear-wheel drive system and lack of traction control.

With 350 horsepower, the car could drive circles around the typical Ford Crown Victoria police interceptor fashioned after taxis in the ‘80s and ‘90s and the Impalas that came into style in the 2000s, Stadler said. He conceded the new Dodge Chargers in the sheriff’s office’s 94-car fleet pack more power.

Stadler wouldn’t put the rookies he trains as an emergency vehicle operator instructor into the car, which they affectionately named Christine after the killer car of Stephen King fame. But for a 16-year-veteran of the department who also happens to be a car enthusiast in his personal time, the car feels like home.

“It was like putting on an old shoe,” Stadler said. “It was like I pulled out my old tennis shoe from 1995 and laced it back up.”

After a year of running the Caprice for 40 hours a week, Stadler has brought the odometer reading up to 30,000; 170,000 miles shy of the mileage on the Caprices in the same lot when they were retired.

“Those cars were on the road for 10 years,” Stadler said. “I don’t know if this one will be around for 10 years on the road, but I’m sure going to enjoy it as long as I have it.”

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