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1989 Ford E-350 Police Spy Van With 13k Miles!

Some people like surprises, others not so much.  But in the case of this Ford E-350 van, it’s hard not to at least appreciate the startle that an unsuspecting bystander may experience once the double doors open up.  And while it’s perhaps not quite as much of an automotive adrenaline rush type of surprise as pulling up next to a sleeper Valiant with a transplanted Hemi under the hood, the shock-to-the-system value here is pretty high.  If you’re in the market for a surveillance vehicle or just want an unusual cargo mover, this 1989 Ford E-350 Extended Van would definitely be worth checking out.  It’s located in beautiful Kingston, New Hampshire, and can be found here on Craigslist with an asking price of $14,900.

Barn Finds wishes to thank reader NHDave for bringing this one to our attention!  So what we have here is looking a lot on the outside like a basically stock Econoline van, and a nicely-preserved example at that with only 13,000 miles on its ticker.  I’m not seeing much at all to fault about the body except for maybe a small dent above the windshield, but even so, it’s somewhat minor plus the paint is still looking good all the way around.  The seller says the van runs and drives perfectly, and although we don’t get to see it there’s a fuel-injected 351 V8 engine upfront so there should be plenty of power to move all this weight around.

Here’s the surprise I was telling you about- we don’t get the history of who or what agency previously owned this vehicle, but the first peek inside the back shows something very different from what one might expect based on the outside appearance.  It’s not your local furniture delivery van!  This thing is equipped with enough surveillance equipment to capture drug deals on the spot, sting operations, or just about any criminal activity imaginable.  I can just envision Joey Greco and the Cheaters crew hopping out of those doors for a confrontation with an unsuspecting spouse caught in the act of infidelity.

If a photo could talk, I’d love to hear what this one would have to say about all the scenes these electronics have captured going down.  In addition to the video system we can see inside, there are cameras on all four corners for a 360-degree view of whatever may be happening at the time.  An onboard charging system with a 120 inverter makes sure power is always sufficient to keep things rolling, plus there’s even rear heat and an ice A/C system to keep sleuths comfortable during those long days of candid observation.  The only additional item I can think of that this van might benefit from back there is a well-stocked wet bar.

Nothing about the front end of the interior would indicate what’s lurking in the back, and it all looks to be in good condition for a 33-year-old driver.  The seller also mentions that $4,000 has recently been invested in parts, including all new brakes, new shocks, a new air conditioning compressor, a new fuel pump, and more, with receipts showing the details.  He also throws out the idea that this would make an excellent camper or movie rig and says that this van is ready for use just like it is and needs nothing.  I’m really digging this one, and while it may have a somewhat limited audience the low mileage and nice condition certainly add to its appeal, plus even with all the stuff inside there’s still an ample amount of room for hauling things, especially having the extended rear.  What are your thoughts on this 1989 Ford E-350 Surveillance Van?


    • Avatar photo Big_Fun Member

      Thanks, Howard! Good to see one of these in action! Ha!

      Like 4
    • Avatar photo nlpnt

      There was also “Two Guys From Quantico Pizza”

      Like 0
  1. Avatar photo alphasud Member

    On a hot day I bet you can smell Duncan Doughnuts.

    Like 6
    • Avatar photo Howard A Member

      As a truck driver,years ago, you would run into the same cops, mostly at weigh stations, and you’d get to know them. On one of my many “stops”, once cleared, some small talk would result, they were just doing their job. One guy said, “is it true you truck drivers get all the women you want”? I said, “how many donuts do you guys really eat”?

      Like 17
    • Avatar photo Ike Onick

      You are not from around here are you? It’s “Dunkin Donuts”. America Runs On Dunkin!

      Like 4
    • Avatar photo jwaltb

      I’ll stay far away from Duncan, then!

      Like 1
  2. Avatar photo Richard Jensen

    I wonder how many years of Prison sentences the van is directly responsible for lol 😆

    Like 4
  3. Avatar photo Cam W.

    This is nice. I was in the picture vehicle business for about 20 years. While surveillance vans were not a frequent rental, they were needed enough that we had to always have at least one in stock. As they were almost always completely stripped when disposed of at auction, we always had to build our own. Many trips to electronics surplus stores , and hours of fabricating and wiring went into each build. Some turned out quite authentic, others less so (depending on time and budget).
    If I were still in the biz, I would be very interested in this one. Given the condition, and authenticity this would be a profitable unit to have in the fleet. As Ford kept this body style for so long, it could be used for shows set in 80s, 90s, and early 2000s.

    Like 20
    • Avatar photo Bob P

      I was thinking that exact thing, Cam.

      Like 4
  4. Avatar photo Troy

    What a fun toy to have

    Like 2
  5. Avatar photo T. Mann Member

    How many hours of engine idle time?

    Like 7
    • Avatar photo Stan

      Good question Mann.
      Also Thats a real big factor if anyone is buying a used cop Harley Davidson from auction.

      Like 1
  6. Avatar photo PRA4SNW

    How does something like this survive without being stripped out?
    Amazing find. Would be interesting to find out how it ended up just down the way in Kingston.

    Like 2
  7. Avatar photo Bill McCoskey Member

    This appears to have been equipped by a company in Westminster, MD that I was an advisor to until about 20 years ago [R&R Speed & Cycle, no longer in business]. There are several levels of surveillance vans, and this is one of the types used where it wasn’t possible to easily “blend in” with urban surroundings, so while it appears to be nothing more than a LWB Ford van on the outside, it does have mostly equipment used for night time surveillance. This was not a version meant for long-term stake-out, as it doesn’t have a chemical toilet. We even made some of these to look like actual RV campers.

    The generator system is under the chassis and is super quiet, just a small propane powered unit to provide 12v and 110v as needed. The various pieces of equipment also needed to be kept as horizontal as possible, hence that air compressor/tank to control the side-to-side leveling. The Dry-ice container was not to keep food/drink cold, but to temporarily cool the interior of the van while parked, a fan blowing air thru a heat exchanger duct.

    We specialized in the more secret urban type vans too, they typically looked like a white plumbers van, with the roof rack holding 6″ PVC plastic pipes on the rack [that’s where they hid the antennas!] I once heard on a surveillance job they had a guy come and cut the lock on the chain holding the ladder to the roof rack, but he didn’t get more than a few blocks away before a couple of plainclothes guys offered to buy the ladder from him, and he was busted for selling stolen merch! [He never knew cops were inside the van!]

    Note the small black square boxes on the inside of the rear door windows. These house special mini-displays inside, that when someone outside the van looks inside thru the dark tinted glass, they trick the eye into thinking you are looking at an empty van interior! The “plumber’s van” also had rear door windows that looked like a van filled with plastic pipes!

    Keep in mind this was all 20+ years ago, but what amazed me was the incredibly tiny cameras they had developed. We used to outfit vehicles with cameras in locations you would never think possible. Whoever buys the van should check it over carefully for hidden cameras.

    Ever sat in the front seat of a vehicle and noticed the windshield interior trim on either side? Those Phillips head screws holding it in place looked factory installed, but one or more just might have a tiny fish-eye lens right in the center of the cross head screwdriver slot, and you won’t see it unless you use a bright light to see directly into the screw head slot! The camera would transmit to a small amplifier/transmitter attached to the interior of the front seat padding so even if you look under the seat, you’ll not see anything! It would transmit the signal to a van like this parked down the street.

    Most of the plumber’s [or other contractors like electricians] surveillance vans would have some fake contractor’s info on the sides, and the phone number would often be to a cell phone, either at the law enforcement facility running the surveillance, or to a cell phone inside the van.

    It’s likely that everyone reading this message has probably driven or walked by one of these surveillance vans and never knew.

    Like 18
    • Avatar photo PRA4SNW

      Bill, it’s so great to have someone talk to us that has had first hand experience with these, and many other subjects that you have commented on.

      Thanks for sharing!

      Like 6
    • Avatar photo Howard A Member

      Thanks Bill, I’m more paranoid than ever now. It’s why I don’t have a DVR. Who says theres no camera in those. I’m not really that paranoid, like my kids said, “oh dad, what do they want to look at you for?” and to a point that’s true. I said, it’s the fact they can. Wasn’t the movie “Enemy of the State” all about surveillance? I don’t know about you, but I grew up in Milwaukee in the 60s and sure there was some trouble, but for the most part, there was plenty of work, people behaved( except those damn hippies) and it was true, you needed a cop, check Winchells 1st.
      I heard rental cars have a bunch of recording devices, and driver facing cameras in semis is “Communism 101”, I’d refuse to drive a truck with one, so cameras are all around, on top of every light pole and intersections. What are we so paranoid about? I’m always amazed at news footage of something, I think, how in the heck did they get that? Up above too. We get just so much resolution from google maps, but you can bet, “they” can see closer than that.

      Like 1
      • Avatar photo Bill McCoskey Member

        “We get just so much resolution from google maps, but you can bet, “they” can see closer than that.”

        You can say that for sure! Back in the early 1970s my dad [who was a “flag rank” civilian in the Dept of Defense] mentioned the US Army had the ability to not just identify, but to track as well, individual East German military vehicles, using space-based satellites.

        In 2008 I was in England, and I learned the Ministry of Transport [MOT] had installed tracking equipment on some of the “M” roads [like our interstate highways] so they could tell who was speeding and driving in a dangerous manner. They were using cameras for each lane, located on every overpass, all hooked up to a computer system capable of tracking thousands of vehicles every minute. The system had been designed by Rockwell here in the USA, but they were unable to convince American state governments to install the systems due to the costs involved, and likely the uproar concerning “big brother”.

        There was a positive effect on traffic once this system was put into place. In the 1980s and early 1990s I spent a lot of time in southern England, and traffic on the M-25, London’s ring road (beltway), was a nightmare during rush hour drive times. The MOT began tracking vehicles for one important reason; the speed limit was 50MPH, not 51, not 49. ALL vehicles were required to maintain the same 50mph speed limit, and warning signs were set up to let drivers know if they were too fast or too slow. Failure to consistently drive 50mph could result in a rather expensive series of tickets mailed out to the vehicle’s owner. When I first drove the M-25 in morning traffic back in 2008, this was the first time I had ever driven that road in heavy traffic, and maintained 50mph! No “stop-n-go”.

        For several years now, the security infrastructure in the central London area has been incredible. The city has so many cameras, all hooked up to one massive database, that they are capable of tracking 99% of people walking around the city, even to knowing when a person walks into and back out a building, even using a different entrance door. They can track people who hail taxicabs, use buses and private cars. Street crime in central London has been drastically cut. Purse and cell phone grabs, as well as “smash & grab” gangs have been measurably curtailed because the thieves are often picked up within blocks of the crime.

        That said, I’m told the UK system does not track everyone by facial ID, basing their model on clothing and walking gait. While England doesn’t do facial profiling to track individuals, I have seen news reports on how China IS tracking individuals BY NAME as they navigate thru the larger cities in China.

        Over the last few years, a couple of times when we’ve rented vehicles, we have found tracking devices plugged into the OBM port. In each case, that module seems to have fallen out shortly after we left the rental facility, and I suspect the guys cleaning out the vehicle find them under the drivers seat area! Never heard a peep from the rental companies, and I’ve read this is a common situation today.

        Last year I bought and installed a dashcam with a rear camera, as I still drive a lot. Last week in downtown Annapolis traffic I had a Mercedes S-560 sedan pass me on the right [using a bike lane] and pull in front of me just as the Subaru Outback in front of me slammed on his brakes. No damage to my car, but the Subaru and M-B had serious damage. I pulled over with the other 2 cars, and realized the guy in the M-B was claiming the Subaru caused the problem. I walked up to the Subaru driver and told him I had it all on my camera. He was an IT guy and was able to quickly download the video onto his cell phone. When shown to the M-B driver, he changed his story fast!

        I’m with you when it comes to having a camera on me while driving, but having that dashcam is a permanent addition to whatever vehicle I drive every day.

        As for a camera in a DVR: Nope, they don’t have one. And if you are worried about the camera on your laptop, take a small piece of electrical tape and cover the camera lens. Take it off when you need to use the camera.

        Like 6
  8. Avatar photo Racecarguy

    It’s not the 13k in miles, its the thousands of hours spent idling that makes me go… hummm

    Like 0
    • Avatar photo Bill McCoskey Member


      Nope, because these surveillance vehicles were designed NOT to attract attention, they were parked and engines turned off. Inside the back is a fully self-contained set-up to provide power, heat & cooling during the surveillance period.

      These trucks were only used for stake-outs, and often sat in a police warehouse unused for months at a time, always ready to head out with just a moment’s notice. Always serviced, and rarely abused, these typically saw little actual use.

      Like 4

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