Museum Piece: 1956 Buick Special Police Car

If you were too enthusiastic about the notion of getting your kicks on Route 66, then you might also have found yourself attracting the attention of the original owners of this 1956 Buick Special. This is a former police car and it has also spent time as a display vehicle in a Route 66 museum. It is a tidy survivor, and it is now in need of a new home. I have to say a big thank you to Barn Finder Ikey H for spotting this awesome classic for us. It is located in Santa Rosa, California, and has been listed for sale here on Craigslist. You can drive the Buick away today for $13,000.

The Buick has been used as a display vehicle at a Route 66 Museum, but it isn’t clear which one this was. The fact that the car still wears its original black plates could potentially indicate one of the museums located in Barstow or Victorville in that fair state. I also discovered a previous sale of this same vehicle in Scottsdale, Arizona, so it could also have been on display in Kingman’s Route 66 Museum. It has emerged from its display life in good condition, and the next owner could easily use the Buick in its current state. The black-and-white police paint and livery is in good condition. There is some fading, but this adds further character to a classic that was already overflowing with that quality. The panels look straight, and there is no evidence of any rust issues. The chrome and trim are generally good, with only some pitting of the trims around the tail-lights as faults that are worth noting. The glass is in good order, and all of the unique police features like the lights and sirens are still intact. One item that grabs your attention is the enormous whip antenna. You don’t see them as long as this one very often, and it has the potential to pose a hazard to low-flying aircraft!

Under the hood, we find a 322ci “Nailhead” V8, which would be producing 220hp. The Buick also features a Dynaflow automatic transmission, power steering, and power brakes. Running changes to the Dynaflow transmission in the years proceeding this car’s production had resulted in some notable performance gains, with the 18.5-second ¼ mile ET of this car being far closer to its manual sibling than in previous years. For the buyer, the news seems to all be positive. Not only does the engine bay presents nicely, but the Buick is said to run and drive well.

The Buick’s interior generally looks very tidy and has no urgent needs. The black and white upholstery seems to be free from rips and tears, while it appears that rubber mats have done an excellent job of protecting the carpet. The dash is in fantastic condition, and what can be glimpsed of the headliner also shows promise. It is hardly surprising that the interior has some additions, and they add enormously to its character. There are a portable radio and a shotgun rack. I’m not sure if the shotgun is included, but it looks like it really means business. One notable inclusion is the swamp cooler. These aren’t as efficient as a regular air conditioning system, but they also don’t impact vehicle performance when used.

The percentage of young children who say that they want to be a fire-fighter or a police officer when they grow up is pretty high, but the number of those children who eventually achieve that goal is very low. Maybe you were one of those children who wanted to be a part of the “thin blue line,” but circumstances meant that you missed that chance. This 1956 Buick Special could be your opportunity to at least act the part, and it is a car that is sure to attract plenty of attention wherever it goes. Maybe you wouldn’t be the long arm of the law, but you can always dream. There’s nothing wrong with doing that.

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Comments

  1. geomechs geomechs Member

    The first thing I have to say is, “Where the devil is Broderick Crawford?” I think Buick was Crawford’s main choice back in the Highway Patrol days.”

    Myself, I was more partial to Chevy or Pontiac from this vintage. However, there were lots of people back in the day who agreed with Crawford.

    Like 63
    • Jim

      I remember thinking when watching that show why the police cars were all two doors….just like this one.

      Like 18
      • Dusty Stalz

        This is a 4 door bud.

        Like 24
      • Jim

        Yes…..now that I look closer, I see it is…..BUD.

        Like 11
      • Bob C.

        On the show they always used the cheaper 2 door post sedans. True, they did use a lot of Buicks, but at various times they used Oldsmobiles, Fords, Mercurys, and Dodges toward the end of the series.

        Like 9
      • Joe F

        The real CA CHP Buick’s were two door sedans not four door hardtop like this fake squad. Crawford used an authentic Buick Special too bad Barnfinds is supporting this con job

        Like 15
    • Jon

      Remember watching Broderick Crawford in “Highway Patrol” back in the ’50s … it was my younger brother’s favorite show and our mom humored him and we had to watch it … one show in particular I remember – Crawford asked a kid if the perp had a car with plates that were yellow with black lettering or black with yellow lettering … don’t remember how it played out, but the kid said something about yellow jackets and his baseball team that helped him remember the plates …

      Like 10
      • ACZ

        10-4

        Like 1
      • Chen Lee

        I remember the very same episode.

        Like 2
      • Bunky

        Actually the car used by Broderick Crawford in Highway Patrol was a ‘55 Buick Century 4 door hardtop. By ‘56 the Special had the 322 ci nailhead, so they’re pretty similar cars. They were known for being highway cruisers- not for stopping. Very cool.

        Like 2
      • Miguel

        The episodes are on You Tube from this user Foxeema Classic TV 2

        I watch them sometimes. I like the fact that there are no sound effects. Every sound that old car made was in the show. If a plane flew over while they were filming, it is on the show.

        In the comments of each episode people usually point out where it was filmed and what is there now.

        I love seeing these cars in their natural habitat.

        Like 4
      • geomechs geomechs Member

        I actually watched the entire series on YouTube. I remember when it was on TV more than 60 years ago and it was neat to remember some episodes from way back then…

        Like 4
    • jerry hw brentnell

      first thing it the wrong car on a couple of counts the california highway patrol didn;t use 4 door hard tops, and the used centuy buicks with 4 portholes in the fenders and what I have read they were standard transmissions, with a dynaflow this this is a slug any good 56 oldsmobile could eat this buick alive

      Like 1
    • JP

      The problem is, this guy’s selling it as an original cop car when clearly it’s not. I guess he could plead ignorance, but a few minutes’ research would set him, and any potential buyer, straight. Not quite lipstick on a pig, since the car’s nice enough, but definitely verging on fraud…

      Like 2
    • Doug

      Buick provided 2 1955 Centurys to the CHP for evaluation purposes, and one of them ended up being used in the TV Series.
      To the best of my knowledge, these 2 were the only Buicks of that era used by the CHP.. Others may have been used by local law enforcement.

      • Bob Short

        CHP had 288 of the 55 Buick hybrids ,using the 2 door Special body with Century drivetrain and 4 portholes. There were no retail Century 2 door sedans

        Like 2
    • Robert

      my exact thought……..I can see him with that hat and his dress-coat unbuttoned looking as though he was about, or had, busted into a profuse sweat. I can hear that siren and it was always so dimly lit when afternoon turns into night.

      Like 1
    • Stan Marks

      When I saw this, it’s the first thing I thought. (Highway Patrol)
      We’re showing our age. LOL!!

      Like 2
      • geomechs geomechs Member

        When I first saw this page the theme song started playing through my mind, and I can’t get rid of it…

        Like 4
      • Stan Marks

        Hey Geomechs, Good luck going to sleep tonight. LOL!!!

        Like 1
  2. MattR Member

    What a beauty. If you drive this though, you’d legally have to remove the star and lights right?

    Like 4
    • Jim

      I don’t know if that’s true with vintage cars. There’s a 73 Galaxie police car I see at car shows quite often and in Mount Airy, NC, they have a replica Mayberry police car they drive around to promote the town.

      Like 7
    • Chagall

      This is most certainly a local issue; my my area the car can not be marked as a police car. This car has a star on the door but there is no lettering indicating it’s an official vehicle. I’ve seen vintage police cars come to shows with magnetic sheets covering the lettering. This can easily be removed when parked and reapplied when the show is over.

      Like 6
    • Bobby

      I had a 75 four door power wagon with all lights, pa and sirens from its former fire use. I rolled that thing around for a while with no problems. One time I was messing with someone and accidentally left the lights on! Was wondering why everyone was getting out of my way hahahaha

      Like 6
    • RONALD DIMMITT

      Not in Ca. If the symbol is over 20 yrs old, you can keep it on the car.

      Like 7
  3. Howard A Member

    This car has been around S. Cal. for a while. Any get together with vintage police cars or parades featured this car. I do believe one must have “not in service” when operating police cars, although, there may be an age limit. I could see someone a bit paranoid with a late model Ford Vic that may arouse some nerves, this, not so much. Cars like this as police cars were before my time, we had Ramblers in Wis. for obvious reasons. This car is going 90 mph standing still, and the “head knocker” flashlight is a nice touch. Looks like someone had enough of the old police car. I’d probably lose the graphics and have a nice ’56 Buick.

    Like 12
  4. MatB

    I believe I ever see it in a Barstow Route 66 Museum.

    Like 2
  5. Johnmloghry Johnmloghry Member

    The first car I bought was a 55 Buick. I can’t seem to remember the model name, it was bigger than a Special but smaller than a Roadmaster. It was in 1964, I was 16 years old, I was at a GMC Buick dealer looking for a used car when a older man asked me if I was looking to buy a used car. I said I was, he said he was buying a new one but they wouldn’t pay him what he wanted. So he said he would sell it to me for $275. I looked at the car, it was a red and white 4 door sedan with 38,000 miles. Now I remember it was a Super. I bought the car and proudly drove it home. Since then I’ve owned several Buicks and currently have 64 Riviera that I proudly drive on bright sunny Houston days.
    God bless America

    Like 20
  6. Joe F

    Not a real cop car and not an accurate representation of the real sedan based Californian Buick special used by CHP

    Like 3
  7. 1-MAC

    THis car would be legal to drive with a “not in service” sign in the window. Although you might get stopped by police for a look over. ON HIghway Patrol Dan Matthews(Broderick Crawford) drove a 55 Buick 2 door. Many police cars then were 2 door.

    Like 4
  8. John

    We had a neighbor that had a green 49 Roadmaster Sedanet that had a whip antennae on the panel between the rear bumper and trunk, fastened in an arc over the car to the driver’s A pillar. Loved that car but wondered what kind of reception an antennae would get set up that way, or for what kind of radio it was for.

    Like 2
    • Harry

      That would be low band, most likely AM, police radio band. Long gone from service. Low power, long distance.

      Like 5
      • Dave

        While you’re correct about the radio being “low band” 30-50 MHz, FM was the mode used. Those old tube radios were often found at hamfests after the FCC changed their standards. California and other western states along with Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia, South Carolina, and Missouri to name a few, still use low band for their highway patrol officers. When the skip is running you’ll hear all about the robbery at the Sack O Suds!

        Like 7
    • CliffG Member

      We used a full length whip antenna for CB back in the 60’s and would clip the end down over the driver’s door when we were in a low physical clearance situation.

      Note the number painted on the roof light using Broderick Crawford’s car number, “2150 to Headquarters…”

      Like 2
  9. Nestor A Davila

    My favorite action TV show in the 1950s. Highway Patrol, starring Broderick Crawford. He always preferred the Buicks!

    Like 3
  10. Jcs

    What a great looking car!

    Like 3
  11. That AMC Guy

    Dang, you know you’re getting old when you see this car and the first thing that pops into your head without even having to think about it is Broderick Crawford!

    Like 14
  12. Phlathead Phil

    How cool is this???

    I got the EXACT thing in a die cast model.

    Right down to the same markings.

    Like 2
    • Little_Cars

      Me too. My diecast is a two-door, however.

      Like 1
  13. nlpnt

    If this were a few grand cheaper it would be worthwhile to decopify and repaint, if it were a historically accurate post sedan (2-or 4dr) it would be a fun parade car. As it sits it’s neither fish nor fowl.

    Like 2
  14. Mike

    Highway Patrol is on ME tv 5 days a week at 4:00 A.M. Broadrick normally drives a Buick but does drive others as well. On a side note most of his driving was on private roads as his license was suspended for DWI during most of the shows run. Can’t believe how all the cars wallow from side to side during chases.

    Like 9
    • Dave

      Watch the scene from Big Fish titled “How I Go”. The star car is a 1966 Charger that looks like it has no roll control at all.

    • luke arnott Member

      My understanding was most of the driving scenes were shot in the morning,as BC was a bit of a toper and as you say he kept getting pulled for DD.I also thought the car he drove was a Century?

      Like 4
    • KarlS

      Well there were no original black plates in 1955. They would have been orange as far as I know. I was only 5 years old then so my memory might be fuzzy on that.

  15. Chris Webster

    If memory serves, the real deal cars lacked the chrome strip on the front door.
    I doubt that this is the real thing.

    Like 3
  16. Jranders Member

    Odd choice, 4 Dr hardtop for police duty, and a Special, instead of the Super, with the larger engine from the Roadmaster. My dad always had a Super for that reason, a bit of a sleeper. Later those became Invicta and then Wildcat models

    Like 1
  17. Ben T.Spanner

    Are emergency lights legal? Not if you use them. In the late sixties I was the caretaker of a 1953 Cadillac Hearse. It was a combination unit, meaning it had rear side windows and could have been used as an ambulance.
    It was a dark and rainy night. I pulled out of an alley behind a city cop car and noticed my high beams were on. I hit what I thought was the the high beam switch. I heard a siren. It was me. I had activated the siren and lights in the grill.
    The cop pulled over and let me by. He then began to escort me. I got on the freeway at 11th Ave. He followed. I pulled over at the 5th Ave exit and rolled down the window. He pulled up next to me. I pointed at my imaginary radio and said “the call was canceled.” He saluted and pulled off.

    Like 7
  18. Doone

    Back in the 70’s I answered a call for extras in a movie being filmed at the Copa Cabana in NYC. Broderick Crawford was playing a mob boss in this C grade movie. During the break I went over to him and asked him if he would say something from his Highway Patrol days, His reply was “10-4”.

    Like 3
    • Little_Cars

      Was Barry Manilow involved in any way with the Copa film?

      Like 2
      • doone

        No, it was low budget.

        Like 1
    • Robert White

      Cool, man. Broderick Crawford was great in All The King’s Men and that’s one of my favorite old movies of all time. I’ve watched that movie about 40 times so far.

      Whole world could have been Willy Stark.

      Bob

      Like 1
      • Little_Cars

        Wonder how much better his craft would be if he hadn’t abused alcohol?

        Like 1
      • luke arnott Member

        Based on Huey Long – agree,good movie.Back to HP,”Clowns belong in the circus,not on the highway”

        Like 2
  19. Car Nut Tacoma

    Sweet looking car. 1956 is the best year for Buick in terms of style and appearance. Since I wasn’t around during the 1950s, I’m too young to remember this time. But I’ve seen pics of the 1956 Buick, the Special, the Roadmaster, Century, etc., and I find them the best looking cars since the 1952 model year. The only upgrades I’d give to a car like this would be upgrading the electrical system, moving from six volt to a twelve volt. I’d also give it an A/C unit. just because it’s a police car, you still want to be comfortable, particularly on hot summer days.

    Like 4
    • Ted-M

      Thought the centers on the hubcaps were red & wide white walls would would look better!

  20. Kelly Mann

    Car 54 where are you?

    Like 4
    • Jon

      Car 54 used Plymouth Savoys … :)

  21. JP

    The original plates would have been yellow, so another nail in the non-originality coffin. Nice tribute car, though…

    Like 2
    • Miguel

      All yellow plates were taken off in 1963 when the black plates were issued, so that is not an indication of anything.

      • JP

        It’s a comment on the write-up, which said the black plates indicate originality…

      • Stan Marks

        Miguel, you’re correct. Here’s a little history on Ca. plates.

        Black plates lasted from ’63-’69.
        I lived in L.A. from ’62-’83. In ’69 they went to the blue plates with gold lettering.
        Several years ago, “legacy license plates,” (vanity plates) including the yellow-with-black-lettering of the 1956 to 1962 issue years, the-black-with-yellow-lettering of 1963 to 1969, and the blue-with-yellow-lettering of 1969 to 1986, were ordered.
        However, the DMV stated that it wouldn’t begin re-making any of the plates until it had received 7,500 pre-orders for each by Jan. 1, 2015. Orders for the black plates flooded in, and the DMV’s plate manufacturer was warming its presses.

        Like 1
      • Little_Cars

        @ Stan Marks — you mean prisoners at the work camp? LOL Isn’t that the old joke?

        Like 1
      • Stan Marks

        Little_Cars,
        You’re correct. After I posted my comment, I thought about that.Do they still have a metal shop, at San Quentin?? LOL!

  22. RexFox

    Accurate or not, this is a good setup for this car. A 56 4 door hardtop is not that cool of a car, so having it mimic a 50’s police unit makes sense to me. I’d drive it as-is.

  23. Jay

    I wonder if the hub caps fly off on corners like the Start of “HIGHWAY PATROL”

    Like 1
  24. charlie

    The only way this could have been a cop car to start with would be a small town where the local Buick dealer had this sitting around at the end of the model year and gave the town an discount to get it off the lot – the ’57’s were a new body and, at least to me then, and now, MUCH better looking, but given how few remain, prone to problems. Neighbor had one and was always complaining (an engineer) about how he wished he had kept his ’55 Chevy.

    Like 1
    • Johnmloghry Johnmloghry Member

      Engineers are the worst customers you can get. I remember one in particular; It was around 1975, this guy brings a new car ( Plymouth or Dodge) into the shop. He wanted a aftermarket a/c unit installed. I did the job, which saved him a good sum of money over factory A/C unit. After the job was done he checked every screw, nut and bolt with a magnifying glass and flashlight and straight edge before accepting delivery. After that he kept coming back constantly wanting free service like checking the air in his tires, oil levels, battery etc. He never bought anything, if found something needing attention he always said he’d take care of it himself. From then on I never worked on another engineers car if I knew their occupation. Live and learn.
      God bless America

      Like 7
      • ACZ

        Been there, done that.

        Like 1
  25. Rick Rothermel

    Coupla things…

    I doubt that this one ever saw public service. Low bid agency fleets never saw hardtops with power options back then.

    The California Highway Patrol initially loaned the series its’ cars, including the Olds and Buicks that were used in the earliest episodes. After Broderick landed a coupla DUIs during the first season the agency’s support was withdrawn, and the production company transitioned to ‘fleet-looking’ cars. There was one ’56 Buick hardtop briefly used but it was a 4-holer, clearly more convenient than authentic.

    By the second season the series was a hit and car companies, several with factories or PR reps in SoCal, took the hint, showering the producers with new models, even some prototypes of trim options.

    Buick tried the prototype thing providing a ’58 coupe in cop trim, kinda doubtful that many agencies wanted to deal with the chrome xylophone side trim.

    Even as a little kid watching the show I wondered how all those fresh parolees, escaped felons and general purpose ne’er-do-wells could afford new cars.

    The show had to be a step down for Crawford, whose stout acting talent had won him an Academy Award a decade prior. Syndicated TV was the new toy and he was given an ownership share so he was good for the duration and long afterwards. I met his son years ago, nice guy, proud of his heritage.

    Like 5
  26. Richard Romm

    I heartily agree with those that said this car is a fake, unless some VIP of CHIPS somehow wrangled one, which doubt. Not only is it a 4 dr, but a 4dr hardtop, unheard of in Highway Patrol cars over the years. In fact I think all or most of them had 3 speed manual transmissions, at least the 55s did. As I understand it CHP actually special ordered them, at least in ’55, since only the cheaper Buick Specials were available in 2 dr post sedans. CHP wanted Centuries with the more powerful engine, and GM accommodated them.

    Like 1
    • Bill McCoskey

      Richard Romm,

      GM would most certainly make accommodations when selling bulk orders. In the late 1960s I was driving a 1950 Packard Eight and met another Packard owner who was a commercial & fleet salesman at a large Chevy dealership in Silver Spring, MD.

      He showed me how he put together large orders by working with local towns & counties to combine their buying power, allowing him to get GM to reduce pricing, especially if all the vehicles were the same.

      One of his successes was to arrange for State Police agencies, who often serviced/repaired their own vehicles, to get a large supply of spare parts included with the vehicle order, and a promise by GM to buy back any unused parts when the fleets were sold off. He also told me that the police vehicles only had 30 day warranties, not the 1 or 2 year warranties the public got.

      He once told me of the “most interesting” order he ever arranged, where GM substituted a 1950 Pontiac 6 [239?] with Hydra-matic transmission, in a fleet of 1950 Chevrolets. This was a special order for the brand new New Jersey Turnpike Authority Police, because the cars could handle a higher top speed. He said all GM had to do was substitute the Pontiac Chassis & suspension under the Chevy body, and the drive train was no problem.

      Wish I could find one of those Pontiac/Chevy hybrids today!

      Due to age related memory, I cannot remember his name, but I have vivid memories of seeing many “Top salesman” GM sales awards hanging on the walls in his private office at Sport Chevrolet. He had huge roll around Rolodex file cases, filled with client information that he kept under lock & key.

      Like 1
      • Little_Cars

        Ah, Bill M — always good at jogging my ol’ gray matter. Sport Chevrolet was where my Dad and sister bought two cars in the late 70s that I wish we still owned! Sister bought a loaded maroon 77-79 Camaro Berlinetta a few months after Dad bought a used maroon 1976 base Firebird with deluxe interior, air/auto/PS/PB and a straight 6 engine. The car he traded on the Firebird was a 1970 Cutlass convertible. Sister traded in her AMC Concord. All cars that have been well represented on Barn Finds.

        Like 1
  27. David Scully

    Joe F (see waaaay above) had it absolutely right. The CHP only used stick-shift ’55, ’56’ and ’57 Buick century coupes on their highway runs. After ’57, they went mostly Mopar and Ford, and all automatic transmissions In 1957 San Diego, where I grew up, they also had a ’57 Olds three-on-the-tree coupe with the tri-power set-up. These guys cruised the 101 from the Mexican border to the Orange County north, and the US 80 east from El Cajon to the Arizona border – both roads with a lot of running room..

    Like 2
  28. Norm Member

    Great comments from all. When I moved to NY in 70’s the state police auctions would sell their pursuit cars (prior to radar they would time you and convert that to speed, and send a car after you). Chevy Biscayne 4 doors with 427 4 speed trans. and nothing else but a police radio (removed) for $500.00!

    Like 2
  29. David Scott Margulies

    California Highway patrol cars did not have the revolving red Federal lights or the Mickey Mouse ear lights. They had spotlights, solid red on the left and sealed beams inside the shelf over the back seat. They were two door sedans. This is a replica. Nice but not real. Look at Jay Leno’s garage for examples of real highway patrol cars from that era.

    Like 2
  30. Lou Rugani

    The California Highway Patrol then used specially-ordered 2-door Century sedans that were not offered to the public. Reportedly, one survivor exists in a private collection.

    Like 1
  31. Little_Cars

    Two of my favorite “Americana” artists are Junior Brown and Webb Wilder. Both songwriters have written songs alluding to Broderick Crawford. Junior and Webb have performed together on stage here in Nashville. Junior’s song titled “Highway Patrol” received a ton of airplay on CMT and MTV as a sort of crossover country-rock hit.

    Like 2
  32. Gus Fring

    This car is a joke. Nowhere close to accurate, it was never a real police car (the seller is lying, do your research, author), and not worth anywhere near the asking price. This is what’s known as a “clown car” in the police car hobby.

  33. Bob K

    No law enforcement would pay the extra money for the 4 door hardtop and put up with the chassis flexibility and the extra weight.
    If it’s not from the TV show highway patrol it’s a total fake in my opinion

  34. BR

    One look at the speedometer will tell you if it’s authentic or not. CHP cars and motorcycles had/have calibrated speedometers.

  35. BR

    What is a police car without a spotlight? Not a real police car.

    • Stan Marks

      Great story, Jay. Thanks…
      When I worked at the studios, during the 70s, I worked on all of the cop shows at Universal, as well as Starsky & Hutch at Columbia. We used 4 Ford Gran Torinos.
      I had conversations with Bill Boyett.Nice guy. Bill passed away in 2004 from pneumonia & kidney failure.He was 77.

      Like 2

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