Monday, March 12, 2007

The Millennium Falcon

UPDATE 9-9-2007: The Falcon is retired, and I'm now driving a 1995 Ford Crown Victoria LX. It was never a police car. I purchased the Falcon and am now driving it as a personal car.

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She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid.

I drive a 1994 Ford Crown Victoria, Police Interceptor edition, with a 1999 Mustang GT engine under the hood. I call it the Millennium Falcon because, like Han Solo's space ship, "She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid." There are no smuggling compartments, but smuggling does play a role in driving a cab.

Cab companies use the Crown Vic for some of the same reasons police do -- they're big, comfortable, and have plenty of power. And they're durable and easy to work on.

It's an old style American car in every sense -- it has a frame, as opposed to unitized construction, it's rear drive -- the way cars should be, and it's very large with an automatic transmission, shift on the column.

After the original Crown Vic engine blew up last year, our mechanic installed the Mustang engine. Competition for used engines is fierce, considering police and cabs are always looking for them, so sometimes it's easier to pay a little more for a Mustang than wait for a Crown Vic engine to show up on the market. He said it bolts right in, considering the GT and Crown Vic use mostly the same drive train. The only change he had to make were the exhaust manifolds -- the GT manifolds are larger and give the car a little bit more oomph.

The mechanic, Fred, did such a nice job with the new motor, I gave him $40 and a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black as a tip.

The power difference between the new and old engine was absurd. I hadn't realized how downtrodden the old powerplant was. I had been taking it out of overdrive when driving up hills. The new engine doesn't need any help.

Shortly after I got the replacement engine, the transmission let go. The company had an outside shop rebuild it for $900.

In addition to the engine and transmission, I've had many other fixes in the almost two years I've had it: fuel tank, battery, ignition switch, key assembly, starter, etc. Considering the car has been driven almost around the clock for more than 12 years, I have no complaints.

The Falcon is a Police Interceptor edition, having been purchased many years ago from a police auction. The package includes anti-roll bars, heavy duty brakes, an engine oil cooler and transmission oil cooler, positraction differential, shift-kit for the trans, dual exhaust, plus a few other goodies to make it haul ass. The days of the old Checkered Cabs are long gone. I'm usually the fastest thing around.

The '99 GT engine is 4.6-liters, just like the Crown Vic, and has 260 horsepower and 302 pounds/feet of torque. The original engine had 230hp with 260 torque. The specs for a 1999 GT are 0-60 in 5.4 seconds and 1/4 mile in 14.1 seconds. The GT weighs 3243 lbs., while the Crown Vic is 3780. So, the cab would be a little slower than the GT.

The drawbacks? Eighteen miles per gallon on a good day. That's very bad, considering I have to pay for my own gasoline. So I usually drive it gently for the best mileage. In fact, the only challenge to driving a taxi, in my mind, is finding the fastest route, moving through traffic quickly, all the while burning as little fuel as possible.

The Falcon is what cabbies (in San Diego, at any rate) call a 10% car, meaning the fuel bill is 10% of the meter take. Presently (March 2007) gasoline is back above $3/gallon, so it's probably a 12-14% car right now.

I'm conducting an interesting social experiment with Tom and Andrew, the guys who split the morning shift in my car. I never told them the speedometer reads 7mph fast. Generally, they're driving slower than they realize, probably under the speed limit. After two months of driving with them, Andrew said, "Ted, this car is better than 10%. It's great!" Now why would I spoil it for him? Let's let him think he's got the world by the balls. Fewer speeding tickets, too. I should get a medal.

I keep all the required safety gear in the trunk -- fire extinguisher, hazard triangles, first aid kit, and a full size spare tire. I also have along a modest set of tools, spare fluids, and a flashlight.

I swapped the idiotic scissor jack for a good floor jack. You would not believe how many flat tires I get. When you drive for many hours, day in and day out, tires get chewed up. You drive over curbs occasionally, and nails, and small children all manner of debris. I can change a tire almost as fast as a Formula 1 team.

The Falcon is more than a car. It's my office.

1 comment:

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