CONCORD, N.C. – A special exhibit will commemorate the history of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol and celebrate its 85th anniversary at the Charlotte Motor Speedway AutoFair on April 3-6.
The special display which spans more than eight decades will feature seven historic patrol vehicles, including a 1929 Harley-Davidson, 1935 Ford roadster, 1947 Buick Special, 1978 Plymouth Fury, 1993 Mustang, 2012 BMW motorcycle, and 2014 Dodge Charger.
“The speedway owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to the North Carolina State Highway Patrol,” said Marcus Smith, president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“No one can manage traffic for thousands of race fans like the men and women of the N.C. Highway Patrol. We appreciate their daily efforts to keep our state roadways safe and are honored to salute them with this special display.”
Like the rest of America in the 1920s, North Carolina was car crazy. Its population of registered motor vehicles rose from 150,558 in 1921 to 503,590 in 1929, leading to an ever-increasing number of highway deaths. The North Carolina General Assembly created the State Highway Patrol in 1929 and sent 10 men to the Pennsylvania State Police training school to study law, first aid and vehicle operation. That group became the first captain and nine lieutenants of the patrol, with each lieutenant in charge of a state highway district. Patrol headquarters was established in Raleigh.
From the start, members of the Highway Patrol were distinguished on the road by their vehicles. Patrolmen watched over their districts’ highways from the perches of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Their lieutenants drove Ford Model A coupes, and the Patrol commander received a Buick.
Law enforcement has never been an easy career choice, but that was especially true in the early years of the Highway Patrol. Patrol members riding those Harleys year-round were paid $87.50 a month for a six-day work week under very dangerous conditions. So many were injured and killed in the line of duty during the organization’s first decade that the Highway Patrol stopped issuing motorcycles to its members altogether in 1939.
Vehicles that served the Highway Patrol were chosen for a combination of reliability, toughness, affordability and performance. The majority of cars used by the agency in its 85 years have been sturdy, four-door family sedans – the ubiquitous Ford Crown Vic being the perfect example – but there have been some unusual standouts.
A 1935 Ford convertible seems like an odd buy for law enforcement, but pre-World War II ragtops were often cheaper than steel-top sedans, and the driver’s increased visibility while on duty was considered a benefit. One such vintage Ford coming to AutoFair is owned by the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer.
Muscle cars entered the fleet on July 14, 1983, when the North Carolina Highway Patrol took delivery of 50 unmarked Ford Mustangs equipped with 302-cid V-8 engines and Special Service Packages that improved chassis stiffness, cooling and electrical reliability. Mustangs patrolled the Tar Heel State as high-speed pursuit vehicles for the next 16 years.
The Mustang’s rival, Chevrolet’s Camaro, also wore the black-and-silver Highway Patrol paint scheme for a few years before the line was discontinued in 2002. Today, Mustang and Camaro enthusiasts will pay top dollar for the rare retired patrol car in good shape with its hard-to-find radio and protection gear intact; Monroe N.C. collector Greg Sullins has a 1993 Mustang coupe he plans to display at AutoFair.
Visitors to the Auto Fair can see Sullins’ Mustang and the other Highway Patrol vehicles in the special display inside the Showcase Pavilion, alongside the 50th anniversary of the Mustang display and other unique classic and collectible cars.