Jason Knox likely will go down in 2018 history as the only officer to “shop for a shop,” win a surplus auction bid and bring his winnings here from Pasadena, California, to be totally restored as a 1990s HPD patrol car.
Knox loves to tell the story, which only lacks an end that amounts to the installation of the red lights, the siren and the application of the vintage decals on the front doors. Once those final steps are completed, he will have a fully-running patrol car from yesteryear.
The officer, assigned to the Public Affairs Division, has always had an appreciation for policing history. Two years ago, he went to the LAPD Police Museum and noticed it contained “one vehicle for every decade.”
Inspired, Knox dreamed of putting together a similar museum exhibit for the Department. You might say he is trying to make that dream a reality, step by step, using his own funding and not taking anything for granted.
The restoration story for the officer who has “always been a car guy” has far more ups than downs.
To begin with, Knox’s winning auction bid was $700 and it took him just about that much to get “Shamu the whale” shipped back to Houston to a new home in the officer’s garage. The nickname, as you might be able to tell from the accompanying pictures, comes from the large whale-shape of a 1996 Chevrolet Caprice Classic 9C1, with its gas-guzzling 350-cubic-inch V8 engine with 260 horsepower. It was, one might say, on the cusp of becoming a 25-year-old classic; thus, the price was not yet over the top.
Luck also played a huge role in the self-funded endeavor.
“I really didn’t have to do much under the hood,” Knox recounted. “I changed all the fluids, flushed out all the fluids. That was pretty much it. I did a little tune-up and it’s running like a champ. I’m very impressed with it. If you accelerate it too quick, you’ll leave rubber on the pavement.”
It only thing the powerful “whale” needed was to be painted the custom HPD blue. Knox did some “combing through” various sources. He got used to that routine when he combed through Craig’s List and Houston’s massive number of junkyards to find a 1990s HPD patrol car before “on the spur-of-the-moment” he submitted a telephone bid in the Pasadena, California, auction.
“It took a year for me to comb through recourses, including interviewing various people in the department around that time. I found a destroyed HPD car in a junkyard at Hobby Airport. On a whim I asked if we could pop the trunk open.
“It took some physical prying but we found a placard in the trunk with the paint code for HPD blue. There are five million shades of blue and I wanted the one most historically accurate for this project.”
He got it and got the paint job done! Since there were no major body issues, the paint took to the old frame quite well.
The Houston Police Officers Union kicked in $1,000 sponsorship money, Knox said, which helped to pay the paint bill.
Knox, who has 12 years of law enforcement experience, having served six as a Harris County constable before graduating from HPD Academy Class No. 212 in 2012, said the Department has come a long way from the “box-shaped” Fords and Chevys – with a few Chryslers thrown in – through the 70s, 80s and 90s to the present-day Chevrolet Tahoes and Ford Explorers.
For the most part, HPD officers drove Ford Crown Victorias in the early 2000s. “They quit making them in 2011,” the patrol car historian said, “but we still have a lot of them in the fleet.”
By mid-January the restoration aficionado lacked just two major steps – installation of the light bar and the vintage decals on the two front doors to match the HPD-issued 1996 Caprice Classics.
Yes, there are stories about finding each of these two needs.
“I originally used photographs from the internet to determine what type of emergency equipment was used as well as the light bar,” Know explained. “I found a light bar for 100 bucks. It was in terrible, terrible shape. I sent it off to a guy in Katy who refurbished that thing from the ground up and made it look like it came from the factory.”
That mission will be accomplished after he finds a body shop to perform the installation. Then came the decals.
“Interestingly, back in the 90s the decals were decals the department used to purchase from a company in Florida,” he explained. “That company no longer makes our decals. We do them in-house now. All the black and white cars are done in-house.
“I found information about the Florida company in the Records Division. I reached out to these people HPD used in the 90s to make the decals. They told me it would be expensive.
“So I purchased them from the original vendor. They sent them over to Houston and they’re ready to be put on the car.”
How much? “$350 for a set.”
Knox has not complained about spending his own money, declaring this project to be “a fun hobby” that he plans to expand toward restoration of HPD patrol cars from other decades, hoping the HPD Museum expands to accommodate displays like those in the LAPD Museum as well as have vintage cars for parades and other events promoting the department and its officers.
“I would love to see this displayed at the Police Memorial when they do the roll call,” Knox said. Interviewed just before this year’s Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, the officer declared it was too late to get into this year’s parade but vowed to get it rolling in next year’s parade.