Arsenals on Wheels

1933 Ford Sedan at the Classic Car Collection in Kearney, Nebraska.

By the 1920s and ’30s, crime had organized and was being exacerbated by Prohibition.  Law enforcement welcomed the cheap horsepower of the Ford flathead V8 in 1932, but they also needed better firepower. Most people today would be shocked by the sight of machine guns mounted on police cars, but armored and armed to the teeth was the trend for the boys in blue as they combatted the crime wave.

In the Big Apple, one 1925 newspaper story announced, “War is scheduled for the sidewalks of New York.”  Forced to desperate measures by the temerity of crooks, police turned to the late World War as their model and gave each of the nine detective districts their own “arsenals on wheels”.  Manned by three crews of marksmen so they could be in service 24 hours per day, each patrol car was armed with revolvers, tear bombs, machine guns, shot guns and rifles. They were also provided with rockets in case the radio set failed.

This 1930 photo shows a Dayton patrolman holding one of the two Lewis .30 caliber machine guns to be mounted on movable pivots on that department’s new patrol car.  The article says the guns were capable of firing 600 rounds per minute “in short bursts or a continuous stream of death-dealing lead.” The car also featured bullet-proof glass and upholstery, but no details were given on what that pre-Kevlar upholstery was made of.

This 1930 Buick was “equipped especially for the protection of Lincoln police officers when in pursuit of bandits or other outlaws.” It had bullet-proof panels in front of the radiator, a bullet-proof hood and cowling and 1-inch thick bullet-proof windshield.  Front tire guards were also going to be installed, but there was no mention of machine guns in Nebraska’s capital.

Also in 1930, the police department in Gary, Indiana purchased a new armored Hupmobile with “a gun port like an old frigate”. The Hupmobile was a great choice because it was already available in 8 cylinders and 133 horsepower in 1930.  It would have been very expensive at around $2100, roughly four times the cost of a Ford.  The gun port went through the right side of the windshield and was designed to accommodate “the barrels of any kind of firearm up to a riot gun.”

Anyone who has spent any time in Kansas City knows the city takes more than a little pride in its wild and woolly history, so it is no surprise that the Kansas City police department’s new armored Ford V-8 cars in ’32 had no less than three mounted machine guns, one in a bracket on the rear of the front seat and the other two under the top of the car. Bullet-proof nickel manganese steel a sixteenth of an inch thick lined the body and doors and steel flaps protected the tires from bullets. The glass was over an inch thick and weighed 14.5 pounds to the square foot.

And that’s just one more reason that I would never have made it as a criminal – I could not have fired shots at something this pretty!

1932 Ford Coupe

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