2012 Ram 1500 Special Services
Police and thieves in the street. And off-road; by Andrew Wendler
Even casual viewers of the long-running television program Cops can agree on the two universal truths of the show: Remaining shirtless during questioning is a tacit admission of guilt and the designation "tattoo artist" is highly subjective. But to dedicated viewers, an unintentional subtext has begun to present itself: The standard four-door police cruiser is increasingly at odds with the cunning and evolving tactics of the modern scofflaw. Hampered by a low ride height and limited evidence-hauling capacity, the standard cruiser is virtually useless when the pursuit of justice exits the pavement and heads off-road. Enter stuff like the Ram 1500 Special Service, one of the last hurrahs for the current truck before it's updated for 2013.
Close to Stock, Closer to Bad-Ass
Built on the sturdy base of the civilian-issue 1500, the Special Services truck -- available only with four-wheel drive and in a Crew Cab configuration -- didn't have far to go to become ready for abuse at the hands of public servants. The tried-and-true ladder frame, old-school part-time four-wheel-drive transfer case, and solid rear axle are hard to break, and their bag-o'-hammers simplicity makes for comparatively easy repairs back at the garage. Likewise, durable, inexpensive 17-inch steel wheels wrapped with 265/70 Goodyear rubber are mounted at the corners. For an agency maintaining a fleet of vehicles, these elements, plus the fact it sports essentially the same 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 engine as the Dodge Charger Pursuit, can contribute to streamlined service procedures and reduced parts inventory. The Hemi in the Ram Special Service has only one major modificationÑthe addition of an oil coolerÑand makes the same 390 hp as it does in the regular Ram 1500. It also is the only engine option.
The Charger Pursuit can be purchased from the factory fully outfitted for police duty, but the Special Service 1500 is instead "pre-configured" for installation of a variety of crime-fighting equipment, including lighting, computers, and radar. The bits are then fitted by an independent supplier. A special wiring harness and power distribution center outfitted with two separate 100-amp main fuses keeps the juice flowing and provides a layer of protection for pricey law-enforcement electronics. Ram says it works directly with vehicle upfitters to ensure easy installation of items like spotlights and wire passenger-compartment dividers (a nice way of referring to the rear-seat cage for dirty, rotten criminals).
The front doors are beefed up with extra welds to handle the additional weight of ballistic materials, should an agency choose to fit them. They open just like those on a stock Ram, which is to say as wide as barn doors, a boon to officers with beltlines ballooned by hearty meals or the tools of the trade. (Or both.) The center console is removed and the shifter moved to the column to make space for a command center that can be as simple as a few rows of buttons for the lights and siren or as complex as a complete PC, radar, and shotgun-holder setup. A red-hued dome light provides just enough interior illumination to work by while on stakeouts without drawing undue attention from outside the vehicle. Cloth-upholstered, ten-way power-adjustable seats offer Barcalounger-like comfort up front; the perp lounge in back gets a durable vinyl covering for easy containment and eradication of errantly dispensed bodily fluids. The Ram 1500 Crew Cab offers 125 cubic feet of precious interior space, more than offered in the Charger Pursuit. Try spending an eight-hour shift behind the wheel while entirely surrounded by piles of equipment, and you'll quickly realize just how important each cubic inch of interior space is.
The fully outfitted Special Service 1500 offers no clandestine crime-fighting chassis or suspension mods. Outfitted with the same rear coil springs and twin-tube dampers found in a stock Ram, the Special Service maintains the same impressive ride quality as its civilian brother. Occupants are isolated from harsh road imperfections, but one particularly apocalyptic section of pavement we traversed at 50 mph sent massive shockwaves through the truck and caused us to ease off the accelerator. It wasn't pretty, but then again, neither is crime. For regular owners, these instances will be few and far between; public servants might encounter them more often in the truck's more unusual duty cycles.
But the only real demerit involves the steering, which exhibits no instinctive feel in the traditional automotive sense, serving instead as just a tool to get the job done. Getting this beast turned around in tight quarters takes some effort; an overall length of 19 feet and a 45.4-ft turning diameter will have rookies spinning the wheel like Wheel of Fortune contestants. Seasoned vets will simply engage the Ram's low-range transfer case and drive over any obstacles in their path, their quick-witted driving skills honed by years of watching Walker, Texas Ranger reruns on cable.
Under full pedal, the traditional civil-service-exhaust theme song -- a familiar ditty composed of equal parts muffled V-8 and Shop-Vac-like whoosh -- blares from the Ram's tailpipe. It'd be a real shame if those stock mufflers got damaged "on patrol" and glasspacks mysteriously wound up in their place.
To the Rescue -- All of the Rescues
The 1500 Special Service isn't intended solely for police duty. Ram is betting that fire departments, forest and park rangers, municipalities, and other agencies will see the benefits of a vehicle that may not come prepped for extreme duty and periods of extended idling, but which offers the hauling capacity and off-road capabilities that a sedan simply can't match. The price is $36,720, a $1765 premium over a similarly equipped civilian version. In contrast, Ford offers a similarly prepped Special Service Vehicle version of its F-150 as a no-cost option.
With many agencies shouldering a wider load of responsibilities due to budget and personnel constraints, a multi-tasking vehicle like this can make perfect sense. Factor in the Ram's 10,000-pound towing capacity and you've got a crime-fighting, perp-haulin' command vehicle that outshines its four-door cruiser sibling in every category but top speed, cornering, and driving enjoyment. Frankly, we're glad that it has a few holes in its armor; if it were any better, Cops wouldn't be nearly as entertaining.
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No, the red-hued dome light is so that it doesn't adversely affect their night vision when getting out of it after sitting in the vehicle writing up a ticket at night.
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