Police museum in Seattle restoring rare, 1949 patrol car
The Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum is renovating a rare 1949 State Patrol car it recently found in a family garage in Westport.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Most home garages are pretty ordinary. They’re filled with tools, forgotten toys, cleaning supplies and the all-too-familiar family van.
But in one garage in Westport, on the Washington coast, a little gem of history was tucked away and only recently rediscovered — an original 1949 State Patrol car.
The recently acquired old Ford sedan, which was found largely disassembled with parts in boxes and the garage, is being restored to its former squad-car glory by the Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum.
During the early 1950s, the old black-and-white was used as a patrol vehicle in Ellensburg.
Little is known about the car’s history over the next few decades, but about four years ago, it found its way to a Westport father who bought it as a mechanics project for a son, who was being home-schooled.
The museum intends to add the car to its collection of historic police vehicles and display it at special events.
Although the museum itself is located in Pioneer Square, it keeps many of its 17 cars at a storage warehouse next to its maintenance facility in Ellensburg, where this one is being restored. Those buildings are not open to the public.
Nicknamed the shoebox for its compact structure, the 1949 Ford sedan was the first “police package” vehicle manufactured in the country, meaning those cars came already equipped with special amenities for use in law enforcement, according to Seattle police Officer Jim Ritter, the museum’s president and founder.
Before that, police “used civilian cars without any special suspension or brakes or engines or anything on them,” Ritter said.
But the ’49 model was something special from the start, loaded with a mechanical siren, heavy-duty brakes, a spotlight and a flathead V-8 engine that could create 110 horsepower with the help of a three-speed overdrive transmission, according to Ritter.
Ritter said that after the car’s stint in Ellensburg, from approximately 1949 to 1952, it was auctioned off.
Little is known about its journey after that, until Ralph Voorhis bought it with one of his sons in the Renton area and hauled it home to Westport about four years ago. Voorhis does not remember the name of the previous owner.
They did some work on the car but eventually put it up for sale because the family was moving to Hawaii.
Ritter said he learned about the car from a friend, who had seen it on Craigslist. Ritter drove to Westport in December, inspected the car and bought it for $600, then donated it to the museum.
“It was in amazingly good shape considering that it’s a 64-year-old vehicle,” said Ritter, who considers it a rare find.
“I mean most police agencies that restore old cars, they are simply civilian versions they’ve mocked up to look like police cars,” he said. “This is actually an original and one of very few original police cars from that era.”
The fact that the Voorhis family kept the car garaged helped protect it from the area’s harsh coastal elements, Ritter said. “If it had been outside, exposed to the weather, it would have rusted away to nothing.”
Safiya Merchant: 206-464-2299 or firstname.lastname@example.org.