The History of Saab Police Cars In Aspen, Colorado

Posted on 14. Dec, 2008 by in 2000-2009

Photo Credits: Aspen Police Department

The Aspen Police Department in Aspen, Colorado has had a long history with Saab Automobile (1974-2005)

Bill Linn, the Assistant Chief Of Police from the Aspen Police Department, has recently written Saab History and has provided the following account of his history and experience with the Saab partnership, over this time.

As you may know, the Aspen Police Department’s use of Saab’s has had quite a bit of media exposure over the years, from ski events, to celebrity endorsements such as George Hamilton to major motion pictures such as ‘Dumb & Dumber’.

Below is his account of those years. My thanks to Bill & the many individuals who have contributed to this piece.

A bit of the history of Saab police cars in Aspen, Colorado

Through the late 60s and into the early 1970s the Aspen Police Department used Ford Torino 4-doors “rear wheel drive monsters,” according to Michael Chandler, who worked at the department from 1971 to 1978 in varying capacities from “meter maid” to assistant chief. “I thought the Torinos were stupid,” Chandler related.

At about 8,000 feet in altitude and at the base of a ski mountain, the rear-wheel-drive vehicles were a poor fit for the environment.

99.jpgIn 1973 a personnel change brought in a new police chief with an open mind about changing the police department, which up until that point acted as a traditional police agency, wearing traditional police uniforms and driving traditional police cars. Under the old chief, Dick Ritchey, Chandler had explored the purchase of new vehicles, however, Ritchey opposed the change. But with Ritchey’s departure, and the support of the mayor, Chief Marty Hershey gave Chandler free rein to make substantial changes within the department.

“It was either Saabs, or we were also looking at Ford Bronco SUVs, but Saab cut us a better deal, because they wanted to use us in their advertising,” Chandler explained. As part of the image change that the Saabs brought about, the department also dropped the “state patrol uniforms” Chandler said, and went to blue jeans, work shirts, and cowboy hats. “There was a big mindset shift, from being paramilitary honkeys … back then you were ‘pigs,’ coming out of the ’60s,” Chandler said.

1978.jpgWhen the new Saabs arrived either in 1973 or 1974, they were warmly received. “I loved them, everybody liked them,” Chandler said. Chandler could not recall the model number of the Saabs, but said “they were the 4-door model that year.”

On my arrival at the police department in 1994, we were still in Saabs, and among my first tasks was outfitting the 1994 model Saabs, which I believe were 9000s. We leased the vehicles from Saab, on 3-year plans, and turned them back to Saab with about 25,000 miles on them. I understand that the local dealership initially did a booming business in selling our retired police cars, though near the end of our relationship with Saab, the corporate folks took the cars away from the local dealership and sent them to an auto auction on the east coast of the US. This created a lot of unhappy customers at the dealership.9000cc.jpg

But back to the cars … they were excellent cars in the snow, though they lacked ground clearance which would pose a threat at heavy snow times. In fact, more than once I managed to get them stuck in the middle of Main Street where the snow had been piled up by the snowplows.

They were fast, really fast, and fun cars. We were in the practice of regularly using the “jake brake” parking technique of parallel parking, yanking the e-brake while turning the wheel and pivoting the car 180 degrees, right into the parking space (now facing the opposite direction!) In the summertime, with a bit of water on Main Street, the technique worked nearly as well, though a bit louder.

They were very nimble, and at a police ice driving training in the late ’90s, I remember just how seriously they out-performed the traditional police vehicles. 9000_cs.jpgThis training was set on the frozen lake at Georgetown, Colorado, and was a great location for driving training (since there wasn’t really any risk of running into anything!) The Saabs were simply in a different class than all the other vehicles there that day (including front-wheel drive Chevy Impalas, 4-wheel-drive Dodge Durangos, Ford Explorers, Chevrolet Caprices, and Ford Crown Victorias).

In the late 90s we had full-pressure-turbo boost patrol cars, and they could really move, these were also 9000s, as I recall. The fastest I ever had an excuse to travel was about 135 mph, as I chased down an Audi that had passed me on Highway 82 outside of town. He was travelling 118, by my radar, and I caught him a little faster than I thought and accidently passed him before I could slow down enough to pull him over. I actually had to pull him over by parking in front of him – oops! He was drunk, by the way.

9-51.jpgWe had 9-5s in the early 2000s, but these were low-pressure-boost turbo cars, which were economical, but not nearly as fast as the older cars.

The decision to leave Saabs was really not the decision of the Aspen Police Department. We didn’t leave Saabs, they left us. We had continued
to work with the advertising compaigns of Saab throughout the years of the relationship, however, when Saab was purchased by a large corporation that will go unnamed, it came down to us that they had decided that our little cooperative effort was not worth their participation, and priced us out of the Saab business.

I’d like to point out that in the days of Saab police cars in Aspen, Saabs were literally everywhere in Aspen, owned by lots of the citizens in town. I assume this was because they thought it the cars were good enough for the police to use 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year, they would probably work well for the regular “joe.” Today you would be hard-pressed to find a Saab in Aspen, and in fact, the Saab dealership in Glenwood Springs, where we had purchased / leased our vehicles through, went out of business soon thereafter. (It is still a car dealership, but no longer sells Saabs.)

Bill Linn

Assistant Chief of Police

Aspen Police Department
506 East Main #102
Aspen, CO 81611

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8 Responses to “The History of Saab Police Cars In Aspen, Colorado”

  1. alex

    14. Dec, 2008

    Is there any better evidence of how badly GM misused Saab than its decision to pull out of a decades-old deal with a community in the sweet spot of its market? Stupid.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Ted Y

    14. Dec, 2008

    alex: So true. Let’s see, not allowed to advertise properly, new products canceled when near completion, forced to use generic GM platforms, forced to rebadge a GM truck and a Japanese vehicle, and GM wonders why Saab is under-performing. Idiots.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Ryan

    17. Dec, 2008

    Alex & Ted,

    I concur with both of you 100%!


    Reply to this comment
  4. Luke schneider

    17. Sep, 2012

    Wow! Thanks so much for posting this. Being born in Colorado and owning/loving my Saab 9-3 (and the history of saab)I really found this interesting

    Reply to this comment
  5. Petri Tast

    21. Jul, 2016

    Well, that was both fun and educating. Only notion; if You get stucked in snow driving a SAAB, you have been carrying too much confidence in Yourself, or SAAB.. Just kiddin’.
    Actually, SAAB 9000 must be one of the best-handling cars ever! A wallflower, but in a snow-blizzard in 2014 I just swept through some 20 miles over 80mph on the untouched left-lane of motorway at Oulu in Finland, and for once all Audi, BMW, Merc or Volvo drivers did not even try to interfere or show the supposed superiority of four-wheel drive w/ electronically enhanced driving-experience and so on..
    An hour later at Haparanda, Sweden I saw a 4X4 having exited a roundabout some 30 meters off the road and stuck there. SAAB 9000 went through that same crossing with no trouble at all.
    9000 is the most underrated, overlooked piece of beautiful, innovative and driver-orientated automotive engineering ever!

    Reply to this comment
  6. Richard

    01. May, 2020

    Hi, an interesting article on the police departments use of Saabs in Aspen. On the subjects of Saabs, has anyone ever heard of the “Saab of Aspen” dealership? I know they were around in the early 1970 era and besides being a Saab dealer they also sold the Citroen Mehari of all things for a short period of time.
    I’m doing historical research.

    Best regards,
    Richard Bonfond

    Reply to this comment


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