Highway Patrol: Let the Car be the Star
When most television shows were filming in backlots and studios, Highway Patrol set a new standard by filming in actual rural roads in California. The popular show starring Broderick Crawford aired between 1955 and 1959. Filmed in black and white, the classic cop show pioneered the cop show genre and became a favorite in over 70 different countries.
The main character, Dan Mathews, was a part of the California Highway Patrol. He could always be found either reclining on or driving in his two-door 1955 Buick Century. The car which was modeled to look exactly like the real CHP cars. Interestingly, the CHP wanted to have a show that resembled Dragnet, which featured the local Los Angeles Police Department.
In order to create the realistic content of the show, the police cars in the first few episodes were real cars from CHP. To give them the Highway Patrol look, the producers had the Highway Patrol emblem placed over the CHP emblem. After a few shows, Highway Patrol used its own 1955 Buick Century models, which were designed to emulate the real cars. Car buyers could not get their hands on the two-door patrol cars because they were only built for CHP and Highway Patrol. Eventually, the producers gave Crawford a four-door Buick Century to use in the show. The television car had a gumdrop light on top, but the actual CHP cars had sleek tops so they could sneak up on unsuspecting speeders. The rear CHP cars had lights in the rear windows. Officers had a moveable light inside of the car they could place on the dash or on the roof.
The “hot rod” Buick Century from 1955 had 3-speed transmissions with a Roadmaster engine. The cars originally were priced just over $2500. A beautifully restored black and white 1955 Buick Century can be seen at the General Motors Heritage Center in Sterling Heights, Michigan. The car has been and continues to be a popular part of the Heritage Center’s collection.