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Parked in the lot behind the Watertown police station is a relic of the past, an old 1991 Ford Crown Victoria police cruiser.
The cruiser, which was used for policing in Arizona, looks brand-new. No one would suspect that a little over a year ago this Crown Vic was in rough shape, covered in chipped paint and barely working.
Officer Michael Hill bought the car in 2018 and has spent the past year restoring the cruiser to its original state.
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Born a car guy
Hill remembers having an interest in cars as a kid and said he has always been a car guy. In college, Hill worked at Perfection Auto Body on Pleasant Street, where he picked up the knowledge and mechanical skills needed to do car restorations.
Hill’s interest in restoring old police cars also ties back to his childhood. His father was an officer for the Newton Police Department and, as a kid, Hill would go to the station and play in the old Ford cruisers.
The Arizona cruiser is not the first police car that Hill has restored. He got the idea a few years ago at an event that showcased restored police cruisers.
“I remember seeing the old cars and thinking that is a good idea,” he said.
At the time Hill worked in the Boston Sheriff’s Department, so he bought an old Boston cruiser. Restoring the car took about a year and, after finishing it, Hill sold the cruiser to a collector in New Hampshire.
Restoring the cruiser to its original state
Hill purchased the car for under $2,000 and paid another $1,000 to have it shipped from Arizona to Watertown.
The Arizona cruiser was in rough shape. The paint was so chipped that the “DIAL 911” lettering on the side of the car was illegible.
“Old police cars are pretty much used and abused and then sent to the junkyard,” Hill said.
He had to repaint the exterior and rip out most of the interior, as well as replace some of the older parts. The hardest part of restoring the police cruiser, according to Hill, is finding the parts.
“These cars are not well sought after, so there is not that big of a market for them, and there are not a lot of places that reproduce parts for them,” he said.
Hill used a search engine for mechanics and auto body shops to locate the parts. Most of the parts, he said, came from the South or West where there are fewer issues with salt and subsequent corrosion.
Hill spent a day a week on average working on the car, slowly making repairs and putting it back together. He works odd hours at the police station, but whenever he had some free time he would spend it working on the car.
“It is a stress reliever. Everyone has their own thing. I enjoy working on cars,” he said.
What will happen to the Arizona cruiser?
Hill’s plan for the Arizona cruiser is a little different from the Boston cruiser.
“I will probably end up keeping this for a while anyway, until I get the itch to build a new one,” he said.
Hill plans to show the restored cruiser at various car shows around New England, and will drive it in Watertown’s annual Memorial Day Parade in May.
After working on the car for more than a year, Hill said he is satisfied and will take a break from restoring old cruisers, for now anyway.