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How Bonnie and Clyde Changed the Police Forever

In 1934, Bonnie and Clyde, those notorious criminals of the Depression Era, stole a brand new
Ford Deluxe Fordor sedan from Ruth and Jesse Warren’s driveway in Topeka, Kansas. Do you
suppose they were looking for a car they could steal quickly or one that would give them an
advantage over the police officers who were chasing them?

As it turns out, they ended up with both. Bonnie and Clyde stole the car from the Warrens with
no trouble (it’s rumored that Ruth had left the keys in it) and were soon out on the open road.
But the Ford Deluxe Fordor had something that most law enforcement vehicles didn’t: a brand
new V8 engine. This engine is most likely what allowed them to escape (this time). The couple’s
getaway car had a bigger engine and could go faster than most of the cars chasing them. They
got lucky.

When we say that the V8 engine was new in 1934, that’s not exactly true. The V8 was patented
in 1902 by a French engineer named Leon Levavasseur, who used his invention, an
eight-cylinder V-shaped engine, to power boats and airplanes. The engine eventually found its
way into high-end luxury cars like Cadillac. Still, these cars were mostly inaccessible to the
masses, and most people puttered along on less power.

Once Ford figured out how to crank V8s out on his assembly line, the tide turned. Suddenly V8s
were found in many more moderately-priced cars, and in 1934, the Warrens couldn’t have been
more thrilled with their new speedster.

Law enforcement officials, as it turns out, were less enthusiastic. Their squad cars — most likely
1929 Model A’s or similar — didn’t have V8s, so they spent a considerable amount of time and
gas trying to chase down Bonnie and Clyde. While the police cars may have been able to hit 65
mph in a pinch, they were more comfortable cruising around at 40 mph or so. The nefarious duo
would have been able to clock an astounding 65 – 75 mph in the Ford Deluxe Fordor, a distinct
advantage when you’re running for your life.

Fast forward to today. It’s not uncommon for police officers to forego a car chase through
crowded streets in the interest of safety. Some cities forbid car chases because of the danger to
innocent bystanders. But what if the police do have to give chase? Not to worry. Squad cars are
now designed with speed in mind. They can outrun the majority of vehicles on the road today,
making it less appealing for Bonnie and Clyde-like criminals to try their luck. And with the roll-out
of the new 2020 Ford Police Interceptor Utility, even the most souped-up hot rod is toast if this
beast is on its tail.

So how does the picture change as self-driving cars become more sophisticated and more
widely available? It’s hard to tell, but if the computer industry is any indicator, it’s a safe bet to
think that criminal minds are working on ways to hack into self-driving cars just as they do with
today’s computers. On the flip side: is it possible to engineer an autonomous automobile that
deters theft or other kinds of crime? It’s a fascinating concept. If cars can be programmed to
strictly follow the speed limit without deviation, we’d no longer need speeding tickets. What if
autonomous cars are built so that police officers can remotely disable them when necessary?
Perhaps automotive manufacturers will start working with police and FBI agents to locate the
cars of known criminals similar to the way cell phone companies work with these entities today
to find missing persons.

The frustration felt by law enforcement officials over the repeated escape of Bonnie and Clyde
gave everyone pause, but it ultimately pointed out the need for law officials to work with car
manufacturers to make sure they always have the upper hand. With self-driving vehicle
technology advancing at a rapid pace and with an increased possibility of technological
intervention on both sides of the criminal equation, it may end up that the 1934 Ford Deluxe
Fordor is once again the most viable option when it comes to a getaway car.

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