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Legendary 'muscle car' engine offered in Dodge police cruisers

Legendary 'muscle car' engine offered in Dodge police cruisers
DETROIT (AP) - DaimlerChrysler is trying to muscle its way into the police car market with a modified Dodge Magnum, powered by Hemi engines packing up to 340 horsepower.

First designed for fighter planes and once banned by NASCAR, the Hemi is a key component in the police version of the rear-wheel-drive Magnum that will debut in September 2005, the automaker announced Thursday.

"These police cars are going to be able to run down anything on the road," said Ray Fisher, vice president for fleet sales of the German-American automaker's Chrysler group.

The launch marks the company's effort to grab a share of the 60,000 annual police car market now dominated by Ford Motor's Crown Victoria.

Fisher is quick to stress other features of the Magnum police special - electronic stability system, traction controls, a rear lift-gate for easy cargo access and a roomy interior.

"In terms of performance, we're going to be the best ... in every category," Fisher said. "It's not just a power story."

But he acknowledged that the launch of the police version of the Dodge Magnum is meant to show the public that DaimlerChrysler is serious about putting muscle under their car hoods as well. (Photo gallery: Dodge Magnum)

The move comes as American car buyers seem to be renewing their love affair with heightened horsepower.

Automakers installed large V-8 engines in 29.1% of all passenger vehicles built in North America for the U.S. market last year, the highest rate since 1985, according to Ward's Automotive Reports.

With aggressive advertising, DaimlerChrysler has put the Hemi engine at the front of the beefy engine class.

"People are gobbling them up," said Mike Wall, an auto analyst with Farmington Hills-based CSM Worldwide.

The Hemi gets its name from the hemispherical shape of its combustion chamber, which Chrysler says improves power and fuel economy.

The engine began its life in 1939 as a V-16 power source for fighter aircraft. In 1951, Chrysler introduced an automotive version, a 180 horsepower V-8. Four years later, a Chrysler 300 with a 331 cubic-inch Hemi became the first production car to make 300 horsepower.

Hemis began dominating the stock-car circuit until NASCAR banned them in 1965 by setting minimum street sales levels. Chrysler re-qualified the next year.

Chrysler introduced the newest version of the Hemi in 2002 on heavy-duty trucks, then began offering it as an option on pickups and sport utility vehicles.

Two upcoming cars will have the Hemi, the Chrysler 300C sedan and Dodge Magnum sport wagon. The car version of the Hemi uses a system that allows the vehicle to reduce the number of cylinders in use during normal driving conditions, improving fuel economy by 10-20%.

The 2005-model Magnum SXT will use a V-6 engine. The 2006 model with the police package will come with a 250-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 as standard equipment or an optional 340-horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8.

Prices have not been announced, but a tight economy will make it hard for DaimlerChrysler or any automaker to make big returns on fleet sales to police, Wall said.
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