FOREST LAKE, Minn. - Lawmen have always had a thing for their horses. Tony Garvey climbed into the saddle of his first Ford Crown Victoria when he joined the Minnesota State Patrol.

"They're the ultimate cop car," says the veteran trooper as he wheels his latest Crown Victoria, just four months in service, toward a day of traffic enforcement on Interstate 35.

"This is our office, it's our means of transportation, it's our interceptor," he says. "This our best tool in the tool box."

While it's not exactly a trip to the glue factory, state troopers and their trusted steeds are about to part ways.

"This is the last," says Mike Schwartz, as he stands next to a maroon Crown Victoria being outfitted with the lights, sirens and other gear that turn a four-door sedan into a state patrol squad car.

Schwartz's Oakdale company, Emergency Automotive Technologies, has outfitted thousands of Crown Victories for law enforcement agencies, including this thefinal "Crown Vic" being readied for delivery to the Minnesota State Patrol.

Ford has ended production of the car your grandfather drove: big, rear-wheel drive and a structural throwback to the 1950s. The Crown Victoria was one of the last production cars literally built like a truck on a full steel frame.

And like a good grandpa, cops loved them.

"We did have one troop that actually kissed the hood of their car goodbye," laughed Schwartz.

Sometimes the shiny new cars Schwartz's company sends out the door return as mangled pieces of steel. One such car sits in Schwartz's back parking lot, a casualty of a winter crash in Western Minnesota. The car's hood is crumpled back to the windshield. "Bulletproof," is the term Schwartz uses to describe a Crown Victoria.

"The troop came out pretty well and he's back on duty after this hit here," says Schwartz, before respectfully patting the totaled Crown Victoria on its trunk. "They're just a good tough car."

It's a car that has become so synonymous with law enforcement, a mere glimpse of one can make a lead foot quiver.

"It's just the shape of the car, everybody knows the Crown Vic," says Garvey as he parks in a freeway median pointing a laser speed gun toward oncoming traffic.

Troopers may be intimately familiar with the Crown Victoria, but few know the car better the than Jay Sletten, a State Patrol employee and son of a trooper, who created a website to document the history of Minnesota's state patrol squad cars.

"Well, that's an 82 Ford LTD S, which is kind of a pre-curser to the Crown Victoria," says Sletten, pointing to one of the scores of historic photos he has posted.

It's clear from the photos the state patrol had an affinity for Chrysler products in the 1970s and early 80s, followed by more than two decades of domination by the Crown Victoria.

Along the way Ford tried several times to put its old horse out to pasture, only to encounter police objections.

"No we don't want you to quit making those yet,'" said Sletten, quoting a common police refrain.

In May, the State Patrol will take delivery of its first Taurus-based squad cars; Ford's designated replacement for the Crown Victoria. The high-output V6 engine in the Taurus Police Interceptor, should offer a marked improvement in fuel economy, compared to the Crown Victoria's old-school V8.

"How are they going to work out, I guess we're just going to have to wait and see," said Sletten.

Veteran troopers will adapt to the change, but not without some sentimentality.

"There area lot of guys that it's been their workhorse for their whole career," says Garvey.

As for his own four-month-old Crown Victoria, Garvey figures in three more years they might just leave the State Patrol together.

"I started in one, so I'll be retiring in one."Garvey pauses and then chuckles, "I'll have a lot of miles on me too."

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