Movie Night with a Cop Car
The other night, my wife and I took our dog for a walk and decided to mix up our usual route. As we rounded a corner, whatever we were talking about fell straight out of my brain. Betsy is used to me zoning out at the sight of an interesting car–and she’s developed a tendency of her own–but I didn’t get the response I was looking for when I nodded at a blacked-out Chevrolet Monte Carlo parked in a driveway across the street.
How could she not react? As it turns out, I have failed as a husband because she has never seen “Training Day.” No wonder she didn’t recognize the most stylish police car of all time. Forget about Lamborghinis in Dubai, this is the coolest police car in the world.
Cue family movie night. No matter how many times I watch the Monte Carlo’s introductory scene, it still gives me chills. Director Antoine Fuqua created the masterful film at the age of 32. Denzel Washington plays his character, Detective Alonzo Harris, to typical perfection. Ethan Hawke provides a relatable and equally well-acted foil in Officer Jake Hoyt. Hollywood has a real hit-and-miss record of placing the right cars in movies, but whoever chose this one hit it out of the park.
The way the two characters cross the street hints at their differences. Harris steps into traffic without so much as a glance. Drivers panic-brake to avoid hitting him, but he doesn’t seem to notice. Hoyt catches up with just a hint of self-conscious uneasiness.
“Hey, grab that menu off that window for me, alright?” Harris instructs Hoyt as the two approach the parked car. “Get in, it’s unlocked.”
Some of you may not appreciate how big of a deal that last sentence is, but there are plenty of neighborhoods where the mere idea of not locking your car is unthinkable. I lock mine, and I live in Madison, Wisconsin where the biggest threat is someone leaving an unsolicited bundle of rhubarb from their garden. That line is a cue to the audience. There’s a reason a Los Angeles narcotics detective feels comfortable leaving his car unlocked and unattended overnight.
The two exchange pleasantries like any good, car-loving people would.
“This car is not from the motor pool,” Hoyt observes.
“No, it’s not,” Harris responds. “Sexy, though, isn’t it?”
That’s one word for it, but I’m not sure most people–even car people–would use it to describe a 1979 Chevy Monte Carlo. The short-lived third generation was offered from 1978 to 1980. It was a scaled-down design created in response to the murderous gas shortage that robbed us of so many classic muscle cars. Under the hood could be an anemic 231-cubic-inch V6 or a modest 305-cubic-inch V8. Gone were the 350, 400, and 454 found in the car’s earlier production years. Even though the third generation was shorter in length than its predecessor, the front and rear overhang are still comical by today’s standards. There’s an odd blend of straight and curved lines; it’s as if the design team wasn’t quite ready to commit to the dismal boxes American cars of the ’80s would become.
There are some circles where this kind of car is celebrated, though. They’re found primarily in southern California, where “Training Day” takes place. That’s where Latino lowrider culture started in the late 1940s. It was all about expressing yourself in a way that was accessible. Back then, there were no ECU tunes, no performance tires, and no online forums. Car enthusiasts could re-jet a carburetor but, unless they had a shop and the skills to crack the engine open, there wasn’t much they could do to extract performance. One thing anyone with a hack saw and jack could do was cut the suspension. Sure, it ruined the ride, but I stand by them because the lead sleds of that era still look epic with their bellies skimming the pavement. As the scene grew, air suspension, airbrushed paint, and aftermarket sound systems made lowriders unlike anything else on the road and other car enthusiasts were drawn to the scene. For reasons that are beyond me, they weren’t given a warm reception by the rest of the road-going public.
But Alonzo Harris isn’t like the road-going public. He’s down with outdated American iron, just like the people in the film he interacts with every day. To him, a ’79 Monte Carlo is as good as it gets.
“So where’s the office, back at division?” Hoyt asks.
Of course it’s not. Harris doesn’t dress like a police officer, he doesn’t talk like a police officer, and he certainly doesn’t park himself in a cubicle with a bunch of pencil-pushers.
With a perfectly timed pause and a wry stare, Harris puts the key in the ignition and delivers a line I’ll never forget.
“You in the office, baby.”
A rowdy exhaust barks to life with a snarl that is in no way compliant with Californian emissions laws or sound ordinances. Dr. Dre’s “Still Dre” creates a fitting soundtrack.
“Going up,” Harris announces as he flips the switches that activate the car’s air suspension. First, the front end hops to life; then the rear. The uninitiated Hoyt gets tossed around in his seat like a startled grandparent. It’s clearly not going to be an average training day.
There are plenty of excellent car-character pairings in movies. I can’t set foot on a college campus without looking for an Alfa Romeo Duetto Spyder like Benjamin Braddock’s. Brian O’Conner never looked better than when he was pulling up in an R34 Skyline GT-R. Of course, you know how I feel about Eleanor.
You could make a case that Alonzo Harris’ Monte Carlo tops them all. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but I’d listen intently to the argument. The further the plot progresses, the more the car makes sense. Every detail, from the bags to the soundtrack, hints at details to come. Hats off to whoever picked that car for the movie. And hats off to Denzel Washington for making us all love the Monte Carlo.
Scott is a lover of motorized fun, whether on four wheels or two. A child of the ’90s, he has a particular soft spot for hatchbacks and believes all aging cars deserve a second chance at life. Scott works as a freelance marketer for Dingo Productions in Madison, Wisconsin. If he’s not behind a camera or a computer, he’s probably chasing down new coffee shops with his wife or throwing a frisbee for his dog.
The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.