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June 21, 2008

Outrunning the Highway Patrol with less than 50 HP

Filed under: Cars — chuck goolsbee @ 7:38 am

Over at “The Truth About Cars” they asked “What’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you in a car?” Here was my answer. I thought I’d share it here too, as it is a fun story. I’ll look in my old photos and see if I can find a pic of that car, and/or me & Brad, circa 1985.


I once outran the Colorado Highway Patrol… in my 1980 Diesel Rabbit. Yes, all 49 Horsepower put to bad use.

It was July of 1985 and I was just out of the summer semester at Texas Tech and heading to Boulder & Estes Park, Colorado for several weeks of rock climbing with my buddy Brad. We’d spent the month of May doing the same thing and had a blast. We were rolling down the north side of Raton Pass on I-25. This was in the days of HARD CORE 55MPH enforcement, ESPECIALLY in Colorado. The CHP was famous for ticketing people for 56 MPH.

Now that little 1.6L Diesel Rabbit had a top speed of about 75, but that was only with gravity and wind in its favor. It was super-miserly with fuel, but completely lacking in any power. IIRC 0-60 took about 30 seconds. It handled well, and was a great cheap college car – 50 MPG with 65¢ a gallon fuel when gas was $1.25! But hoonage was out of the question, except that day on Raton Pass, where anything over 55 brought down the full force of The Man.

Brad was actually behind the wheel. Brad was a bad influence on me. He had no respect for authority. He always brought his Escort radar detector whenever we went anywhere, even in the World’s Slowest Rabbit. We were rolling down that LONG LONG grade into Colorado from New Mexico on I-25, taking advantage of the gravity boost to get the Rabbit screaming along at the shocking speed of about 75 or so. This is pushing Felony status in Colorado circa 1985. My job in the navigator’s chair is to keep an eye out for cops and I was sleeping on the job. Literally. It was just a light slumber however… that sort of eyes-open la-la land. I spotted the white, late-70s Chrysler product with the “Bubble Gum Machine” on the roof going southbound up the grade about a half second before the shoe-box-sized Escort “BRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAPPPPPPPP!!! – ed it’s way off the dashboard in a fit of K-band radiation. I looked at the officer looking right at us as he passed us going the other way, foot to the floor. “Oh shit! Dude, we’re dead.”

Brad’s answer was a calm “Not if I can help it.”

He put what little throttle into the wee Oelmotor he could and pushed it up to Ludicrous Speed, which in this vehicle, was about 79. I watched the cop go over a rise in the hill. We knew he had about a quarter to a half mile to the next median cross over or exit further up the hill. Brad went balls out for the next exit, which was somewhere around a bend, and lead to a golf course. He deftly went up the ramp, took two right turns, and parked us in a nice hidden spot in some trees behind a shop of some sort, overlooking the exit ramp. Sure enough, the Highway Patrolman comes roaring up the ramp about 45 seconds after we parked! I thought we were dead meat.

He looks left, he looks right, then he roars off down the on-ramp and continues north on I-25 at high speed towards Trinidad, CO.

I was completely gobsmacked! Brad just got that cocky grin on his face that he always wore when he’d pulled off something. I however had a more practical question: What do we do now?

I whipped out my tools and went to work altering the appearance of the Rabbit. 80s cars were lightweight to the point of being flimsy. The Rabbit had a squared off nose with a big, broad grille. Oddly enough that grille was really just a very thin plastic bit and it popped off with five twist-lock phillips-head latches along the top. Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pull… presto. The car is completely transformed! Without the plastic grille, the car looks completely different.. at least from the front. Brad climbed into the passenger side, the grille went into the back seat, under all our climbing gear. And I drove. We wandered into Trinidad, stopped for a snack, then headed off north after a bit towards Pueblo.

I don’t recall if it was before, or past Walsenburg but it was far enough to where the heightened sense of being hunted had finally left us, when sure enough, the Escort went “Brap!!” again… but this time with early warning rather than late. Brad crawled down down as flat he could go in the footwell to hide himself from view. I pulled the gigantic and now loudly buzzing Escort off the dash and threw it at Brad, cowering low. In those hot, dry flats below the Sangre de Christo peaks I saw the unmistakable profile of that very same white CHP car coming, once again, southbound as we rolled north. Except this time we were rolling along at the maximum rate of travel for fuel efficiency, 53 MPH, nowhere near our terminal velocity trip down Raton Pass an hour or so earlier. I kept my head pointed straight ahead as he went by, thankfully at a fair distance with a wide median. However I had my eyeballs as far left as they could go inside my sunglasses to see if he was looking at us. Sure enough he was, but no lights or sirens… he just kept driving.

Was it the Rabbit’s roadside nose job? The different driver? The apparent single occupant rather than two? I’ll never know, and until today, I’ve never put this story down in print. I imagine the statute of limitations is long since passed, and that Colorado Highway Patrol officer is long retired (he looked pretty old even then in 1985!) But I have a great tale of escape and evasion in what is likely the slowest car ever built in the 1980s.

1 Comment

  1. He probably didn’t even fill out a report. He’d be the laughing stock in his unit for having a Volkswagen Rabbit get away from him.

    Comment by yvovandoorn — June 22, 2008 @ 1:44 am

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