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By Ryan Bakken, Published August 11 2013

Ancient cop car still gets respect

GRAND FORKS – Without even trying, Paul Vraa contributes to safe driving in the region.

The car collector does this by getting behind the wheel of his 1965 Minnesota State Patrol car.

“Other drivers on the streets see the car and immediately slow down. And, you see a lot of them reaching to buckle their seat belts,” said Vraa, 52, of Grand Forks. “Then, when we get to a traffic light, they look straight ahead because they don’t want to make eye contact.”

Motorists do this even though the patrol car’s make and model – a 1965 Ford Custom – has been out of fashion for almost 50 years. Vraa purchased the car from a private owner three years ago and has added only 1,000 miles, putting the odometer at about 89,000. The low mileage is because the vehicle was driven by a state patrol desk jockey in the 1960s and because Vraa limits his road miles to parades and car shows, where it’s a predictably big hit.

Even though his maroon-and-gold-and-white patrol car often is mistaken for the modern-day variety, he has never been told by troopers to stay off roadways. The sirens, the bubbletop flashing lights and radar all work, but he uses them sparingly for fear of being mistaken for the genuine article.

“When law enforcement people drive by me, they usually give me a thumbs-up,” Vraa said.

Each thumbs-up is typically accompanied by a grin, probably because of a trooper’s hat in the rear window and the car’s personalized license plates: Da Cops.

Another of Vraa’s collectables that draws attention on the street is a hearse, a 1969 Oldsmobile with “Cremator” written into the paint job on the doors. The name comes from the hearse being a flame-thrower, shooting 50-foot flames out of the twin exhaust pipes.

Despite all of its firepower during show time, the hearse also has an influence on traffic safety on the streets.

“When people see my hearse, they slow down,” Vraa said. “Some people even pull over to the side of the road to let the hearse pass.”

They figure it out when they spot a skeleton riding in the front passenger seat, secured by a seat belt.

Vraa seems to be most proud of the six hot rods that he has renovated to enter in competitions. However, the public sees it differently.

“The patrol car and the hearse are the least expensive and the least fixed up of all my cars, yet they’re the ones that win awards at shows,” he said.

Maybe the awards are because of their contributions to traffic safety. Or maybe they’re because voters remember seeing a patrol car in the rear-view mirror and wondering if they were going to get a ticket.