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The Legend of the Florida Highway Patrol Mercury Marauder, the Fastest, Rarest Panther of Them All

Twenty years ago, the Florida Highway Patrol rolled out a fleet of souped-up Mercury Marauders for high-speed pursuits.
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I spotted a Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor on duty this week. It was a Laredo Police Department patrol car, and it gave me a touch of sentimentality seeing this decade-old workhorse. The odometers on these P71 Interceptors are rapidly reaching “I’m too old for this shit.” But seeing that old cop car reminded me of the legend of Florida’s fastest, rarest Panthers: the Florida Highway Patrol Mercury Marauders.

Update 5/7/2023: This story was originally published in 2020 and has now been heavily updated after a source reached out with firsthand information on the cars.

Twenty years ago, Florida’s highways were patrolled by a special group of unmarked 2004 Mercury Marauders thanks to an anonymous donor who gifted 27 cars to the Florida Highway Patrol, and a local tuner named named Dennis Reinhart who modified them for use in high-speed pursuits. The Marauder was already a hotted-up version of the standard Crown Vic, with a 302-hp V8 out of the Mustang Mach 1. But Reinhart took it further with a host of mods that made these the ultimate sleeper sedans.

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Back in the early 2000s—you know, when Mercury was still a thing—Ford was casting around for a way to make its middle-child brand stand out. What it settled on, apart from rebadging Ford Explorers, was a full-size performance sedan to clap back against the Chevy Impala SS. It took the Panther-platformed Mercury Grand Marquis and dropped in a Mustang motor to create the Mercury Marauder.

I say “performance sedan” because that’s what Mercury called it, but aside from the 4.6L V8, upgrades like bigger brakes and an aluminum driveshaft were actually borrowed from the police-spec Crown Vic. Maybe that’s why Reinhart, who owned a performance parts business specializing in Fords called Reinhart Automotive, decided it would make a perfect police car.

According to a press release from 2005, modifications included upgraded cooling and brakes, an ECU tune to boost power and remove the top speed limiter, custom driveshaft, and a rear sway bar. But one of Reinhart’s employees who worked on the cars provided us with a much more detailed and interesting account of the cars’ development.

For example, a few of the early pursuit Marauder builds retained their stock brakes. Those proved to not be up to the task, so changes were made.

“When one of the troopers rapidly decelerated from over 150 in order to catch some bikers he cracked one of the rotors,” the employee told us. “This led to an upgrade of all existing vehicles to Brembo brakes with larger slotted and cross drilled rotors. The remaining Marauders to come into service had this mod from the start.”

Next, the stock aluminum driveshaft, though also found on standard police-spec Crown Vics, was out of its league once the top speed limiter was removed. 

“During high speed pursuits over 150 mph, more than one trooper heard a knocking from underneath the car. It turned out to be the drive shaft hitting the body,” he said. “This led to all in-service Marauders getting carbon fiber racing driveshafts installed. This mod was implemented on all cars going forward.”

The power gains were never verified on a dyno, but the results were obvious. These things could fly. The employee told us that “while not official policy” to attempt it, a top speed of 174 mph was recorded at least once.

Finally, the Marauders were also outfitted with internal and external cameras, radar systems, audio recording equipment, and stealth emergency lighting, thus completing their transformation into the alpha Panther. Troopers were hand-picked for assignment with one and were required to do a three-day advanced driving course before hitting the road.

FHP’s Mercury Marauders roamed Florida en masse between 2005 and 2008 before some started hitting their 75,000-mile service limit and cycling out of duty. As that happened, the cars were returned to Reinhart Automotive, stripped of their police gear, and sold into private hands. Meanwhile some stayed in service well into the 2010s, though it’s unclear if any are still being operated by the FHP.

So there’s two things to take away here—if you see a Mercury Marauder for sale on eBay, maybe take a second to see if it’s one of these. And if you see one on the highway in Florida, maybe slow down a bit. The ultimate Panther may still roam among us yet.

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