Lime Green Police Cars in Cleveland: The 1970s LTD Safety Experiment

Ralph DiMatteo History

If you are a lifelong Clevelander such as myself, who was here during the '70s, you probably remember the lime green Ford LTD police cruisers that were the butt of many a joke during that period. But as the late great Paul Harvey used to say, now you are going to hear the rest of the story.

It was actually the National Highway Transportation Board that experimented from 1972-1978 with the lime green paint because of its high visibility earning it the nickname, “Safety Green.”

The city of Cleveland actually stayed with the experiment until 1982, having all police cars and fire trucks painted in the unique color.  Of note, ambulances in the city remain painted in the color to this day. 

The 1978 Ford LTD was last of the series to utilize the color scheme, and remained in service until 1985. The picture below was a Dewitt City, Michigan police chief’s car restored by students and their instructors at the Ohio Technical College in 2008, in complete detail, including Cleveland’s decals and trimmings. This particular vehicle had a 460-cubic-inch block engine, and because of the engine's size, would have only been used as a traffic vehicle.

Lime Green Cleveland Police Car

This vehicle is now a part of the Cleveland Police Museum’s Vintage Fleet. The “call number” 611 represents a car assigned to the Sixth Cleveland Police District. Of note: This district was eliminated when the City created a revised police deployment plan in 2008 that was developed to make the division more efficient and more responsive to the needs of the community.

Admittedly, these vehicles were, as mentioned earlier, the butt of many a joke. No one can argue that the color was gaudy, looked like vomit to some, ice cream to others, and just flat-out ugly to most, but after finding out the reasoning behind the colors, it is easier to understand the mindset behind the experiment. They did indeed stand out.

If you ever want to check out this restored vehicle, or any others from Cleveland’s police vehicle history, look into the date(s) for the Cleveland Police Museum’s annual vehicle car show; you are sure to see some beautifully restored vehicles from a variety of eras, can ask questions and even pose for pictures alongside your favorites.

Image credits: Cleveland Police Museum

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