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NEAL RUBIN

Wanted in England: a Motor City cop car

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

At first, it sounds like another Internet scam. Money, sick kids, police — everything you’d want in a hustle except an oil minister’s widow in Nigeria.

But the Rippons of Dorset, England, aren’t looking for money. They’re looking for something specific: a mid-2000s Dodge Charger Pursuit police car.

The only reference to money, in fact, is that they want to send some here.

The Rippons’ quirky and possibly quixotic tale involves Eminem, chemotherapy, a magazine whose title Richard Rippon can’t recall and a bald 7-year-old they saw fleetingly and then never again.

If everything goes the way he and his wife, Billy, hope, they will wind up with a Detroit-themed cop car to use for entrancing sick children as they’re transported to the sorts of treatments that make grown-ups cry.

England has police cars, too, of course, but compared to muscular, decked-out American models, theirs seem sedate. Besides, ours have the steering wheels on the wrong side, and how much fun would it be for a young cancer patient to ride in what everyone else assumes is the driver’s seat?

“It’s always a dream of a child to sit in an American police car,” says Richard, 54, and if that’s a bit fanciful, this really isn’t: “You flick your telly on, an American police series is on there somewhere.”

They’re venerable American exports — sort of like McDonald’s or Madonna, but in this case with a higher upside.

A dream is born

The cop car quest began at a hospital near the Rippons’ southwest England home when Billy was ailing a few years ago.

“We saw a young sort of child,” Richard says, whom chemotherapy had robbed of his hair but not his spirit.

While Billy was being treated, Richard came across a magazine article in the waiting room about the Motor City and the 2011 Dodge Pursuit. On their way home, she started to cry.

“You’re in pain,” he said.

“I am,” she said, “but for that little boy.”

The dots connected as they motored on. Wouldn’t it be lovely to give kids a reason to look forward to chemotherapy, or whatever bit of hell they had to go through to get better?

Wouldn’t a Detroit car be perfect, given the way the city can take a punch and keep swinging? And what child wouldn’t want to play with lights and sirens in the parking lot, even if they were off limits on the road?

They exchanged emails with someone from operations at Chrysler in Auburn Hills who finally had to tell them she could not help; the company was concerned about the reliability of a used car, especially given “the precious children you will be transporting.”

The Chrysler arm in the United Kingdom suggested they simply buy a British version and put police wheels on it, but that’s not the same.

Charging ahead

On the plus side, Dorset police have given them permission to drive a car with blue lights on the roof — “as long,” the email said, “as you don’t use the emergency lights to get to the shops quickly!”

Also, they have designed some sporty uniform-style shirts to give to the kids, and a local embroiderer will stitch police badges on the chests for free. And they have a website, supportvehicle.org.

All they need now is the Dodge.

Richard concedes that the search has sometimes been dispiriting. When his engine starts to lug, he looks to the fabled Super Bowl ad featuring Eminem and a different Chrysler, the 200.

“That pride came to us as well,” he says. “You get hard times, but you’re going to get over them.”

Taking inventory of what he has, he can count resilience, devotion and about $6,500 from the sale of his house.

He’s seen retired police Chargers online for about $4,500. It’ll cost a few thousand more to ship the car across the Atlantic.

His great hope is to find someone trustworthy to buy a car directly from a police department on his behalf, skipping the middleman between cops and Cars.com.

In a perfect world, his new friend will have the expertise to make sure the car runs decently. If someone wants to perform the tweaks that would make it street legal in Britain, so much the better.

He’s not looking for gratitude, he says: “I can’t think of anything worse than someone saying thank you for a personal thing we want to do.”

He’s just looking for some Motown muscle — and some giggles from the kids with their fingers on the switches.

nrubin@detroitnews.com

@nealrubin_dn