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Volvo pursuit of US police is beginning to pay dividends

Pulling out of a side street and into the main drag of this upstate New Hampshire resort community, the policeman on the corner gave me a wave of his hand, a gesture of recognition of one law officer to another.

What he didn't know was that I, behind the wheel of a shiny new 4-door Volvo sedan, was not an officer of the law.

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The shiny-white Volvo, however, was indeed a police car with police lights atop, siren, and everything else but a badge.

The point is, Volvo of America is trying hard to ''sell'' US police departments on the car. Its two big pitches are the car's steel-tank durability and economy of operation.

Some police departments are beginning to budge - and many are thinking about it.

One department, for example, reports the Volvo gave about 15 miles per gallon , compared to about half that figure for US-built models it had been using.

Well, why not a Volvo? After all, even the old Volkswagen beetle has seen police duty - and look at those little Fiats running around the streets of Italy in uniform. The French-built Renault 5 - Le Car in the United States - is on patrol as well.

When Volvo began to chase the Falls Church, Va., Police Department about 18 months ago, the response was dubious at best. The car looked too small, the engine was expected to be underpowered, and ''quite frankly,'' said Stanley Johnson, police chief , ''it wasn't American.''

In the end, however, he decided to lease two Swedish-built Volvos.

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Driving a police car is, as anyone might expect, fun. The reaction of motorists also is fun, although most of them don't take it seriously, particularly when there are no markings on the car and the registration plate could belong to anyone.

But then there are those motorists who aren't quitem sure. Caution being, as the sage once said, the better part of valor, the wary motorist may stay behind the ''police car'' for a few miles, then get up enough courage to pass -- almost reluctantly - waving as he makes his move.

To prove my authenticity (my right to be behind the wheel of the car), I carried an identifying letter from Volvo - just in case.

One fellow, driving to New York City, and was stopped twice en route. But with a T-shirt and beard, he didn't look the part.

Is Volvo really serious about its pursuit of the police?

You better believe it, Volvo officials reply. They're also going after the taxicab.

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