Photographs by James Kiefer
Additional reporting by Jennifer Chonillo and James Kiefer
From the moment our team arrived and stepped out of our car at the Windsor Community Center parking lot in Greensboro, NC, it was all love. Camera and recorder in hand, we were greeted by a tidal wave of smiles and greetings. And as each carload of people arrived after us got the same welcome, it became very clear that this kind of familial warmth is every bit as important to The Crown Vic Boys & Girls (CVBG) as their flashy neon cars.
When we first decided to reach out to members of the Triad and Raleigh chapters of The Crown Vic Boys, we expected a story about their passion for modified full-size domestic sedans. After spending time with the group, we realized its purpose extends far beyond Crown Victorias and deep into the communities it draws from.
The Ford Crown Victoria may not seem like an obvious choice as a car to build a community around. For decades, the car was the standard vehicle for police departments across the country. But according to David Johnson, Lead Road Captain of the Triad chapter of The Crown Vic Boys & Girls (an area of North Carolina that includes Greensboro, High Point, and Winston-Salem), the big sedans have a distinct appeal.
“There’s something special about these cars,” says Johnson. “From the way you can customize the interior, exterior. Even the motor performance is endless.”
Customization is key with CVBG. While the iconic Ford body design is still immediately recognizable, just about everything else about the cars at the meetup has been given a makeover. Candy-colored paint, extra large rims, neon lights, custom grills, and, of course, CVBG stickers have transformed these otherwise-nondescript vehicles into vibrant expressions of personality and creativity.
That nondescriptness is, perhaps, part of the appeal for Johnson and others in the group. The mundane design of the factory-standard Crown Victoria allows it to serve as a sort of blank canvas. Johnson says he’s seen a wide range of how people customize their cars.
“I’ve seen someone make it into a West Coast low rider,” he says. “I’ve also seen someone ride on 32-inch rims.”
From Local to Nationwide
The original Crown Vic Boys & Girls organization began as a small community group in Atlanta in 2006. Soon after, local and regional chapters started popping up around the country.
Today, the CVBG has chapters in major cities like Baltimore and Philadelphia. Florida and Texas have statewide chapters. Major news outlets such as The New Yorker and the Los Angeles Times have covered the group. While the group is not centralized and different chapters are only loosely related to each other, it’s safe to say that it is a truly national organization.
Although the meetup we attended was ostensibly a meeting of the Triad chapter, there were several members of the Raleigh chapter in attendance. The fact that these people were willing to make the three-hour round trip journey from Raleigh to Greensboro just to get together for a few hours is a testament to the familial nature of organization as a whole.
Beyond Cars: The Crown Vic Boys’ Community Mission
That “familial” nature is one that uses a broadly inclusive definition of “family.” There is, of course, the Crown Vic Boys & Girls family – a network of members of chapters around the country.
There is also family in the more traditional sense. Many attendees showed up to the meetup with their partners, children, and extended family members. That’s not something you’ll always see at car events, which can often be the domain of an overwhelmingly adult male enthusiast population. As our photographer James Kiefer eloquently put it, “it’s not just a bunch of dudes with Crown Vics.”
But an even broader idea of family – one that includes one’s community – is at the heart of what the organization is really about. The sense of responsibility to engage with and serve their local communities is just as much a part of the group’s core as the cars themselves.
The Triad chapter has hosted events such as “Stop the Violence,” a family-oriented block party which featured a live DJ and kids’ activities alongside HIV testing stations. Chapters around the country regularly host holiday food drives and take food and clothing to people in need.
“[Our goal is] to give back to the community by providing hands-on support for youth and adult educational programs,” says Johnson. “We also advocate for the homeless and raise awareness for health disparities across the nation and internationally.”
The importance of community involvement and support is one that Johnson understands all too well. Originally, it was a personal tragedy that brought him to the organization.
“I lost my little brother Raheem to gun violence in 2017,” he says. “A month later I joined the Crown Vic Boys & Girls and gained so many other brothers.”
According to Johnson, the communities the group has interacted with have been receptive to its efforts.
“The community loves when we come around, especially the youth,” says Johnson. “When we travel to different chapters in different cities or states, there is a great response from so many people. Seeing the smiles on their faces is a great feeling.”
Looking at the Road Ahead
When we asked Johnson about future plans for the group, he said that the idea is simply more of the same. More fundraising, more awareness campaigns, more food and clothing drives, and so on.
“Our main goal for the near and distant future is to give back to the community and support families in need, whether it’s someone we know or someone we’ve never met before,” he says.
And while the community service element of CVBG is an important part – arguably the most important part – of the group’s function, the cars are still the foundation. Sharing ideas and showing off new upgrades and features to their Crown Victorias will always be central to the group’s identity.
“Of course, we’ll also [continue to] upgrade our cars to give each other inspiration and ideas to do different modifications,” says Johnson.
As for people interested in joining the group, Johnson said that they’re always accepting new members. The group isn’t exclusive to Crown Victoria owners, either.
“If they love Crown Vics, Grand Marquis or Lincoln Town Cars, they should definitely reach out to see if there’s a chapter close to them,” he says. “They should even reach out if they have any questions about the cars from maintenance to modifications.”
Even if you have no plans to join or modify a full-size domestic sedan yourself, it may be worth checking out one of the group’s events in your area. The warm, welcoming nature of the group makes for a pleasant, positive experience and the community and service-oriented goals are inspiring. The cars are pretty cool, too.