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1969-1973 Dodge Polara

Polara1Updated--new text under videos. This week, which began as innocently as any other, has turned decidedly bizarre--Car Lust has been overrun with a series of paeans to strange, floaty, oversized, underpowered 1970s American cars. In the context of Cookie the Dog's Owner's father's* Ford LTD and Rob the SVX Guy's Mercury Grand Marquis, Rich Menga's "Free Spirit" Buick Century looks downright Lilliputian. In what other context would that be true? Brace yourselves--I can promise that Friday's subject won't be any smaller or more demure.

I think this week's inadvertent theme is wildly compelling, which shouldn't come as any surprise considering my embarrassing predilection for such 1970s anti-heroes as the Impala, Gran Fury, Monaco, and Continental Mk. V. Since I'd like to keep this compelling string of leviathan lusts rolling, I'm going to take this opportunity to honor one of the greatest full-size American cars ever made--the 1969-1973 Dodge Polara. This isn't the Polara's first appearance in Car Lust--you may remember that an immaculate 1972 Polara 440 Interceptor was a narrow runner-up in our $25,000 Challenge.

Polara2 The Polara name seems to be virtually unknown nowadays outside of Mopar enthusiast groups, but there was a time when Polaras were famous--or, perhaps, infamous--as huge, bellowing police cars. Most police cruisers fail to live up to the cachet promised by the "interceptor" name, but Polaras were normal police cars just like Dirty Harry was a normal policeman. Like Harry Callahan, the Polara stood for justice but not necessarily for fairness; it upheld the law in the most brutish, intimidating, and outrageously effective manner possible.

With 375-horsepower, 440-cubic-inch muscle car big block engines and taut heavy-duty suspensions, Polaras inspired awe, fear, and respect. Just as lawmen of the 1880s carried the same shotguns, rifles, and revolvers as the highwaymen, so too did the Polara-equipped policeman sport the same high-caliber firepower as the lawless muscle-car drivers of the 1960s and early 1970s. Forget about small-block-equipped Camaros, Mustangs, Cougars, 4-4-2s and GTOs; street-racing punks needed some really high-octane machinery to stay ahead of a 440 Polara Interceptor. With a 0-60 time right around 6 seconds flat and a top speed in the 140-mph range, the Polara could dispense with anything short of a Chevelle 454, a Hemi Charger, a Corvette L88, a big-block Shelby Cobra, or Ferrari 250 GTO. The Polara would have qualified as a serious performance car even two decades later, in the late 1980s. Even now, four decades after its debut, the Polara wouldn't exactly be considered a slouch.

Polara3 The Polara Interceptor's message was simple: "Do. Not. Mess. With. Me."

Ron Hurwitz is living my dream; he found an ex-California Highway Patrol '69 Polara 440 and restored it from junk to absolutely breathtaking perfection. Check out the Hemmings article on Hurwitz's terrifically gorgeous car here.

The street Polara could be ordered with the big 440 as well, but it brought Detroit full-size elegance to the party. I have always found the combination of a bellowing V-8 with massive acreage of early 1970s style compelling, and the Polara captures it perfectly. After '69, some subsequent but relatively minor changes to the front fascia transformed the Polara from brutish to brooding, from head-turning to heart-stopping. Perhaps it's just me; but I think the '70-'72 Polaras look long and lithe, with just a hint of sinister intent.

Polara5 Two-door or four, I think these cars are quintissential examples of the early 1970s American full-size cruiser. The Polara epitomized everything that was right with Detroit at the time--burbling, relaxed, torquey V-8s, some with real horsepower; pliant, pillowy, ride; distinctive and attractive styling; and above all, room for your family and their 20 closest friends. Unfortunately, the Polara couldn't escape everything that was wrong with Detroit at the time, either--indifferent build quality and and fuel economy completely out of step with the needs of the time.

Some friends of ours used to own an immaculate 1971 two-door Polara with the 318 V-8. The small V-8 didn't put out enough power to make the massive Polara anything close to quick, but it was a gorgeous shade of blue and all original. It was one of the longest coupes I've ever seen, but the size of the shadow it cast was tiny compared to its impact on my psyche. Sedan, coupe, convertible, or wagon, the gorgeous Polara was available in a variety of delectable flavors--I want to sample them all. Someday, perhaps, when I finally indulge my passion for a 1970s full-size American car.

The first video below describes the '72 Polara as a "clean, uncluttered beauty." Amen, brother. At the 0:05 mark, just look at how long and lovely that sucker is! "The smooth, sure control of torsion-quiet ride," though? Not so much.

Polara4 The second commercial spends virtually no time talking about the Polara, concentrating instead on the hilarity of a married couple bickering about the air conditioning. Ha! Ha! Ha! Oh, the hilarity.

Unfortunately, you'll need to wipe away your tears of mirth before proceeding. The next two ads take a more serious tone--the perils of "Dodge Fever" are clearly demonstrated in the destruction of an important scientific project and the tragic death of an innocent bridge worker.

The first and last images come from Allpar's Polara page; as always, Allpar is the definitive information source for all things Mopar. The second image of the '69 Polara Interceptor comes from Muscle Car Calendar, and the two shots of the lovely convertible come from Flickr user cbody70. For those interested in more information, Fuselage.de is another great source, with loads of original print ads and a nice description of every Mopar full-size car from 1969 to 1973.

--Chris H.

* This is the first and, I hope, the last time I ever use a triple possessive.

Update: ...m... correctly pointed out in the comments that my initial analysis of the last commercial, the one immediately above this text, was erroneous. He's right--and so here's a more in-depth look at what at face value looks like a grim, fatal accident.

...m...: ...ah, no, the demolition worker stumbled out of the smoke at the end, so all's well - or is it?..why was he planting explosives on a bridge open to traffic?.. ...perhaps dodge fever saved our great nation from a tragic terrorist act!.. ...on second viewing, not many terrorists bother with 'DANGER - BLASTING' signs; i suppose the bridge wasn't opened to traffic after all...

Me: I like your read on this, ...m.... Clearly I was too hasty in my interpretation of the events as depicted. The last few seconds showed survival of the worker, which would be clearly impossible given the other evidence we have at hand--so I disregarded it. That's a mistake.

Unfortunately, this leaves a puzzle. What really happened here? Here, as I see it, are the possibilities.

Scenario 1: Innocent worker performing bridge demolition work gets overcome with Dodge Fever and mistakenly sets off dynamite. These are the base facts--but I think there are several possibilities from there.

1a. The worker survives.

While this is the easiest and most literal interpretation of the situation, it just can't be right. The dynamite exploded as it was meant to do--albeit too early--but the charge was clearly not intended for demolition work. Aside from evident disorientation, the worker was left unharmed, which makes me doubt that the bridge itself was at all affected. Clearly, this was not a demolition charge.

What, then, was the purpose of the blasting work? What possible purpose could such a light charge serve? This mystery is left unanswered.

1b. The worker does not survive.

This scenario is closer to my original theory above. "Dodge Fever" overcame the bridge demolition worker, causing a grim accident that cost an innocent man his life. Though it is not pictured, we are meant to assume the bridge was demolished and the man lost his life.

This forces us to conclude that the disoriented man stumbling down the road at the end of the commercial is not, in fact, the demolition worker. This theory is especially believable considering the position of the road below and off to the side of the bridge (0:41-0:42). The stumbling man appears only seven seconds after the explosion--the worker would hardly have time to be injured by the blast, fall into the river, right himself, wade to shore, reach the road, and begin stumbling through the smoke in that time. Perhaps the blast concussion blew him onto the road--but we can hardly be expected to believe that he would survive the force necessary to do so.

The stumbling man's resemblance to the worker, and the timing of his appearance, must be simply coincidental. Based on his disheveled appearance, he is clearly in need of some help--which makes the Dodge spokeswoman's behavior even more reprehensible. Seconds after witnessing a horrifying demolition accident that cost a man his life, she accurately describes "Dodge Fever" as devastating, smiles warmly, and then callously accelerates away from a poor soul who obviously needs some assistance.

For shame, Dodge.

1c. The bridge worker survives because he is not human.

Perhaps the bridge worker is in fact not a frail human being, but a superhuman of some kind--perhaps, like Superman, a Kryptonian whose molecular makeup is strengthened by the Earth's yellow sun.

Despite the seeming far-fetched nature of this scenario, it actually explains away quite a few of the seeming contradictions. The project we see is, as depicted, a demolition project. The charge, as expect, is sufficient to destroy the bridge--and it does in fact do so. The charge blasts the worker onto the road--allowing us to discard the unsatisfactory random-tattered-man-in-need-of-help explanation--but the worker's superhuman composition protects him from anything other than superficial damage.

This could also explain the Dodge spokeswoman's seemingly unfeeling, callous reaction to these seemingly tragic events. She's not mourning because there's nothing to mourn--the bridge is destroyed as planned, though slightly ahead of schedule--and no lives were lost.

This scenario is backed up by the worker's original statement, in which he implies that being caught up in a dynamite explosion would "ruin (his) whole day." He never states that his life is truly in danger, and in fact his goofy laugh at the 0:30 mark might indicate that while a blast would be painful, it wouldn't be fatal.

The worker clearly incurred more pain and disorientation than we would expect from Superman in a similar situation. Perhaps the worker is not as "powered-up" as Superman--which would explain why he is not an elite crime-fighter and is instead working in construction, an area in which his apparent impervious nature to serious injury would be a major advantage.

Scenario 2: Innocent worker is not actually performing bridge demolition work, but is instead setting the bridge up for a fireworks show. Once overcome with "Dodge Fever," he mistakenly sets off the fireworks.

This explains some of the problems we've identified--we can now explain why he was stunned and injured but not killed, without resorting to the superhuman explanation. It also could explain why
the Dodge spokeswoman was so cheerful after seeing what would otherwise look like a major accident. She, in fact, just saw some cheery fireworks.

Unfortunately, we're still left with one problem--the worker could not be pictured as walking down the road that quickly without having been blown there by a major blast concussion. That large a blast is not likely to result from fireworks, and it certainly would have left a normal human dead.

Summary: I'm going with Scenario 1c, the superhuman explanation. While the premise may seem far-fetched, this is the only account that is internally consistent and does not expect us to disregard canonical on-screen evidence or accept strange coincidences and unrealistic reactions from the Dodge spokeswoman.

Comments

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...ah, no, the demolition worker stumbled out of the smoke at the end, so all's well - or is it?..why was he planting explosives on a bridge open to traffic?..

...perhaps dodge fever saved our great nation from a tragic terrorist act!..

...on second viewing, not many terrorists bother with 'DANGER - BLASTING' signs; i suppose the bridge wasn't opened to traffic after all...

Sam Melville, in the second ad, played several tough guy roles on "The Andy Griffith Show" and was also "Sam the Butcher" (No relation to "Joe the Plumber") on "The Brady Bunch". I didn't know he sold Polaras till just now as "Howard the Cheapskate".

That third commercial is a feast for the eyes. Nice looking Polara, too. :-)

One of the cars I learned to drive in was a '69 Plymouth Satellite. Same deal as the Polara, just not as nice. I managed to spin it off the road at about 70 mph in a construction zone on I-94. The car was fine, just got a little dusty. Got back on the road, considerably chastened, and went on my way.

More recently I had a '69 Imperial 2-door coupe for a while. Amazing car, just amazing. Same 440/375 as the Polara but...even swoopier and a little bigger. :)

The bad thing about Imperials today is that they can be really hard to get even basic mechanical parts for. Chrysler was, of course, "the engineering company" of the Big 3, and they liked to show that off on their top-of-the-line offering by giving the Imperial a bunch of special Imperial-only mechanical bits. Given their low production volumes, little of this stuff is available from the aftermarket suppliers, and of course original parts are long gone. My '69 was lost when the wife wrecked it due to faulty brakes. I had been searching all over for brake parts... So sad, it was such a wonderful piece.

...m..., you're right on-point that I didn't analyze the commercial correctly. I just added a new bit of text onto the post redressing that situation and trying to suss out exactly what really happened.

After carefully scrutinizing the commercial at frames 46-48, I am convinced that there was a second blast that came from the grassy knoll just ahead of the worker.

By the way, I love the idea that Dodge's full-size family car can trigger such wild cases of Dodge Fever. It's certainly true of me, but I can't imagine that many others would be this sensitive to the Polara strain of the Dodge virus.

Great looking cars, I like the convertible and especially the wagon. Note the integral spoiler on the rood to keep dust off the back. Too bad these and similar year Satellite wagons seem to be extinct.

I "LOVE" Polaras. I used to deliver things for my job, and I'd pass one for sale, I believe it was a 69, forest green, 55k miles, $3500 obo. I stopped and looked at it so many times. It had such cool features too.... there was something goofy, it had a foglight that went forward and to the right, so you wouldn't blind incoming traffic. What a terrific car. :) I was in the market for something big and sinister, but I satisfied it with my $300 Mercury Marquis. I forgot to add in my previous post about it, I sold it 1.5 years later for $350. :)

Sam Melville was actually Allan Melvin.

I had a 72 fire engine red Polara that everyone called a fire chief car.
It would haull ass like it was on fire.

Alright! The Dodge Fever Girl! Yay!

Thanks for those blasts from the past.

--chicopanther

This article really brought back some memories of those cars. I'm nearly 70 now, but back in the early/mid 60's we had a '62 New Yorker hard top convertible. (beautiful car) and then I believe it was a '61 Imperial 4 door hard top convertible. They had the wedge head engine and 345 horsepower and 395 ft. lbs. of torque.
One night we were heading back to San Jose from Bakersfield on highway 46 and we were doing 75 or so when we came up on a Pontiac GTO doing 70. You could see for miles and the road was as straight as an arrow. We started around the Pontiac and he decided he wasn't going to let us pass. I kept easing down on the throttle until we were side by side doing about 110 when I decide that we had had enough fun so I floored the throttle and opened the other two barrels on the four barrel carb and the game was over.
One of the guys I worked with bought a used CHP vehicle, it was a Dodge, the year before the CHP bought Chryslers, a '61 I believe. We lived in Tehachapi California and worked in Mojave. We used to car pool and he picked me up late for work one morning and we made the 19 mile drive from my house to the office in town in 12 minutes. The speedometer buried itself at 120 or 125, been too long ago to be sure.
He was friends with some of the highway patrol guys and they were interested in the difference in speed between the Dodge and the new Chrysler so one day they headed up the straight stretch on old highway 58 from Mojave to Tehachapi and the Chrysler topped out a 142 and the Dodge was still accelerating when he had to slow down for the curves, on top of that this was an uphill climb.

I think that the "Dynamite" commercial is just the result of creative ad guys going a little bonkers. It doesn't have to make sense - and it doesn't.

I always liked the old Mopars. Never happened to own one though. My sister had a '72 (I think) Plymouth Duster. It was the one with the half-roof made of snakeskin looking vinyl. Slant six and three-speed on the floor. Decent car, all things considered. I do have one thing with a Chrysler motor. It's a late-seventies wood chipper with a 318 V8! Can't wait to hear it run.

I decide that we had had enough fun so I floored the throttle and opened the other two barrels on the four barrel carb and the game was over. One of the guys I worked with bought a used CHP vehicle, it was a Dodge, the year before the CHP bought Chryslers, a '61 I believe. We lived in Tehachapi California and worked in Mojave.

My family had a lemon yellow Polara wagon in the early 80s. I remember lying in the back sleeping on the way back from Grandma's house one Saturday evening when we hit a deer. I sat upright in the way back and saw the deer bouncing over the back of the car like a bone filled backpack. I thought sure it was dead, but it got up and ran off. We saw later we'd only hit it with the side mirror. On a car today it would break away, on that old wagon there was just a wad of deer hair stuck in a seam large enough to tie 10 trout flies.

When it started to be too much trouble mechanically, Dad arranged to have the local fire department he was on use it for extrication practice. Last I saw of it, the roof was can openered front to the back with a Hurst tool. It would have been a cool convertible like that, too.

Matt
St Paul

What is the "Optional Control-Beam Superlight"??? With a name like that is has to be good.

That's what I was referring to in my post above! It had this crazy high powered yellow spotlight that shot forward and to the right, so you wouldn't blind incoming traffic.

Here's more info on it!

http://www.fuselage.de/dod69/69dod_superlite_large.jpg

That's what I was referring to in my post above! It had this crazy high powered yellow spotlight that shot forward and to the right, so you wouldn't blind incoming traffic.

Here's more info on it!

http://www.fuselage.de/dod69/69dod_superlite_large.jpg

OMG, that green convertible is GORGEOUS.

This article brought up memories of my '71 Chrysler Newport Custom (I think the Polara is a bit better-looking). It was always on the verge of completely falling apart, and finally everything went at once (except the engine, which had been well cared for). I loved it anyway, and nearly cried on the day I sold it to a junkyard.

The 383 had so much torque it could go up a hill near my apartment without downshifting, and when it did downshift it would push me back in the seat. Great for getting onto freeways and passing -- plus people would get out of my way. And that was with the little Holley one-barrel Economizer. I bought an manifold to go with a Carter AFB 4-bbl that I had, but I never put it on. That would have been interesting.

OMG, that green convertible is GORGEOUS.

This article brought up memories of my '71 Chrysler Newport Custom (I think the Polara is a bit better-looking). It was always on the verge of completely falling apart, and finally everything went at once (except the engine, which had been well cared for). I loved it anyway, and nearly cried on the day I sold it to a junkyard.

The 383 had so much torque it could go up a hill near my apartment without downshifting, and when it did downshift it would push me back in the seat. Great for getting onto freeways and passing -- plus people would get out of my way. And that was with the little Holley one-barrel Economizer. I bought an manifold to go with a Carter AFB 4-bbl that I had, but I never put it on. That would have been interesting.

Man I am all about the blue beauty at the top! Great now I have something else that my wife won't let me have. :) Great article!

-- Mike

:"Car Lust" guys, Your web is great thing !
and this is great article !

That super-sherif 440 Polara is what Police only can dream about nowadays..or mayebe not...how about Charger RT Police Car?!!?

Fullsize muscle is always sexy !


modern muscle debate
absent personal luxury cars debate :)
[email protected]

You know what would be awesome? If Dodge would make a modern version of the Polara. Imagine a modern vehicle with the same swoopy but sinister lines, and updated engines, suspension, brakes, and materials. I'd gladly buy this instead of yet another boring two-box crossover.

nice site never knew people had polara fever like me ive got a 73 polara with 318 v8 and 727 tranny and its been taking me down to road now since 88 when i bought it. ole 4 door has plent of look still and the motor/tranny are still stock and pouring out the power. ive gott pictures of it if youd like to see it just email me at [email protected] and ask for them.

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