1969-1973 Dodge Polara
Updated--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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
* 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.