Great Red Shark: The 1960 Dodge Polara D-500

In Hunter S. Thompson’s 1971 novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the narrator, Raoul Duke, and his attorney, Doctor Gonzo, set out from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in a rented red convertible they dub the Great Red Shark, blazing across the desert, hopped up on enough controlled substances to fill a shopping cart, in search of the American Dream. The novel’s Great Red Shark was a Chevrolet, not a Dodge, but there would be few better choices for a fast run from L.A. to Las Vegas than this week’s subject: the rare and rocket-like 1960 Dodge Polara D-500.

1960 Dodge Polara fin

POLARAS APART

To Mopar fans, accustomed to the no-nonsense solidity of later Dodge products, this car will represent something of a puzzle. Later Polaras were blocky things, well-suited to the police car duty that many of them fulfilled. This car is dressed for the Vegas Strip, with enough gleaming chrome, aluminum, and stainless steel trim to make a 1959 Cadillac seem vaguely under-dressed. If your experience with Chrysler products is limited to the late-sixties B-bodies and the square-rigged K-cars of the eighties, you may be saying to yourself, “This is a Dodge Polara?”

1960 Dodge Polara badge
The 1960 Dodge Polara was Dodge’s top-of-the-line model series that year, replacing the previous year’s Custom line. All of Dodge’s model names were new for 1960, replacing the previous Coronet, Royal, Custom Royal, Sierra, and Custom lines.

If you’re mystified, you’re in good company because the people who designed and built this car seemed a little uncertain themselves about what a Dodge was supposed to be. For many years — even before Chrysler acquired the company in 1928 — Dodge had a reputation for stolid, dependable, middle-class transportation, not unlike Pontiac before Bunkie Knudsen started selling the sizzle. In short, they were respectable, but not at all sexy.

Then, Chrysler put Virgil Exner in charge of design and Dodge, like other Chrysler products, got a heavy infusion of style. By 1957, Exner’s “Forward Look” had transformed the formerly stodgy middle-market brand into a low-slung, dazzlingly be-finned rocketship with power to match. It should’ve sold like mad, but too-hasty development led to disastrous quality control, which quickly soured buyer confidence. The 1957-1958 recession sent the entire middle-class market skidding and Dodge’s 1958-1959 sales were the worst they’d been since before the Great Depression.

1949 Dodge Coronet front 3q
This 1949 Dodge Coronet is typical of pre-Exner Chrysler products: tall, conservative, and somewhat old-fashioned even for the late forties. With a 230 cu. in. (3,772 cc) straight six making only 103 gross horsepower (77 kW), it was also very, very slow, something not addressed until the appearance of the new “Red Ram” Hemi in 1953.

With its traditional niche in disarray, Dodge general manager M.C. Patterson decided to go after Plymouth, its corporate sibling. Up until the 1960 model year, most Dodge dealers had also sold Plymouths — Chrysler paired Plymouth with each of its senior divisions, to ensure that dealers always had cars to sell, even when the economy was down — but Dodge dealers had always resented the pairing and had lobbied heavily to be independent. They finally got their way for the 1960 model year, but it was clear that Dodge dealers couldn’t survive without a smaller, cheaper model to sell. As a result, for 1960 Dodge introduced the Dart (not to be confused with the later compact), which was essentially a facelifted big Plymouth wearing Dodge badges. Offering nicer styling than the Plymouth but priced only about $20 higher, the Dart boosted Dodge’s volume by around 200,000 units, although many of those sales came at the expense of Plymouth, whose big-car sales dropped by a similar amount.

1960 Dodge Polara front
As with all ’60 Dodges, the 1960 Dodge Polara’s styling was all new (fitting, given the adoption of unibody construction) and its only real stylistic resemblance to its predecessor was in the toothy grille and the quad headlamps. V8 Darts had Chrysler’s smaller 318 cu. in. (5,204 cc) “A” engine, but all of the big Matadors and Polaras had the larger “B” engine, the 361 (5,913 cc) for Matadors, the 383 (6,276 cc) for Polaras. Some Darts had the older two-speed PowerFlite transmission, but most, if not all of the big Dodges had the superior three-speed TorqueFlite.

FAST FLAGSHIP

What about the Dodge Polara? The Polara was a new flagship model, intended to retrench Dodge’s traditional position in the middle-class market. Based on its list price, its primary target was probably the Pontiac Bonneville, which offered a similar combination of luxury and sporty flair for very similar money. A 1960 Dodge Polara convertible like our photo subject started at $3,416, which was within $60 of a ragtop Bonneville.

When it came to toys and glitter, the Dodge Polara almost made the Bonneville seem prosaic. It was simply laden with the sort of gleefully absurd gimmicks that makes cars of this era so much fun, among them a transparent speedometer, a marvelous “twin-turret” clock, and symmetrical arrays of pushbuttons on either side of the dash (one set for the radio, the other for the transmission controls.) A bench seat was standard, but you could order Chrysler’s swiveling front bucket seats, which swung outward when the doors opened. Naturally, a full array of power accessories was available, as was a novel “Highway Hi-Fi” record player that used unusual 7-inch, 16 2/3-rpm discs. Standard power was the corporate 383 cu. in. (6,276 cc) “RB” engine, part of a series of wedge-combustion that had replaced the older FirePower/Red Ram Hemi in 1958. The 383 made 325 gross horsepower (242 kW), which made the Polara a good match for even a Tri-Power Bonneville weighing over 300 pounds (135 kg) more.

If that wasn’t enough, you could pay an extra $395.20 for the rare and fascinating D-500 engine. This was also 383 cu. in. (6,276 cc), but it had two big Carter carburetors, dual exhaust, and the wild-looking “Cross Ram” induction system. (Plymouth offered the same engine under the fabulous and fun-to-say moniker “SonoRamic Commando” while De Soto called the engine “Ram-Charge.”) Despite its drawbacks (see the sidebar below), the D-500 engine was ideal for long, fast runs down the open highway. The Polara was too heavy and geared too tall for really ferocious standing-start acceleration, but it offered freight-train surge at highway speeds. It thrived at speeds above 60 mph (97 km/h) and its top speed was in the 130 mph (210 km/h) range — well beyond the limits of its tires and suspension, but eminently attainable given a good stretch of road.

1960 Dodge Polara D-500 convertible door handle
1960 Dodge Polara D-500 convertible mirror
1960 Dodge Polara D-500 convertible wheelcover
1960 Dodge Polara D-500 convertible speedometer
Top to bottom: The 1960 Dodge Polara’s marvelously tooled door handles, with their subtle ribbing, would be too expensive for most modern cars, as would the complex side mirrors. “Tarantula” wheel covers (covering 14-inch steel wheels) were optional, but add a final bit of exterior dazzle. The owner didn’t have the keys handy to let us photograph the interior, but through the windshield, you can see the novel horizontal speedometer, which shows daylight through the cut-outs for each number.

1960 Dodge Polara D-500 badge
The Dodge D-500 was originally a separate model, introduced in 1956 as Dodge’s answer to the Plymouth Fury, DeSoto Adventurer, and Chrysler 300B — and as a way of homologating the performance parts for racing use. It originally included special trim, a 260-horsepower Hemi engine, heavy-duty chassis and suspension, and oversize brakes. By 1960, it had become an option package consisting only of the engine hop-up pieces — the heavy-duty suspension and brakes had been dropped. The D-500 package was available only with Chrysler’s superb TorqueFlite automatic.

SIDEBAR: Cross-Ram Induction

A few months ago, we talked about supercharging: forcing air and fuel into the engine at higher than atmospheric pressure in order to boost power. In that article, we focused on mechanical supercharging, which uses an air compressor driven by the engine or the flow of the engine’s exhaust gases. There is, however, another kind of supercharging, which does not use a mechanical compressor, but rather a careful tuning of the engine’s intake airflow. It’s called resonance supercharging.

1960 Dodge Polara D-500 engine
The stock 1960 Dodge Polara D-500 used 30-inch (760mm) ram tubes, giving maximum boost at 2,800 rpm. In 1960, a short-ram system (using 16-inch (406mm) tubes that gave their boost at higher speeds) was also available over the parts counter, mostly for racing use. Each air cleaner hides a 625 CFM Carter 4V carburetor. Maintenance for this system was a hassle, particularly changing the spark plugs, which were obstructed by the ram tubes.

THEORY

To understand how resonance supercharging works, we must consider some basics about internal combustion engines. A typical four-stroke reciprocating engine draws a mixture of air and fuel through the runners of the intake manifold into each cylinder through one or more intake valves. Once inside the cylinder, the air-fuel mixture is compressed and then burned, either by firing a spark plug (in an Otto-cycle engine) or by adiabatic heating (in a diesel engine). The engine uses one or more camshaft(s), rotating at half the speed of the engine, to open the intake valve(s) once for every two full revolutions of the engine’s crankshaft (i.e., every 720 degrees of crank rotation). The profile of the camshaft determines how long the intake valve stays open (its duration). The duration is measured in degrees of crank rotation. For example, the Dodge D-500’s camshaft provided an intake duration of 268 degrees; that is, when the intake valve opened, it remained open for 268 degrees of crank rotation and then remained closed for the next 452 degrees before opening again.

When an engine is running, the downward motion of the piston during the intake stroke creates engine vacuum that draws the air-fuel mixture into the cylinder. However, as we’ve just noted, the intake valve is closed more often than it’s open. If the incoming mixture reaches the valve at a point when the valve is closed, the leading edge of the onrushing mixture will stop abruptly as it hits the closed valve, building up pressure that eventually forces the mixture back up the intake runner. When this pressurized air hits the opposite end of the runner, it reverses direction and heads back toward the valve. This sets up an oscillating pressure wave moving within the intake runner at the speed of sound (which is around 1,126 feet per second (343 meters per second) at sea level).

If the valve is open when this newly pressurized intake hair reaches that end of the runner, the mixture will be forced into the cylinder at higher-than-atmospheric pressure, just as if the engine were using a mechanical supercharger. As with a turbocharger or a supercharger, this supercharging effect — called resonance supercharging — allows more air and fuel to be packed into the cylinder, producing more power.

Naturally, resonance supercharging only provides a benefit at the points where the compressed mixture reaches the intake valve at a point where the valve is open for business, and in most postwar automotive engines, the intake valves are never open for very long. (At 3,000 rpm, for example, the D-500 engine’s intake valves are open for less than 15/1,000ths of a second!) Therefore, the supercharging only occurs part of the time, at certain engine speeds.

What engine speeds, you say? That depends on the frequency of the pressure wave. If you stayed awake in high school physics, you may dimly recall that the frequency of a wave is inversely proportional to its wavelength (that is, a short wavelength means a high frequency and vice versa). In this case, the wavelength is determined by the length of the space in which the pressure wave can move, i.e., the length of the intake runner. All else being equal, the longer the runner, the lower the engine speed at which resonance supercharging occurs and vice versa.

THE CROSS-RAM ENGINE

The Dodge D-500 engine has two carburetors, one on each side of the engine. Each carburetor is connected to the intake ports on the opposite side via a long aluminum intake runner, or ram tube. The “cross-ram” arrangement allows each tube to be as long as possible, providing resonance supercharging at lower engine speeds. In this case, each ram tube is 30 inches (762 mm) long, which produces maximum supercharging effect at 2,800 rpm. This is a useful speed for real-world driving because in most around-town and freeway driving, you normally cruise at or a little below 2,800 rpm. When you press the accelerator, the engine speed quickly rises to its resonance supercharging “sweet spot,” giving you a little extra kick in the back.

How much of a kick? According to Chrysler’s published figures, the supercharging provided by the 30-inch rams increases mid-range torque by about 10%, raising peak torque from 425 pounds-feet (576 N-m) for the non-ram engine to 460 pounds-feet (623 N-m) for the cross-ram (both SAE gross figures). Since the resonance effect fades above 2,800 rpm, the long rams don’t provide much improvement in peak power (Chrysler rated the cross-ram 383 at 330 gross horsepower (246 kW) compared to 325 hp (242 kW) for the non-ram engine), but the extra torque translates into about 20 additional horsepower (15 kW) at 2,800 rpm, providing a useful improvement in mid-range performance.

(The Chrysler 300F, incidentally, also offered an externally similar short-ram setup with the bigger 413 cu. in. (6,771 cc) RB engine. The “short” ram tubes were externally identical to their longer cousins, but internal changes reduced the effective length of each runner (for pressure wave frequency purposes) to 15 inches (381 mm). This raised the point of maximum resonance supercharging from 2,800 to 3,600 rpm to complement the short-ram engine’s hotter cam, which had an intake duration of 284 rather than 268 degrees.)

The cross-ram system had a number of significant drawbacks. As with any supercharger set-up, fuel economy suffered if you made frequent use of the boost. At 25 cents a gallon, that wasn’t a huge concern for most American buyers of the time, but cold starting was another matter. Despite having heat risers for each carburetor, the induction system didn’t handle cold weather gracefully. The problem was that the aluminum ram tubes did an excellent job of conducting heat out of the intake mixture as it passed through the runners. In hot conditions, that was great — the system thrived on heat — but when the engine was cold, the same effect would cause the mixture to re-condense and pool in the plenum chamber under each carburetor or trickle down the ram tubes in liquid form, resulting in stalls or engine flooding. (Liquid gasoline is still flammable, but it doesn’t burn very well.)

As a glance at the engine photos should suggest, the cross-ram manifold also complicated routine maintenance because the ram tubes generally had to be removed to get at the spark plugs or the valves. In an era when spark plugs needed to be cleaned and re-gapped several times a year, this was a non-trivial annoyance. Combined with the cold-starting issues, these headaches prompted some frustrated owners to have their cars converted back to the non-ram four-barrel setup, which has made surviving cross-ram engines fairly rare. Chrysler eventually abandoned the setup, although the same principle is used in most modern engines. Many modern engines actually have two sets of runners, one long, one short, with a butterfly valve that switches from one to the other based on engine speed.

A BEAR MARKET

Apparently, few Dodge buyers were Vegas-bound in those days, because the 1960 Dodge Polara didn’t sell very well. Part of it was price; the Polara cost over $400 more than an eight-cylinder Dart, which was itself a roomy, well-trimmed car and arguably better-looking to boot. Although the U.S. economy was starting to pick up, buyers were weary of Wurlitzer jukebox styling. Roughly nine out of every 10 Dodge shoppers opted for the cheaper, less showy Dart. Polara sales for 1960 totaled a meager 16,278, not enough to cause Pontiac managers any sleepless nights.

1960 Dodge Polara front3q
In 1960, all Chrysler products except the Imperial adopted unitized construction. It made them stronger and somewhat lighter than comparably sized body-on-frame competitors, but more prone to rust, something that was already a problem for Chryslers of this era. The cheaper Matador shared the body shell of the 1960 Dodge Polara, albeit with far less lavish trim.

1960 Dodge Polara rear3q
The 1960 Dodge Polara shared its body shell with the DeSoto and the low-line Chrysler Windsor. It’s 212.6 inches (5,400 mm) long on a 122-inch (3,099mm) wheelbase; the Dodge Dart was exactly 4 inches shorter in both wheelbase and overall length. All Chryslers of this era had “Torsion-Aire” front suspension, with torsion bar springs rather than the more typical coil springs. Rear suspension is a live axle on leaf springs, although the axle is staggered towards the front of the springs in order to reduce wheel hop on hard acceleration. Chryslers had a firmer ride than most competitors, giving them decent handling for their time, although the pronounced body lean and modest grip are disconcerting to modern drivers. As for braking, best not to ask — Chryslers had more braking area per ton than many competitors, but its drums were still marginal, particularly considering the speeds of which this car was capable.

The Dodge Polara survived in various forms through 1973. It was downsized for 1962 with unfortunate results, and then became progressively more stolid and dull as the decade wore on. Virgil Exner, who end up bearing the blame for the mess (although he’d railed loudly against it) was fired in 1961 and replaced by former Ford stylist Elwood P. Engel, who traded the envelope-pushing style of the Forward Look for cautious imitations of two- and three-year-old GM and Ford products. As for Dodge, it never really reclaimed its respectable, middle-class niche. Byron Nichols, who replaced M.C. Patterson as general manager of Dodge in November 1960, continued the downmarket trend Patterson had begun, so Dodge would spend much of the next three decades stealing Plymouth’s lunch money. By the nineties, there was little difference between the two brands, except for trim and option packages. After the Daimler merger, Chrysler pulled the plug on Plymouth in 2001, leaving Dodge to cover the entry-level field.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is ultimately Hunter S. Thompson’s requiem for the sixties, for the energy of an era that had just ended. Much the same is true of the Polara. It represents the last gasp of a kind of fifties exuberance, a giddy futurism that was already close to its expiration date when this car originally went on sale. For better or worse, almost every subsequent Dodge has been more restrained and more down-to-earth. The Dodge Division has built faster cars and a few that were more outrageous, but it has never produced another model as ostentatious as this one, and it never will.

1960_Dodge_Polara_tail
The 1960 Dodge Polara’s stainless steel rear fender ribbing was dubbed “shark’s gill” trim. Polaras and Matadors had these curious, truncated fins, with slim brake lamps set into their trailing edges. They were intended to accentuate the elongated taillamp pods. Darts had full-length fins, which some observers (including the author) consider better-looking.

Which leaves our photo subject as a rare and wondrous artifact. Only 1,279 Dodge Polara convertibles were built in 1960 and this is one of only three equipped at the factory with the D-500 engine. Its present owner discovered it in a darkened warehouse full of cars bound for Australia, recognizing it as a D-500 when he cut himself on the pointed fins of its decklid emblem. It was in dreadful condition, but the new owners gave it a cost-no-object restoration, mostly with NOS (new old stock) parts; they went so far as to find a license plate bracket from the now-defunct dealership where the car was originally sold. Today, it probably looks better than it did on the showroom floor, nearly 50 years ago. It remains quite a car.

# # #

NOTES ON SOURCES

Background for this article came from the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Encyclopedia of American Cars: Over 65 Years of Automotive History, (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 1996); James M. Flammang and the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Chrysler Chronicle: An Illustrated History of Chrysler – DeSoto – Dodge – Eagle – Imperial – Jeep – Plymouth (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International Ltd., 1998); Dave Holls and Michael Lamm, A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design (Stockton, CA: Lamm-Morada Publishing Co. Inc., 1997); Charles K. Hyde, Riding the Roller Coaster: A History of the Chrysler Corporation (Great Lakes Books) (Chicago, IL: Wayne State University Press, 2003); John Katz, “1967 Dodge Coronet R/T: Much More Than a Plymouth,” Special Interest Autos #156 (November-December 1996), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Chrysler Performance Cars: driveReports from Special Interest Autos magazine, eds. Terry Ehrich and Richard Lentinello (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2000); and Curtis Redgap, “Insider’s History of Plymouth,” Allpar, n.d., www.allpar. com, accessed 31 October 2008.

Information on the Polara and D-500 came from Arch Brown and Richard Carpenter, “1960 Dodge Polara: ‘Yesterday Once More,'” Special Interest Autos #164 (March-April 1998), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Dodges: driveReports from Hemmings Special Interest Autos magazine, eds. Terry Ehrich and Richard Lentinello (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2002); Terry Boyce, “Fury,” Special Interest Autos #10 (April-May 1972), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Chrysler Performance Cars; Arch Brown, “Finned Flyer: Dodge’s Distinctive 1961 Dart Phoenix,” Special Interest Autos #180 (November-December 2000), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Dodges; “SIA comparisonReport: Improbable Competitors: 1960 Chrysler 300F vs. Pontiac Tri-Power,” Special Interest Autos #127 (January-February 1992), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Chrysler Performance Cars; and “1960 Dodge Polara: ‘Yesterday Once More,'” Special Interest Autos #164 (March-April 1998), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Dodges; Ray Brock, “Chrysler 300F,” Hot Rod April 1960, reprinted in Chrysler 300 Gold Portfolio 1955-1970, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, Surrey: Brooklands Books Ltd., 1992); “Car and Driver Road Test: Chrysler 300-J,” Car and Driver April 1963, reprinted in ibid; “Chrysler 300-J,” Car Life May 1963, reprinted in ibid; “De Soto,” Motor Life March 1960, reprinted in ibid; “De Soto booms into ’60 in a hot new package,” Motor Life December 1959, reprinted in ibid; Ken Fermoyle, “Driving Chrysler’s Stick-Shift 300F,” Popular Science April 1960, reprinted in ibid; Joe Godec, “The Plymouth Sonoramic Commando Engine,” originally from the Plymouth Bulletin and reprinted at Allpar, n.d., www.allpar. com, accessed 7 November 2008; Bob Horvorka, “Blueprint: 1956 Dodge D-500,” Special Interest Autos #130 (July-August 1992), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Dodges; Mel Jackolow, “Luxury in a Limited Edition: Chrysler’s 300G,” Cars March 1961, reprinted in Chrysler 300 Gold Portfolio 1955-1970; Matthew Litwin, “1960 Dodge Polara Convertible,” Hemmings Motor News 1 October 2008; John Matras, “1959 Dodge Custom Royal Super D-500 Convertible: Bargain Basement Chrysler 300,” from Special Interest Autos #117 (May-June 1990), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Dodges; “Road Test: 400-HP Chrysler 300-F,” Motor Life June 1960, reprinted in Chrysler 300 Gold Portfolio 1955-1970; “The Ram Induction System,” Chrysler 300 Club International, 27 October 2003, www.chrysler300club. com, accessed 7 November 2008; and the Dodge Polara Wikipedia® page (en.wikipedia. org/ wiki/Dodge_Polara, accessed 31 October 2008). Additional Information on this specific car came from the author’s conversation with the owner at the Chrysler Performance West Fall Fling XIII show in Van Nuys, California, on 18 October 2008.

As the introduction explains, this article’s title was suggested by the 1971 novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream by the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.


12 Comments

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  1. Mr Severson,

    The piec is extensive. I was interested to find out what the ‘red shark’ was after reading the Hunter S. Thompson book. It must be to do with my web browser but all the sentences are cut short and as a solution I pasted the writing onto a word document to read everything. I am sure others reading the article in Ireland may have similar experiences.

    regards,

    Michael E. Coll.

    1. Michael,

      Ack, sorry about that. It appears there were some formatting issues affecting the way the page displays in Internet Explorer. I think I’ve fixed it; try it again in a little bit (you might need to clear the browser’s temporary internet files first) and let me know if it’s still messed up.

  2. Can anyone help me find my first car? I was sure it was a ’64 Dodge Monaco, but must have the wrong year, and maybe model! It had bucket seats, boxy like the Monaco but with beautiful fins. I would love to find it but am confused as Monacos never seemed to have fins, and the polara is too curvy
    thanks
    v

  3. I remember my older bro coming home one day with the ugliest mint green plain Jane 60 Tudor Dodge. This had a Golden Commando 361 with staggered dual 4’s though not Ram tubes. More of a plenum. I think it came out in 59. For a full-size car this beast was very fast. Most assumed it was a ‘slant 6; but were soon fooled. As were many a so called Police Interceptors. Gas? $.23 @ gal. We filled it up twice a day. Our preacher had one of those 500’s. He was humble. What a beast!

  4. Hi Aaron,

    I’v read about the Dodge, the V-16 Cadillac, and the Avanti and found your grasp of these subjects to be quite wide and diverse. I enjoyed reading about the cars from the multiple viewpoints of culture, business,
    technical, esthetics and others. I’m the guy with the red 928 and the offer of you using it for a "road test" is a standing one. The book I mentioned is called "Project 928." I found it to be a great case study in industrial design with vestigial remains of cottage industry.

    Regards, Jay Novak

  5. You understand that they are the exaggeration of the theme introduced in in 1955 with the twin stacked taillights. For 1956, Exner added the fin tower, usually with a white end insert into which the two round taillights from 1955 were inset.

    For 1956, Imperial had its own unique rear fin for the forward look. DeSoto essentially shared most of Chrysler’s tooling, but used a convex chrome housing for its three lights. Chrysler used a red plastic insert. Dodge and Plymouth, both higher volume cars received their own unique fin treatment. Plymouth got it’s hump up fin.

    Dodge got a fin upon a fin treatment. But the top fin was shorter than the lower extension of the belt line. And again, two round taillights. For 1958, it was the same treatment, with minor chrome changes.

    For 1959, Exner took the two taillights, lengthened them, place chrome housing over them on the inside of the round. But up top – like all 1959 Chrysler’s, that were in the final year of three year cycle and thus looked quite different than the previous years- drew the feature of the top fin out into extenuated top fins.

    The 1960’s Dodge’s rear quarters (Polara and Matador) where the final iteration of the theme started in 1957. By this point the round taillights weren’t tacked on the lower fender- they were the lower fender and now the bumper. The topper fin, no longer set off by two toning, were also reverse canted.

    The resulting exaggeration made the 1960 full-size Dodges look like it was suddenly 1955. The cars look bulky,skimpy and dated, and buyers stayed away from them in droves, preferring the more balance look of the Dart.

    But if you understand what Exner was doing by continuing a theme, you better understand how it happened.

    For 1961 Exner jettisoned the lower of the two taillights on full-sized cars

  6. Fish or fowl I suppose but I always thought the 1960 Dart looked pretty bad but that the Matador and Polara looked outstanding. I’ve seen the 1960 Dodge Polara/Matador 2 door HT Coupe called one of the 5 best looking 2-door HT coupes ever produced and I’d have to agree. In no way did the 1960 full size Dodges look bulky, skimpy or dated, they were among the most modern looking cars of the era… like an arrow shot from a bow.

    1. The only reason the big 60 Dodges didn’t sell well was because they cost quite a bit more than the smaller Dart series. They most definitely looked better than the Dart Series in every way… the fins were better looking, the grill was better looking, the lines just flowed better. The Polara/Matado looks like an arrow being shot down the road, absolutely stunning.

  7. Outstanding automotive journalism. I have had the 60 Dodge Fever ever since re-watching Cary Grant’s “Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation” where a 60 Dodge Polara wagon hauls the family around. I have been a Mopar enthusiast for years (in addition to my love of Packards). I have to now toast the 60 Dodge Polara convertible as Dodge’s “Packard Caribbean”! The excess of this car is sheer bliss…and I even like the “short fall” fins. Thanks for a great read and for your talent on focusing on the uniqueness of this car.

  8. Regarding my recent post, the star of “Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation” is Jimmy Stewart and not Cary Grant.

  9. Thank you for the in-depth article.
    The first ’61 Polara I ever saw was simply so ugly that I just HAD to have it!

    …one thing about the ’61 Polara that I’ve never heard mentioned is the fact that although both tail-lights can be seen when directly behind the beast, traffic one lane to either side will only see the adjacent tail-light as they are set back so far the other tail light is obscured by trunk.
    It really is so blatant that I’m surprised it ever got past the drawing board, much less DOT specs (I guess Ralph Nader was too busy with the Corvair to notice)

    1. For the record, Ralph Nader didn’t initiate the complaints about the Corvair. His book anthologizes (and served to publicize) various past lawsuits that had been filed since the Corvair’s introduction; as far as I know, he wasn’t personally involved with any of those cases. (If he was, his book really doesn’t suggest so.) The Corvair also was far from the only target of the book — it’s just that because that chapter was excerpted for a magazine, it’s the one most people saw or heard about. There was also an existing safety lobby (of which Nader became something of an emblem) in the early ’60s, so it wasn’t like he initiated that movement.

      This is off-topic, so I don’t want to get into it any more in the comments for this article, but it’s worth noting.

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