COAL: 1963 Dodge 440 – That Thing Got a 440?

(welcome our new COALman, 83LeBaron)     Chrysler fans will know that there was a 440 CID engine, but they know about a 1963 Dodge sedan named 440? Did it have a 440 engine? We’ll soon find out. Note: none of the pictures that follow are of the actual car, since photos of my early cars was not a high priority or actually any priority. Therefore, I have availed myself of the web to find representative pictures for this article.

My Dodge 440 started out in life as a corporate fleet vehicle at Chrysler. My folks bought it from a local dealer to become our family car, replacing a well worn and totally unreliable 1957 Plymouth Belvedere nicknamed “Lucifer.”. Options included a 318 CID V8 and a TorqueFlite transmission. No air conditioning or back up lights, but it did have power steering , power brakes, front seat belts, a carpeted floor, AND a transistorized AM radio. Compared to the tube radio in the 57, this was heaven. No more signal fading as you went through an underpass on the highway. The picture below is the same color combo as our Dodge, just with standard wheels and dog dish hubcaps. Since it didn’t have factory air, it did have “440” air conditioning. 4 windows open at 40 MPH.


The 1963 Dodge 440 had its wheelbase increased from 116″ in 1962 to 119″, which technically made it a legitimate full-sized car after the downsized ’62s, which were more like mid-sized.  The 330 was the base stripper model and the 440 was the mid-market level. The Polara capped the lineup as the top entry. The picture of the Polara shows the additional trim and included standard backup lights. I guess you didn’t need them if all you could afford was either the 330 or 440.

As a comparison, I have raided the model car box in the attic for a 1962 Dodge Dart 440, a 1964 Dodge Polara, and a 1963 Plymouth Fury. Don’t ask why I didn’t have a model of the 1963 Dodge.  Dad had originally wanted to buy a 1963 Fury, but the dealer played games with the price and Dad walked away.

The push button transmission, also commonly known as a “typewriter transmission,” was a novelty that I appreciated. Anyone who rode in the car would always ask what I was doing when I selected a gear. The whole world was used to a gear selector on the column and couldn’t fathom what Chrysler had done. To me, it made logical sense and never gave any problems. At least in the 1963 models, there was a locking detent in the transmission that engaged when you moved the lever below the buttons to park. In earlier models, the detent was absent and you had to engage the parking brake to keep the vehicle from moving. Here’s more on the Chrysler, pushbutton shift.

There were several feature of this car that made it stand out from the multitudes of GM and Ford cars I grew up with. The doors had to be locked with a key. You couldn’t just push the button and close the door. The left wheels had left handed studs, so when you removed wheels on the left side, you had to be aware or you weren’t going to be successful. It also had a windshield washer bag under the hood with the foot-operated pump lever on the left side floor under the dash. It quit pumping fluid after a couple of years, but you could still activate the wipers with both hands on the steering wheel while driving. In the days before delayed wipers, it often confused and amazed your passengers!

The Dodge was relatively trouble free during its stint as the primary family mover. All of us kids really appreciated a car with four doors. That meant we could come and go as we pleased without disrupting or having to ask permission of the front seat passenger. It was also the first family car with carpet, we kids could take our shoes off on long trips and enjoy the cut pile carpeting.

After a couple of years as the primary family car, Dad went to work for Chrysler and purchased a 1969 Chrysler Newport in 1970, relegating the 440 to extra car status. After a while, Dad decided that he would give the car to myself and my sister so that we could commute more easily to college instead of taking the city bus. Only problem was that the car had been sitting for seven months and the battery was beyond help. I took over the task of trying to get the car started, but had limited funds.

After a couple of months of trying to resurrect the lost cause battery, I finally arranged to have a local towing service push start the car. Yes, I had them push start an automatic! That was something that you could still do in the late 60s. The push start was successful and after a large cloud of smoke dissipated, the car ran well. Just needed plugs, points, and condenser. At least the 318’s distributor was located at the back of the intake manifold in the straight up position, unlike the famous Slant 6. The only tools needed were a set of feeler gages to set the points gap and a split shaft screwdriver to hold the screw for the points. It was necessary so that you could start the screw properly without dropping it into the distributor.

During my last year of high school, I was able to use the car for extra-curricular activities. Couldn’t drive it to school as I only lived 6 blocks away and couldn’t get the folks to agree. They said walking was good for the soul and the body. Plus, given the Michigan left turns I would have had to make, it was quicker to walk.

The Dodge was sold in 1971 after I had received another car as a graduation present. The Dodge provided good service with no major repairs and with no major tin worm infection. Of course, hindsight told me that I should have kept it. The replacement car would be known as one that only did two things well.