(first posted 5/25/2014) Popularity is a strange thing. For those who have it, all the attention and adoration seems to come naturally. For those who don’t, attempts to emulate the influential trendsetters seem to miss the mark. Chrysler didn’t often have the easiest time winning people and their money over and the story behind this big Dodge coupe, apparently named Priscilla, is an instructive example.
As if often discussed, mighty GM generally–but certainly not always–set the trend for automotive style in the 1960s. The long, lean and angular style of the Chrysler’s 1965 C-body fullsizers may have offended few people, but when you consider the sporty swagger of such cars as the Pontiac Catalina and Chevy Impala, newly redone for ’65 in coke bottle style with available fastbacks, Mopar’s biggest offerings began to look a bit cold.
The solution was a restyle on the same basic body for 1967. All C-bodies were given new, less rectilinear rear styling, but hardtop coupes were the most dramatically altered. With a fastback rear window and reverse slant rear quarter windows, the cars looked very different than they did in 65 and 66. The Dodge Polara and Monaco were given a particularly aggressive look, in keeping with the Dodge Rebellion/Dodge Fever ethos, with mean, very distinctive, trapezoidal taillights.
As an aside, the Dodge Rebellion and Dodge Fever ad campaigns are favorites of mine, being both memorable and light hearted. It’s impossible to ignore the obvious sexism, but don’t tell me Pam Austin’s facial expression while holding that bazooka isn’t absolutely hilarious. The ads didn’t take themselves too seriously, and in their irreverence, highlighted both the unique nature of the product and the red-blooded nature of intended buyers.
Ultimately, beyond the taillights, the new styling didn’t come across very dynamically. Aside from the new fastback and front and rear clips, it was still evident the ’67 Monaco and Polara were based on the 1965 body and as a result, two design languages competed to define the new hardtop coupes’ styling. The slightly inset greenhouse with very little tumblehome was particularly at odds with the elongated (by six inches) panels aft of the newly fat C-pillar and the raised strakes over the rear wheels.
Sedans and convertibles, on the other hand, kept more of the older car’s look intact and as a result, retained their lean appearance. That green four-door hardtop is sex on wheels.
For anyone not familiar with the evolution of the Chrysler C-body who may think my criticism a bit harsh, consider the mixture of elements on display. For 1967 and 1968, the elegant linearity of the 65 and 66 cars was mixed with the zaftig splendor on display in the 1969-1971. I don’t think it’s an especially successful combination, but when popularity is at stake, you can’t always stick to your guns, and a convex interpretation of the earlier shape was the easiest answer. The dramatic Fuselage cars would more successfully flaunt their curves, just in time for the public’s mood to change. The ad on the left, with a ’67 Dart (which looked like shrunken version the ’65 and ’66 Polara) placed next to a ’67 Monaco, shows the progression of styling themes, which would ultimately take the form of the car on the right (click to enlarge). Just to put it out there, I think they’re all damn cool.
In front, Dodge studiously avoided making any statement of its own, with a grille and headlights that loosely echoed the look worn by the 1967 Mercury. Previously, Oldsmobile’s “dog bone” front clip seemingly provided Dodge’s inspiration. At top is a cutaway of the ’65 Polara/Monaco sedan next to a ’65 Olds 88 sedan; at bottom is a ’67 Polara coupe next to a ’67 Mercury Montclair. When you consider Dodge’s upmarket aspirations, the lingering pain from the Forward Look years, and potential clashing with the Chrysler Newport, the nod to convention is understandable.
Luckily, behind that innocuous face, things were very different. The company was justifiably famous for its outstanding engines, and while it’s anyone’s guess which V8 is housed in this car’s beautiful blue body, each of the options were competitive. Newly available was the 440 Magnum, which managed 375 gross horsepower and 480 lb-ft of torque with a single four-barrel carburetor and mild 10.1:1 compression ratio.
The standard engine was now a 318, but you could get the 383, an engine fondly remembered by most everybody, in 2-barrel and 4-barrel form. At between 4,000 and 4,500 pounds, I hope this at least has the 383, though in its lower trim, I suspect it has a 318, which made 230 gross horsepower and 340 lb-ft of torque on regular gas.
A less than positive change, from this author’s standpoint, was the new dashboard. Less distinctive than the dramatic piece with preceded it, it’s completely understandable that many would favor the older design’s flair. And it’s just odd that as the exterior got a more hippy design, the interior went for a sober, rectilinear theme.
Here’s a better picture to compare, with a 1966 on the left and another 1967 on the right. Chryslers also got a revised dashboard, but it was an altogether much more modern and high quality piece. I guess you get what you pay for. But regardless of this, and despite declining sales, those who shelled out for a late sixties C-body were rewarded in their effort to be different.
Questionable redesign aside, the Mopar performance years were in full swing when this Polara was built and the promise put forth by that angry rear end was backed up with solid engineering. Despite its maker’s best efforts, it was a case of substance over style.
For those looking for a classic today, this is still true. Quality had yet to take the disastrous turn waiting just around the corner and big Dodges today don’t command the kind of money a Charger does. As a bonus, even on the classic-happy West coast, a Polara is not the sort of car you see everyday. A hat tip to Eric Clem for capturing this nonconformist full-sizer.