Curbside Classic: CoronoroC – Bi-Directional, Dual 440 Powered 1973 Dodge Coronet Police Pursuit

(First posted in 2011. Eight years later, the CoronoroC is still sitting there in the same lot and is getting a bit desperate for a buyer, so I’m going to run it again. It really deserves a loving home)

Sometimes cars are stranger than fiction, not to mention the people that cause them to happen. I feel humbled and privileged to share with you what is undoubtedly the most awesome find ever at Curbside Classic. This 1973 Dodge Coronet had been hidden away for thirty-seven years in an Oregon State Police storage facility, but due to the state’s budget deficit it has been designated as surplus property and is now being offered for sale. How it came to be, and why it only served for a few months before being banished from Oregon’s highways is a remarkable story that can finally be told.

This bi-directional twin-engined Coronet was the brainchild of Oregon State Police Captain F.F. Janutz. He supervised the patrols on Interstate 5 in the urban areas of Portland where the median strip was often very narrow. It was 1974, and the new national 55 mph speed limit had just been enacted in response to the energy crisis. Capt. Janutz was under pressure to improve enforcement, but the short and narrow median turnarounds could only accommodate one police car, facing either direction.

Seeing two Coronet police pursuits with heavy rear end damage  in a parking lot outside the regional office, Janutz suddenly had a brilliant idea: have them grafted together, with a bi-directional drive-train, so that the Coronet could sit in the short median and instantly bolt into either direction of traffic.

Thanks to the clever mechanics at the State Police garage, this prototype was constructed from the two damaged cars. Both axles came from the fronts of Dodge D-100 4WD pickups, whose differentials were offset. The big 440 cubic inch V8s were each re-mounted with a slight angle, so that their drive shafts run somewhat skewed (but parallel to each other) to opposite ends in order to meet the offset differentials. The engines had to have their oil sumps removed in order to clear the solid axles. Both dry-sump engines share a common 5 gallon oil tank made from a confiscated beer keg.

Early tests were encouraging. Janutz and another senior trooper set themselves to developing the operating protocols, and reported that with the proper coordination, excellent results could be obtained, especially so when the “rear” driver was fully engaged in assisting the “lead” driver. Simply the effect of seeing the Coronet flying down the interstate seemingly backwards at high rates of speed had a significant impact on reducing average traffic speed. The Coronet was now dubbed the CoronoroC.

But the full potential of Capt. Janutz’ brainchild had never been envisioned by him until one fateful day. He and the other test driver found that if both of them simultaneously  dialed in full right or left lock with their steering wheels, the CoronoroC would crab down the freeway in an almost perpendicular manner, covering the better part of all three lanes. Needless to say, the effect was riveting, especially to the speeders who saw a sideways double-ended Coronet rapidly approaching in their rear view mirrors. It was also highly effective in damming up traffic behind it, as it crabbed down the freeway as a form of rolling road-block to keep everyone behind it at exactly 55.

Not only were speeding ticket yields up, but numerous drivers admitted to being under the influence without ever being questioned about their sobriety. Captain Janutz was looking like a hero, and encouraged to put in for a promotion. Chrysler fleet sales was contacted about building fifty identical vehicles. Given the dearth of civilian Coronet sales in1974, Chrysler was quite interested in making a deal, once they could work out certain obstacles with the UAW. The union was afraid the double-fronted cars might be construed to be cast-off “Monday cars”, and reflect badly on them. Chrysler agreed that the cars would be built only on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

Other patrol troopers were now assigned to train on the Coronoroc prototype, but that’s when the troubles began. Most of them lacked the exceptional coordination and reflexes of Janutz and his partner, and a number of problems cropped up. The most elementary one was if both decided to take off in their respective directions at the same time. All four tires lit up in a massive cloud of smoke, obscuring visibility and causing several serious pile-ups.

Other teams managed a coordinated take-off in one direction, but still lacked the skills to finesse the twin steering systems. At worst, the CoronoroC took off with both ends on opposite lock, causing it to to make remarkably tiny 360 degree turns in the median at surprisingly fast speeds. That did have the effect of slowing traffic, but without the attendant ticket revenue.

Another well-intentioned “rear” driver decided he could improve the CoronoroC’s acceleration by dumping his transmission into reverse, instead of leaving it in neutral. With 880 cubic inches now in play, the 4WD Coronet did indeed have remarkable take off acceleration. But even the bullet-proof 440 and A727 TorqueFlite had their limits, which in reverse was about 45 to 50 mph, at which point the rear unit had to be put into neutral. In the heat of the pursuit, that often went unheeded, and the resulting granading of transmissions created new setbacks and traffic-endangering oil slicks.

But once the taste of twin-engine all-wheel drive acceleration had been experienced, it was not let go so easily. So the CoronoroC received a modification, an auxiliary one-speed transmission that could reverse the output of the main transmission. Due to the program’s now shaky status, the funding for only one unit was procured. It was operated by a modified B&M floor shifter.

This meant that only one direction could enjoy the full benefits of dual-Commando 440 acceleration. But new problems ensued. The first was that officers fought about who got to sit in the “hot” seat; not only because of the obvious thrills, but because the “rear” drivers often found the high rates of acceleration and speed to be disorienting and even nausea-inducing. This resulted in some spectacular results, as the front driver had to constantly compensate for the rear driver’s woozy steering.

In order to avoid the ill-effects of facing backwards, rear drivers increasingly pushed the limits of the the full-lock “crabbing” maneuver, to the point of trying to overtake the “front” driver, and put himself in the lead. Needless to say, in addition to premature wear on the CV joints, this led to some spectacular spins, unless the drivers were remarkably coordinated and not working at cross-purposes. Only Janutz and his partner mastered this trick, and would routinely switch off the lead at high speed, in a maneuver so bizarre and difficult to describe, it was simply referred to as “doing a Janutz”.

When assigned to participate in a motorcade for visiting President Ford, Janutz and his partner broke ranks in an effort to impress the President, demonstrating “the Janutz” in what turned out to be the CoronoroC’s last outing. The Secret Service misinterpreted Janutz’ intentions, and shot out the tires of the pirouetting Coronet, thus ending its career as well that of the former Captain Janutz.

So here it sits, in excellent condition (with fresh tires) awaiting the proper set of four hands and feet to once again make the Coronet dance like a ballerina down I-5. Find yourself a suitable partner, and contact me to give you directions to the official Curbside Classic Reserve Sales Lot (by invitation only, unlike the public one). Price? $2250, for each of you.  (Update: it’s still there, awaiting the right set of buyers, which is why this article is being re-run again)

Two tips of the hat to Michael George!