(first posted 8/14/2013) The state fair is always a jubilant and optimistic peek into the future. Displaying the latest developments for home, garden, and farm, it offers an abundance of ways to improve both economy and efficiency.
Yet, every state fair is steeped in tradition. Were it not for a state’s rich traditions, there could be no platform from which the future could be viewed. Keeping history alive by building upon the knowledge and experiences of others does indeed help prevent future mistakes.
With a wonderful blend of rosy history and excitement for things yet to come, this 1959 Dodge Coronet surely seemed to be trumpeting its presence in the equipment display hosted by the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
This Dodge does offer up a load of history, and has been doing so for years at various fairs, festivals and parades around the state. Having seen it a few times over the past decade or so, this was the first time it has met my camera. Even among the large number of vehicles displayed at the fair, this one surely deserves its day in the sun.
Dodge introduced its official police package in 1956, and Plymouth followed suit in 1957. Using existing racing and export market parts, Dodge was able to offer a prospective purchasing agency more durability and ruggedness in their existing base-series offerings. Their inaugural police package offered one L-head six-cylinder engine and four V8s, one of which was the 315 CID, 260-hp hemispherical head engine.
By 1959, all six-cylinder engines had been banished from the Dodge police lineup, perhaps as a result of the Director of Racing’s reassignment to law-enforcement vehicles after the June 1957 ban on factory sponsored racing; or, perhaps, Dodge was simply aiming at the higher-end state and county police car market. With its 122″ wheelbase, the ’59 Dodge met the size criteria for a number of larger states.
In any case, the ’59 Dodge made for a formidable police vehicle, particularly when equipped with the D-500 option. For 1959, the D-500 moniker was pinned to the 320-hp, 383 CID V8 with a single four-barrel carburetor.
As part of their annual acquisition procedure, the California Highway Patrol tested a ’59 Dodge Coronet with a D-500 against a 430 CID Mercury Monterey and a 389 CID Pontiac Catalina. In four different acceleration tests (two quarter-mile and two one-mile tests, from standing and 50 mph starts), the Dodge proved itself to be superior to the competition. The performance of the Dodge–such as the quarter-mile at 86.89 mph–was very good for 1959.
All of this history leads us to the ’59 Dodge Coronet you’ve been feasting your eyes upon. This Dodge is a gin-you-wine, fifty-four-year-old police package fleet vehicle that was purchased new by the agency whose name is on the door. This car has had quite the history.
The base price for a ’59 Coronet V8 was $2,707; this one, most likely thanks to those wonderful fleet discounts, had a sticker price of $2,271.50 when it was purchased on June 4, 1959. The Dodge dealer was willing to take a trade-in, so the cash price for this car, after trade, was a mere $594.44. The Patrol’s website states they purchased 455 Chevrolet sedans for model year 1958; given that they were turning their cars out at 25,000 miles at that time, the trade-in may have been one of these Chevrolets, or even another ’59 Dodge purchased earlier in the year.
The rapid turnover of the fleet was still happening in 1959, as this car was only in service until February 11, 1960, when it was traded with just over 26,000 miles on the clock. Economic circumstances certainly were different then.
This car, equipped with the D-500 engine option, was privately owned until 1979, when it was donated back to the Patrol. Since its subsequent restoration, it has been used across the state as part of a community relations program.
During the brief time these ’59 Dodges were in service they made quite a positive impression; in fact, a mural along old U.S. 66 depicts this very Dodge. Fifteen years ago, during my first stint in the state capital, I also worked with a gentleman whose father had owned one.
His story was that his father had purchased it from a dealer around 1960. His father wasn’t a Dodge man, but simply was looking for another car. One test drive with the D-500 engine hooked him. My co-worker stated that his father kept the car for years, and would never let him drive it due to safety concerns for his then-teenage son. He also told me his father loved to stand on the throttle, and that the Dodge would scoff at the so-called challenge of climbing any of the steeper hills here in the fringes of the Ozarks.
Looking at this car, mixed in amongst all the Chargers currently in service, creates fondness for the days of yore. Then, both life and cars seemed to be less complex, and that recalls a certain flavor from 1959 that simply doesn’t exist any longer. Take another gander at this car–a factory two-tone that isn’t the stereotypical black-and-white of the constabulary.
This car also wears the same degree of chrome as any other ’59 Coronet; how de-contented were Crown Victorias before they were canned? Take the gumball machine and decals off this car and you’d have what appeared to be an ordinary ’59 Dodge, and not something exiled to fleet land upon its birth.
While this Dodge did have company, its 1959 charms were diluted by the intrusion of 1968, and that’s a shame. However, having cars such as this around does provide a bold look into the past that can help us see what direction can be taken for the future.