Like Ford's ill-timed Edsel, the 1962 Dart/Polara was the wrong car with the wrong styling in the wrong size at the wrong time. The 1962 Dodge Polara 500 styling included a prominent center grille, sculptural fender forms, fully exposed wheels, and long-hood/short-deck proportions, all of which were favored design cues from deposed exec Virgil Exner's "pure automobile" design philosophy expressed in his earlier "idea cars."
Of course, it could be argued that these design elements were correct for the sporty Polara 500 and perhaps they were. But for family sedans, it just wouldn't play in Peoria.
In the summer of 1962, vacationing Dodge Exterior Studio assistant manager Bob Gale drove his new Polara 500 convertible to the mountains of Colorado. While it got a lot of attention, "no one knew what kind of car it was," he said. "They'd never seen one like it." When the downsized Dodge hit the showrooms, there was a stunned silence from the dealers, longtime Dodge customers, and the buying public. Reactions to the styling began with "different," then quickly progressed to "unusual," "odd," "weird," and then "ugly."
Additionally, the whole scenario was full of irony. Unlike Dodge's approach for the Dart/Polara, Chevrolet didn't downsize its full-size car in 1962; instead, it introduced the 110-inch wheelbase Chevy II. Ford, too, kept its big car and also introduced a new midsized Fairlane on a 115.5-inch wheelbase halfway between the Falcon and the Galaxie. Lacking a full-size showroom companion, the Dart/Polara became by default an "intermediate," scorned by buyers interested in full-size cars.
Perhaps the final irony is that the 1962 Polara 500, with its sporty looks and colorful bucket-seat interior, was something of a success. (One enthusiast magazine even named it "Performance Car of the Year.") Some 12,268 were produced, amounting to a healthy percentage of the Dart/Polara assemblies.
This encouraged Plymouth to introduce at midyear a similar Sport Fury hardtop coupe and ragtop in what was becoming a crowded field. Ford joined the fray with its 1962 Galaxie 500/XL, as did Mercury with its similar Monterey S-55, and Buick with its Wildcat. It was also the first year for the bucket-seat Pontiac Grand Prix. Finally, even with its unusual styling, the Polara 500 was destined to be more successful saleswise than its more "normal" 1963 successor.