1960-1961 Dodge Polara/Matador

The Dodge Matador was dropped for 1961, and the Polara once again wore styling similar to the Dodge Dart.
The Dodge Matador was dropped for 1961, and the Polara once again wore styling similar to the Dodge Dart.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Those keeping score will note that the 1960-1961 Dodge Polara/Matador accounted for little of Dodge's sales: only 12 percent in 1960. That's hardly surprising considering their close similarity to the Darts (and Plymouths), plus higher prices in the $3,000-$3,600 range (vs. Dart's $2,300-$3,000).

Styling was busy, bordering on gimmicky, just like 1959; there was even a new rendition of the previous year's four-pod taillights, with "rocket tubes" jutting firmly out from below abbreviated fins (though a tad higher than Dart's).

Inside was an equally jazzy dash holding a wide translucent speedometer and pushbuttons for climate functions as well as automatic transmission. Other wowie-zowie accoutrements included optional swiveling front seats and self-dimming mirror (both continued from 1959).

Such "features" tend to obscure the fact that Matador and Polara were basically sound, roadworthy automobiles. Chrysler's "Torsion-Aire" suspension, a fixture since 1957, still provided handling unmatched by any full-size car outside the corporate camp. Complementing it was the new unibody design, which made for a tighter, more solid structure than traditional body-on-frame, though it tended to transmit more road noise -- and was very rust-prone.

Engines comprised three hardy V-8s: a standard 295-horsepower 361 for Matador, and two 383s for Polara (optional on Matador) with 325 or 330 bhp. Three-speed manual transmission was standard, but most of these Dodges were likely sold with optional two-speed PowerFlite or superb three-speed TorqueFlite automatic.

Polara offered a novelty in its pillarless wagon, which also came with some genuinely useful features including two we take for granted now: hazard warning flashers and power door locks.

The 1961 Dodge Polara engine offering was a 383 with 325 bhp or 330 with ram induction.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Still, there was no getting around the funky looks, still-suspect workmanship, or the feeling that Chrysler might not be around too long. With their relatively poor 1960 sales, senior Dodges predictably withered to just six Polara models for 1961 (leaving AMC to resurrect the Matador name a decade later).

Styling changes were good and bad. A new front end with simple concave grille and integral headlamps was nice. But the back was something else, with "reverse fins" peaking above the rear wheels, then tapering down around pod-like taillamps to form an ellipse with a lower-body creaseline.

But 1961 Darts had all this, too, so Polara's main visual distinctions were just badges and a big starlike grille emblem. Prices stayed basically pat, and you could still get a high-performance D-500 engine -- the 325/330-bhp 383 option with tuned "Ram-Induction" manifolding.

An unusual option of the 1961 Dodge Matador was the Highway Hi Fi 16 2/3-rpm record player.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Again, though, Dodge didn't have enough of the right stuff, and 1961 Polara production ended at a paltry 14,000. Mercury's cheaper, more rational full-size 1961s sold somewhat better, while Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac had nifty new styling that helped them to still-higher volume.

Not that it mattered, for Dodge was about to take a radically different tack over the next three years.

Keep reading for 1960-1961 Dodge Polara/Matador specifications.

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