1962-1964 Dodge Polara 500

1962 Dodge Polara 500 Interior

Fitted with a four-barrel carb and dual exhausts, the 361-cubic-inch V-8 engine made 305 horsepower.
Fitted with a four-barrel carb and dual exhausts, the 361-cubic-inch V-8 engine made 305 horsepower.

The 1962 Dodge Polara 500 interior was a vital element in achieving the desired personal-luxury look for the car. Trimmed in saddle-grain vinyl, the seat cushions and backs on the front bucket seats each featured a horseshoe pattern of narrow vertical pleats in contrasting colors, while the rear bench seat employed similarly formed pads to simulate a bucket-seat look. The front buckets were divided by a chrome-trimmed center console featuring lockable storage, dual ash receivers, cigar lighter, and courtesy lamp.

As with the exterior, the padded instrument panel was like nothing from General Motors or Ford. The base panel sloped down, away from the windshield, and then tucked under to maximize knee room. Virgil Exner, who oversaw the 1962 design while he was still Chrysler's vice president of styling, strongly favored this "minimalist" design in contrast to the normal approach using a full-width slab. Instruments were housed in a free-form pod in front of the driver, with automatic transmission and heater pushbuttons arrayed along the left and right lower edges of the cluster.

This arrangement was especially suited to the Polara 500, since most of the "good stuff" was in front of the driver. Even the steering wheel was different, with an odd-shaped hub stylists soon nicknamed "the grasshopper head."

Dodge Division General Manager Byron J. Nichols emphasized that "We do not believe the car buyer should be forced to choose between luxurious appointments ... and top-notch performance. The Polara provides both, and we believe ... discerning motorists will insist on this combination." To back his claim, the Polara 500 employed Chrysler's 361-cubic-inch, 305-horsepower V-8 with a four-barrel carburetor, high-lift camshaft, and dual exhausts.

"This is an engine with real punch," Nichols enthused. "It gives the Polara exceptional smoothness, acceleration and passing power." The addition of the four-barrel "Runner Manifold" provided five additional horses. Later in the year, engine choices were expanded with optional 330- and 335-horsepower 383-cubic-inch V-8s, and 413-cubic-inch V-8s boasting 365, 380, and 410 horsepower.

Polara 500 assembly was confined to the Dodge Main plant in the Detroit enclave of Hamtramck. Producing all Polara 500s in one plant allowed for more-consistent control over build quality, commendable since the car's intended customers were expected to be more sophisticated and pickier about details.

Initially offered in a two-door hardtop and convertible, the Polara 500 lineup was expanded almost immediately. "Originally, the Polara 500 was going to be restricted to just two models," said Nichols in a press release dated November 5, 1961, "but customer and dealer interest developed so fast that we decided to introduce a four-door hardtop model."

The Polara 500 four-door hardtop differed from its companions in the interior. Instead of front buckets and a floor console, there was an all-vinyl, three-passenger front seat with a fold-down center armrest. Solid, dark interior colors were featured instead of the high-contrast two-tones used on the two-doors. Price was $2,960, compared to $3,019 for the two-door hardtop and $3,268 for the convertible.

The introduction of the 500 four-door hardtop scarcely a month after the debut of the 1962 line was evidence of the widespread discontent within the ranks. Unhappy as dealers were with the 1962 lineup's odd styling and diminished size, they also complained that owners of late-model Custom Royals, Polaras, and Matadors who might be interested in trading in their cars on a new model had no premium four-door car in Dodge showrooms to consider. Thus, the Polara 500 four-door hardtop and its more-conservative six-passenger interior was offered.

But a four-door 500 wasn't the answer. In the understated words of then-Dodge public-relations manager Frank Wylie, "The dealers got quite excited about not having a big car to sell." By January, the harried planners had patched together a true medium-price Dodge: a 1961 Polara front clip bolted to a 122-inch-wheelbase 1962 Chrysler Newport body shell, with the amalgam given the awkward moniker Custom 880.

Once this car entered production, the rationale for a four-door Polara 500 disappeared. There would be no successor model. Besides, the concept of a four-door personal-luxury car was a bit of an oxymoron, as Ford would discover when it brought out a four-door Thunderbird in 1967.

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