1962-1964 Dodge Polara 500

1963 Dodge Polara 500 Development
Styling plans for 1963 went in several directions. In late 1960, taillights reverted to a modified 1962 style.
Styling plans for 1963 went in several directions. In late 1960, taillights reverted to a modified 1962 style.

When it came time for the 1963 Dodge Polara 500 development, along with the rest of the 1963 lineup, there was no relief for the overworked Dodge stylists. Just as there were two 1962 programs, there were multiple 1963 programs.

Nineteen sixty-three was initially to be a facelift year, with carryover bodies and new sheetmetal below the belt. Eventually, the new back ends were dropped, leaving the 1962s to be freshened up front with a new hood, grille, and fenders. The trapezoidal grille frame was discarded, enabling the grille texture to expand fully across the front. Sandwiched between the carryover bumper and a new, flatter hood, a body-color grille frame grouped the bright vertical texture into six separate segments.

The outer headlights were raised to the top of the new fenders. As of October 1960, the initial version showed single seven-inch lamps. But over the next two months, the concept had been modified to include five-inch duals, with the high beams recessed into the outer segments of the grille texture. Thus, in 1963, the low beams were mounted high and outboard, the high beams low and inboard.

This 1963 Dodge Polara 500 shows the headlight placement and amber turn signals.

For the first time, turn signals were amber. The front fender/door horizontal blade of the 1962 was discarded in favor of a sleeker appearance delineated by the outer curve of the headlamp and accented by a slim undercut element sloping from the fender peak into the new front door skin, where it hooked downward and faded.

As this version of the 1963 Dodge was being styled, Chrysler executives were confident regarding the direction the corporation was pursuing. Remember, the American car market was exhibiting a decided shift to smaller cars. When the Big Three brought out their new compact cars, Ford's Falcon became the most-successful new car ever introduced up to that time. Even 108-inch-wheelbase Ramblers and Studebaker Larks were selling well.

Additionally, the new, smaller, 118-inch wheelbase 1960 Dart was setting sales records for Dodge, its popularity eclipsing the larger Dodges. Meanwhile, clandestine reports from Detroit-area tooling shops confirmed that medium-price competitors Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, and Mercury were scrambling to add smaller cars to their product offerings.

Retired product-planning executive Gene Weiss recalls that during 1960, many in Chrysler's senior management were convinced they had the 1962 market "aced," that the downsized, lightweight, fuel-efficient 1962 Dodge and Plymouth would usher in a new generation of engineering and styling leadership for Chrysler. The Polara 500 would be the icing on the cake.

By early in 1961, however, those executives suddenly discovered to their consternation that they had been outmaneuvered. They didn't have the market aced. On the contrary, new "spy" reports confirmed that competitors' big, full-size cars would still be around in 1962. Their reaction again was to scrap the ongoing 1963 facelift program and hastily embark on more ambitious changes.

Once again, there wasn't time to start over. The nearly finished new Dodge and Plymouth front ends were kept as starting points, but designers were ordered to create virtually new cars from the doors back. Once more, the harried Dodge and Plymouth stylists racked up the overtime in a desperate dash to design, release, and tool new sheetmetal in time for 1963 production, set to begin in the late summer of 1962, a scant year and a half away.

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