The Dodge St. Regis Police Cars
The R body was derived from the venerable B-body; police cars sold from that body were the Plymouth Gran Fury, Chrysler Newport, and Dodge St. Regis from 1979-1981. Many were sold with the base 318 V8, while others had a 360 engine with four-barrel Carter Thermoquad carburetor. For police use, the Lean Burn computer was relocated behind the glove box (M body police cars had the factory mounted computers above the parking brake under the dash). Performance was not as good as one might expect, even with the 360, which was hampered by less than ideal emissions controls. The 1979 St. Regis certified for California use with the E58 360 (115 mph top speed) had far better performance than the 1980 St. Regis, which fell back on a 318 with a four-barrel carburetor, and had a top speed of around 105 mph with no light-bar. In 1981, no 360 was available at all, making the 318 the top engine.
Michael Simonson wrote that 19,000 police St. Regis models were made in 1979, 6,000 in 1980, and 2,000 in 1981; most were ordinary police cars rather than special interceptors, and many were destroyed in movies.
Based on police car testing from 1979 and 1980, Dodge, Plymouth, and Chrysler Police Cars 1979-1994 said the 360 powered St. Regis, Newport and Gran Fury were the fastest and best performing police cars of the era. They also claimed that the 360 powered 1980 St. Regis was the best Mopar police car of all time (based on the police officers they surveyed). Part of that may have been due to their comfort.
The St. Regis was not used a police car for many years, but thanks to appearances in The Blues Brothers and the television series T.J. Hooker, it will remain in the public consciousness for many years.
Gene Poon wrote:
My cop days were long ago. The last car I drove on duty was the 1980 [California-spec] Dodge St. Regis with the 318 4-bbl. That car was just as bad as its reputation. Even in the small-town department I worked in, the officers hated those cars. They had replaced 1977 Plymouth Fury sedans with the 440 Magnum, and 1978 Plymouth Volares with 360 4-bbl (my favorite squad of all for city use).
Those St. Regis also wore out tires because they would not hold alignment (drastic negative camber), and three of them blew out their heater cores. The retracting headlight covers were a nuisance, too. Ours were disabled early in their sad lives.
The department got two of them to replace the two 1977 Fury Pursuit 440s. Then the CHP sold off some new St. Regis because they were too slow, and the department bought two more to replace two Volare Pursuit 360s. Kept one Volare as a reserve car.
All the St. Regis and the Volare were replaced with Diplomats in 1982, after I left to go into private industry. My pals remember that as a great day in the history of the department. The department usually kept their cars three years but the St. Regis were so bad, they replaced them after only two.
The city where I lived, in the next county, had 1979 Chrysler Newport Pursuits with 360 engines. I had a chance to drive one of their cars. Far better performers than the 1980 St. Regis 318, though no comparison to the 440s.
Curtis Redgap wrote:
The R bodies weren't that bad! You could have been given a variable venturi Crown Victoria for a cruiser. Then you could guess whether it would come off idle speed or tear out the rear end with wide open power.
Some of the last police paks I ordered were the 1981 R bodies with the 318 four barrel. Twenty years later, at least two of my old compadres were still driving two of the old patrol units. Combined, they totaled nearly 400,000 miles. The mere fact that two of them were still going says something.
I experienced, personally, all three years of the “R” bodies, with a 1979 Newport, 1980 Gran Fury, and 1981 Gran Fury, two with the 360 pursuit and one with the 318 4 barrel. I was always impressed with the ride quality and handling, even with the police suspension and police pack components.
However, there were quality control issues, like spring shackles that were not torqued to specs which allowed much anxious moments in cornering or hard acceleration. Brakes coming totally unset from the factory! Aftermarket heavy duty alternators (Leece-Neville) that were 1/2 inch out of alignment to the crank pulley. Some units continually blew transmissions. Those plastic piston brake cylinders were a nightmare until fleet figured that out (swelled up and stuck). Bumpers that were aluminum, coated with a chrome like substance that peeled right off when getting splattered with the chemicals for snow melting on the roads. We used a modified version of the black and white “police stripe” paint jobs that had chunks of the black just fall off the car. We were not alone in these issues. We got our vehicles out of the state bid pool, so we were operating the same cars as the State Police.
The 1981 318 was a decent police vehicle. It was not a high speed pursuit car, but it was no slouch either. We never experienced a noticeable increase in “failed pursuits” when we engaged with the 318. I do not recall anyone else using them that complained either. The ability to accelerate to 80-100 mph - quickly, makes all the difference, and the 1981 318 equipped Gran Fury was just such a vehicle to do that job. It was also comfortable, handled superbly,and had lots of room for equipment, and officer related junk.
The R represented the best all around balance as far as speed, power, braking and cornering were concerned.
Tyler's owner report
Tyler purchased a 1980 St. Regis, ex-Illinois state police car from a family friend for $1,000. The motor is a solid 360 with a Torqueflight 3-speed, which runs into the limited slip rear-end. It can snap your head back if you lay the throttle wide open. The car doesn’t like the 0-60 acceleration test, it prefers the 40-100+ accelerations; dead stop launches tend to bog.
The suspension is really stiff, it handles like a dump-truck. If you hit a manhole or anything you can feel it. There is absolutely no body-roll in the car, you can take a pretty sharp turn a 45 M.P.H. and the car doesn’t lean! There is a lot of play in the steering wheel, not uncommon for older cars [this is a matter of wear, not design]. The windows don’t go all the way up without a little help.
One neat feature about the car is a "rpm lock" which if engaged will keep the motor running at a desired rpm for the air conditioning on those hot sunny days on the Illinois highways. There is a yellow stripe across the bottom that was there originally. The car originally had two yellow stripes and a big badge on the side. A neat tag was found under the hood on the radiator support beam, which reads "A38 POLICE". When the car passed Kansas Inspection they snipped the front lights in the grill. They also snipped the wiring for my hideaway headlight motor. The car also came equipped with a spot light which is also snipped.
I was a career Trooper who basically worked the road on patrol. One of my favorites all around was my 1980 St. Regis. It was unmarked with a 360 4-V and that good old never breaking 727 TF transmission. Car would go both fast and handle. Since I worked a major metro area (Chicago Area) I needed both acceleration and top speed. This baby did it very well. Only had the car at 135 once. I had the St Regis taken away since one of the commanders saw it and wanted it for himself. I was rewarded with a 1980 Aspen. Still a 360 4-V but it couldn't handle the big tires and beating. Plus being lighter you felt every bump around.