All the R-body cars
The R body was always an odd project: a expensive new car that was only slightly larger than the established compact cars, and slightly smaller than the existing midsized cars. Naming was equally odd: the Plymouth Gran Fury name was taken from that brand’s largest car, while the Chrysler Newport was based on that brand’s (former) smallest car... and the Dodge St. Regis name was new.
Many of these 1979-1981 police cars were sold with the 318 V8; others had a 360 engine with four-barrel Carter Thermoquad carburetor. Police cars, unlike civilian ones, had the Lean Burn computer behind the glove box at first, then above the parking foot-brake.
New emissions controls, not yet countered by technology. hampered performance — as did the loss of the 360 four-barrel after their first year; in 1980 and 1981, they used a 318 four-barrel.
The California Highway Patrol tested the St. Regis:
* After two miles
** CHP testing reached the Chrysler numbers with a 445 pound load in the car but only after setting the shifts to factory spec and replacing the muffler with a straight pipe.
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.
Dodge, Plymouth, and Chrysler Police Cars 1979-1994 notes that the 360 powered St. Regis, Newport, and Gran Fury were the fastest and best performing police cars of the era. In the book’s survey, officers wrote that the 360 powered 1980 St. Regis was the best Mopar police car of all time.
Appearances in The Blues Brothers and the television series T.J. Hooker assured the Dodge St. Regis would remain in the public eye for many years, though few were made and they quickly disappeared from the roads.
The last car I drove on duty was the California-spec 1980 Dodge St. Regis with the 318 4-barrel. They had replaced 1977 Plymouth Fury sedans powered by the 440 Magnum, and 1978 Plymouth Volares with 360 4-barrel (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.
All the St. Regis and the Volares were replaced with Dodge Diplomats in 1982. The department usually kept their cars three years, but the St. Regis were so bad, they replaced them after only two.
The 1979 Chrysler Newport Pursuits with 360 engines were far better performers than the 1980 St. Regis 318, though no comparison to the 440s.
The R bodies weren't that bad! If you had a variable-venturi Crown Victoria, you could guess whether it would come off at idle speed or tear out the rear end with wide open power.
Some of the last police cars I had were the 1981 R bodies with the 318 four barrel. Twenty years later, at least two of my old compadres were still driving 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 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 four barrel. I was always impressed with the ride quality and handling, even with the police suspension and police pack components.
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 well out of alignment to the crank pulley. Some 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 had chunks of the black painted stripes 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 had 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 did that. 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 purchased a 1980 St. Regis, ex-Illinois state police car. The motor is a 360 with a Torqueflight 3-speed, which runs into the limited slip rear-end. The car prefers the 40-100+ accelerations; dead stop launches tend to bog.
The suspension is stiff, and you feel any bumps; there is absolutely no body roll. Despite having a tight steering box, there is, due to wear, a lot of play in the steering wheel.
The “rpm lock,” when engaged, keeps the motor running at a desired rpm, presumably to power the lights or for the air conditioning on those hot sunny highway days. The state inspectors snipped the police lights, including the spot light, and the wiring for the hideaway headlight motor.
I was a career Trooper, and one of my favorites all around was my unmarked 1980 St. Regis. It had a 360 four-barrel and that good old never-breaking 727 Torqueflite transmission. The car would go both fast and handle. Since I worked in the Chicago area, I needed both acceleration and top speed. This baby did it very well. I 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, but it couldn't handle the big tires and beating, and, being lighter, you felt every bump around.
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