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Dodge Polara: from trim to top car

The 1960 Dodge Polara was the new Dodge flagship car, sitting above the similar Matador in trim; it was larger than the new 1960 Dodge Dart series, which were essentially retrimmed Plymouths. The Polara may have been aimed at DeSoto and Chrysler buyers, just as the Dart was aimed at Plymouth buyers. [1960 Dodge Polara and Matador details]

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Like all Chrysler Corporation cars in 1960 - save for wagons and Imperials - the Polara was a modified unit-body design, using subframes connected by the body panels. The standard V8 engine was hooked up to a three-speed TorqueFlite automatic, driving the rear wheels. The car continued the 1950s "fins" trend, with integrated tail-lights designed to bring up thoughts of jets. Polara buyers had better fabrics and interior trim, and much more chrome on the outside including a full-length chrome spear.

What did you get if you opted for a Polara, over a Matador, paying around $200 more on a $3,141-and-up car? Essentially, dual exhaust, a nicer interior, badging, and rear-fender stone shields. They made around 11,600 Polaras in this first year, excluding a small number of wagons. All had a 122-inch wheelbase, vs 118 on the Dart (except wagons). Buyers could opt for the hot D-500 engine, a 361 V8 with Ram Induction and 320 gross horsepower, fed by a pair of Carter four-barrels on 30-inch-long manifolds.

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The 1961 Polara stood alone; the Matador had been dropped (AMC picked up the name later), and Polara's price dropped to compensate. The huge, complicated 1960 front bumpers were replaced by much simpler designs, which no doubt helped in cutting costs.

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The standard 265-hp 361 V8 (and optional 383 D-500 engines with 325 and 330 hp), may have overcome objections to the styling; Dodge made 14,032, which seems like a very small number, but was still better than the prior year.

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For the 1962 model year, Dodge dropped its larger cars, putting everything onto a 116 inch wheelbase (later dubbed the "B" body), because Chrysler thought Chevrolet was going to downsize its cars (Chevrolet was just coming out with one new, smaller car). Why Chrysler's leaders felt they had to scrap all their designs and race to match Chevrolet, even with its premium Dodge brand, is a question for historians; but now Dodge had, in essence, one carline, sold as the Dodge Dart and as the Dodge Polara.

The 1962 were completely, and not especially successfully, restyled, their lines complicated by the rush downsizing. A new Polara 500 was placed atop the standard Polara; it was based on the Dart 440, but added the 361 V8, bucket seats, higher-grade interior trim, dual exhaust, and exterior trim.

While the body was the same as the Dart, all Polaras were V8 powered - 305 hp from the standard 361, 410-420 hp from a choice of Ram-Charger Max Wedge 413 V8s (the latter both used twin Carter AFB carburetors, and were not available at launch; nor were they in any way common).

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Months into 1962, after the Chevrolet situation was clarified and customers had rejected the restyled Polara, Chrysler product planners rushed a thinly disguised Chrysler Newport into production as the Dodge Custom 880, to give Dodge a larger car again.

1962Starting Price
Min. Weight (With V8)
Dart 440$2,5843,205
Polara 500$2,9603,315-3,430
Custom 880$2,9643,615-3,705

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The 1963 Polara gained a much cleaner look, courtesy of new styling chief Elwood Engel, and a three-inch wheelbase increase; Polara 500 buyers got the 265 hp 383 V8 as their base engine.

The 413 engines continued, now accompanied by a pair of 426 Max Wedge Stage II V8s - not Hemis, despite the displacement. These produced 415 or 425 gross horsepower, differing in compression ratios as the two 413s did, and were meant entirely for drag racing.

The 1964s were similar, except for a facelift, new tail-lamps, and heavily revised hardtop coupe - which, along with lower prices, were all well received by the buying public.

The 1965 Dodge Polara was the first to go back to a full size body, dubbed the "C" body, with a wheelbase of 121 inches (until 1967, when it went to 122 inches). Needless to say, it was fully restyled, gaining squared-off edges that may have been a reaction to the more rounded cars. Transmission pushbuttons gave way to column shifters. Burton Bouwkamp wrote:

I was appointed Dodge Chief Engineer and Manager of Product Planning in 1964. Matt Zak worked for me as the "C" Body Manager. I told Matt that we spent a lot of money on the Dodge "C" Body, and that he could not retire until we sold 200,000 Polaras and Monacos in a year. I told him I didn't care if he was 75 years old - he couldn't retire until we hit that number. (It didn't happen - he retired and died, and the best year was only 135,000.)
While still above the entry-level Darts and 117-inch-wheelbase Coronet, the 1965 Dodge Polara had to play second fiddle to the Custom 880, at least for 1965; but it did gain a standard 270-horse 383 V8.

The top of the line 1965 Polara was the Dodge Polara Monaco, which spent one year as a Polara (the 1966 Monaco dropped the Polara name). The Monaco, a hardtop, was aimed at the Pontiac Grand Prix and Olds Starfire, and was most readily distinguished from lesser C-body Dodges by its unique taillights. Burton Bouwkamp added:

We introduced a premium line two-door hardtop in 1965 named Monaco. I okayed not putting a "DODGE" nameplate on the front and the back of the Monaco. My rationale was that Dodge was a truck - Monaco was a car. When Lynn Townsend found out about it he wasn't happy with me. (We made a running change during the 1965 model year, adding a Dodge nameplate to the car.)
The smaller Dodge body was renamed to Coronet, with the Polara moving up; the Coronet name had been dropped after the 1959s.

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In 1966, the interior and exterior were restyled somewhat, and the automatic was given a reverse lockout button; and telescopic/tilt steering was added, along with thin shell bucket seats and four-passenger seat belts with optional front shoulder belts. The Polara was no longer the top Dodge, but now the base-level full-size Dodge.

Dimensions 1966 Coronet1966 Polara1971 Polara 1971 Newport
Wheelbase (exc. wagons)117121122124
Length (exc. wagons) 203213.3220225
Max cargo volume 88 cu. ft. 97 cu ft 104 cu ft

In another safety inspired move, the previous years' door handles were replaced by handles mounted at the front edge of the armrests where they looked very much like the seatbelt latches. This reduced the chance of a door accidentally opening if the handle was caught on clothing or used as an unintentional hand grip.

Gauges were kept in two huge round pods, and the dashboard maintained its lines all the way from right to left with the exception of those pods.

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Dodge launched the Polara 318 in mid-1965, using the LA-series 318 engine in place of the B-series 383 V8. Dodge product planner Burton Bouwkamp wrote:

All the Dodge sales people could think about was competing with Plymouth, Chevrolet, and Ford. They were supposed to be thinking about competing with Pontiac. ... The
pressure got so high that in 1965 we were authorized one
Chevrolet-Ford-Plymouth competitive model. It was a 121-wheelbase C-body four
door sedan with a 318 V8. We called it the Polara 318. It
wasn't the 119" wheelbase model that the Dodge dealers wanted, but it
gave them a car priced to compete with Chevrolets,
Fords, and Plymouths.
The 1966 Dodge Polara was nearly identical to the Monaco on the outside, with the most noticeable difference being the rear tail-lights: both had the same openings, but Monaco got full tail-lights (extending to the trunk area) while in the Polara, the tail-lights were confined to the body and the trunk lid got metallic fills instead. A modern buyer could be easily forgiven for mixing them up.

The 383 V8 was standard again, unchanged. A vinyl interior was optional in hardtops and the sedan, standard in the wagon and convertible; chrome was still much in evidence but not quite as prevalent as in the Monaco, and the standard seat was a bench, rather than buckets (buckets were available as an option). The Polara 500 option continued, with bucket seats and a console shifter.

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1968 Specifications
Wheelbase (exc wagons)119
Length x Width213 x 78
Head room, front/rear40 / 38
Leg room, front/rear42 / 37
Shoulder room, f/r60 / 60

The 1967 Dodges featured, depending on the model, convex, concave, and convex-to-concave side styling; the Polara and Monaco both grew six inches longer than in 1966, and more of an attempt was made to differentiate the models. Every Chrysler V8 engine was available in the Polara, now; disc brakes were optional across the board, and standard on wagons.

The Polara instrument panels now clustered common controls together, and replaced projecting knobs with pushbuttons, toggle switches, thumb wheels, and slides, for crash safety. The entire instrument panel was recessed, and the dashboard was coated with nonglare paint.

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Fastening rubber to the doors with plastic fasteners going into predrilled holes, rather than having it hanging off the door frame, aided the effectiveness of the weatherstripping. Standard flow-through ventilation changed the air four times a minute. Weight ran to around 4,000 - 4,500 pounds.

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1969 brought the Fuselage Look to Chrysler's entire lineup, with rounded sides that would not be out of place on today's cars. In addition, 1969 marked the debut of the Super-Lite on Polara and Monaco; the Super-Lite was a controlled-pattern auxiliary driving light that primarily illuminated the right side of the road, to aid vision without affecting drivers of oncoming cars. The $50 option was the first reported use of the modern day quartz-iodine automotive headlamp that is in wide use today. (Thanks, Bernie Hanssen).

The 1969 Dodge Polara also held the record for the fastest top speed of a four-door police car (147 mph) until 2006, when it was broken by the 2006 Dodge Charger.

1970 jumped the Polara up into the newly redesigned C-body chassis. These sold around 80,000 units in Polara, Custom, and Special models.

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In 1971, the Polara - heralded as "luxury-sized elegance without extravagance" - came with a base slant six, an optional 318 (standard on Custom), and a two-barrel 383 powerplant for the Brougham. Other optional engines were the 360, four-barrel 383, and four-barrel 440; transmissions were a three-speed manual (across the line), with an optional three-speed TorqueFlite automatic.

All the cars got cloth and vinyl trim, a glove box lock, dome light (with built in map light on Brougham), day/night rearview mirror, fifteen inch wheels, hubcaps or wheelcovers, electronic voltage regulator, ventless front windows, two-speed concealed wipers, heater/defroster with three-speed fan, 11 inch rear brakes, 23 gallon gas tank, dual braking, padded instrument panel, and front and rear seat belts. Options included FM radio with stereo tape player, bucket seats (Brougham), cornering lights, clock, electric locks, front power disc brakes, limited-slip differential, rear speakers, and power seats, windows, and steering (among others).

1971 Dodge Polara and Coronet police cars. | 1971 Chryslers.

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New for 1971 was the Torsion-Quiet Ride suspension; a new type of rubber isolator was used in a large number of suspension locations in front, in rear, and along the steering gear.

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The 1972 model year started out with a standard 360 under the hood, a compromise between the lighter, cheaper 318 and the big, heavy 383. Buyers wanted no part of it, and shortly afterwards, the 360 was replaced by the 383 as the standard engine.

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In 1973 Polara was similar to the Monaco, with nearly identical rear styling but a unique grille; it offered most of the features and space of the Monaco, but with a lower price tag. In a swipe at competitors' ads, Dodge wrote: "Some cars are built for chauffeurs, diamond cutters, and handwriting experts - Polara is built for drivers like you."

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They noted the independent, adjustable torsion bar springs (present since the first car), special rubber cushions, and quiet interior. Standard equipment was more limited, but included power steering and power front disc brakes; Torqueflite automatic transmission; armrests; cloth and vinyl front bench seat; interior hood release; faux wood trim; day/night mirror; and two-speed wipers. Powered by an economy 318 V8, the Polara could also be purchased with the 360, 400, or 440.

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Tom Merjanian wrote, "There is an extremely rare model called the Polara Brougham. I was working for Chrysler in the New York Zone Office, Distribution Department at the time. The Polara Brougham was almost a Monaco. Only two interior colors were offered, one of which was a dark brown, called "Chestnut." Chestnut was available in vinyl and was the interior color of choice because it was the only Big Dodge, as we called it, to offer this color. The only other car in the 1973 full size lineup to offer this interior color was the Imperial!

"The Polara Brougham used some interior panels that it shared with the Imperial. It priced out slightly less than a Monaco. So, it had a unique exclusivity to it. ... the few Polara Broughams that we had to build I usually loaded up, as they became cheaper-than-Monaco Monacos and were the only car in the lineup to offer the chestnut interior trim. It was an attraction to buyers of this lineup that was not a big seller in any case."

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Despite a bump in sales, 1973 was the Polara's last year, with the fuel crisis slamming demand before the end of the year. While the Polara was still selling at near record levels, those sales were divided across numerous body styles. The base Polara saw just 25,000 sales, split between four-door sedan, two-door hardtop, and four-door wagon; the Polara Custom saw most of the sales, with the four-door hardtop, four-door sedan, and two-door hardtop splitting the bulk of the sales, and the two wagons taking another 12,000 sales.

The Monaco, which would remain for 1974, did not sell anywhere near as well, with a total of 35,712 sales - but Polaras may have been selling at a discount, while the Monaco commanded a premium.


Std Engine

OptionalAxle Ratio Opt.

NewportC383383 4V / 440 TNT2.763.2321.2n/an/a

In 1973, Dodge Polara taxis were sold with the slant six engine - though buyers could step up to the 318 V8.

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1973 SpecsPolaraCoronet
Legroom, F/R41.8/39.141.9/36.7
Shoulder room, F/R63.2/62.759.2/59.3

These were very large cars by today's standards, with a wide range of engines from very low performance to very high performance, and a huge range of options. They were of unit-body construction and had surprisingly good handling, especially given their era and their comfortable ride.

For 1980, the Dodge Polara name was brought back for the Brazilian version of the Dodge 1800. Brazil had already used the Polara name for an upscale version of the Valiant/Dart in the 1970s.

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We also have a C-body chronology and pages for the Monaco, Fury, and Chrysler Newport in 1974-75.

John Hagen wrote:

My father, a Dodge field rep, at one point in 1960 had 2 field cars, a white Polara and a red Dart Phoenix, both two-door hardtops. Talk about having nice cars in the driveway! They were both really sharp cars. The Polara had four-bar "flipper" wheel covers (different from the Lancer caps of previous years) that would make musical sounds at low speeds due to the air turbulence they caused.

The Polara had a four barrel big block, I think a 383 but Dodge also used 361s in the Polara/Matador line. It was not the high performance version as it had single exhaust. It was a torquer motor and could move the car along okay. In late 1960, dad got a 1961 Dart Phoenix with a 383 ram inducted motor. That car was quick!

Dominick J. DePaolo wrote:

My name is Dominick. I live in Concord, NH, but this personal Polara history takes place in Enfield, CT, where I grew up.

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Ah yes, the 1969 Dodge Polara. My very first car and the one car that I miss the most out of all the cars I've had. I was 12 when my Dad bought the Polara. He found it in 1980 on the trade-in lot of a Dodge dealership in Westfield, MA. for around $1700. It was still in pretty good shape and ran like new. Admittedly, it was a bold move - buying such a gas thirsty vehicle when the gas crunch was still so fresh in our memories. Regardless, my dad wanted to replace his 68 Coronet Wagon with something comparable from the Chrysler family.

I acquired the Polara in 1985, during my senior year of high school. My father had taken good care of it in the five years he drove it so it was still in pretty good shape. Small spots of surface rust here and there. Driving out of the DMV with that car legally registered in my name was one of the greatest feelings of my young life. I'm 31 now and the good times I've had in that car seem like they only happened yesterday. It was a four door hardtop with a 383 and aqua paint. This car was the ultimate sleeper too. Many a Camaro owner were shocked and dismayed to only get a view of my trunk & tail lights every time they decided to be a tough guy at a traffic light. The car gave a ride like you were hovering over the ground too. Unfortunately, it met its demise in 1988 due to a spun bearing (which I believe happened while I was racing my friend Matt. He had a 70 Newport 383). I attempted to rebuild the motor but ended up scrapping the project and had the car hauled away.

Dodge Polara models and options

1969 Models available:

  • Polara 2 dr. hardtop or convertible
  • Polara 4 dr. hardtop or sedan
  • Polara 500 2dr. hardtop or convertible
  • Polara Station Wagon
Standard Equipment-

  • 318 cu. in. V8 (optional 383 or 440 Magnum V8)
  • 3 speed manual trans.
  • Cloth-vinyl interior trim in Polara Hardtops and sedan
  • All-vinyl interior trim in Polara convertibles and station wagons
  • Front bucket seats, with center cushion/folding armrest (in Polara 500 models)
  • Concealed windshield wipers
  • Deep pile carpeting
  • 3-Spoke steering wheel with padded hub
  • Heater/defroster
  • Cigarette lighter
  • Glove box door lock
  • Power top (Polara and Polara 500 convertibles)
  • Foot-operated parking brake
  • Link-type sway bar
  • Quiet door latches
  • Choice of 17 exterior colors
  • Deluxe wheel covers (Polara 500 models)
  • Crank operated vent panes (ventless door glass standard on two door hardtops with AC)
  • Rear seat foam cushion pad
  • 24 Gallon fuel tank (wagons, 22)
  • Roof mounted air deflector (wagons)
  • Dual action tailgate (wagons)

  • (For 4 dr. Polara. Other body styles may vary in some degree)
  • Wheelbase: 122"
  • Track: front 62.1", rear 60.7"
  • Overall Length: 220.8"
  • Overall width: 79.3"
  • Overall Height: 56.8"
More 1969 Dodge Polara enthusiasm from Mike Harris

I too enjoy the rare company of a 69 Dodge Polara. A few years ago I acquired one with around 35K - and was garage kept. What a beautiful piece of equipment. Specifically my beaut is classified as a "White Hat Special." She's the light blue, two door, black hard-top - power windows and the power bench seat. She still smells like the show room. Currently she's sitting in a heated storage unit with a nice warm cover. Every now and then I'll fire her up and just sit and listen to the purr. Mustangs and Camaros alike - "BEWARE" the land sled will leave you in her tracks!!!

How she came into my possession is truly a fairy tale. You see, one day I was in my Grandmother's garage and saw this large shape under a pile of dust and boxes. It came to my understanding that it belonged to her neighbor that had shared the double garage. Moreover, the elderly woman had never possessed a driver's license. Her husband had passed away a few years after he ordered it. She never drove it since - she never learned how. It hadn't been moved since 1972. I hear he never drove it in the rain. Anyway, I found the receipt and the carbon copy of the order form in the glovebox - still in the dealers' monogrammed envelope. I won't tell you the price I paid, because I don't know. Now, it came to me as a gift - from my grandparents one fine day.

2 barrel 383 Engine Specs:

290 hp @ 4400 rpm Torque = 390 ft lb. @ 2800 rpm Compression Ratio - 9.2:1 Bore and Stroke - 4.25 X 3.38 Single Exhaust

Total cost due on delivery - $3592.92

The Decor Group that was purchased included:

  • Wheel Lip moldings
  • Sill Moldings
  • Upper door frame moldings (all chrome)
A happy 1967 Dodge Polara wagon tale

Recently I turned 18 and became economically independent, and consequently needed to find transportation a tad cheaper to insure than my 98 Ranger. And so it happened that one fateful day when I was feeling extra visionary, to what should my wandering eye should appear but a perfectly straight 67 Polara wagon sitting at the bottom of an embankment with 15 years' worth of leaves and dirt piled against the starboard panels.

Inquiring of the local farmer, I learned that his grandfather had purchased the car brand new in 67, died a couple of years later, and it was used primarily as a church-mobile until 84, when the running vehicle was parked with partial primer and mismatched paint spots in the orchard it presently occupied with 42,000(!) on the odometer.. The wagon was slated to be towed in late 99, but when I popped the squealing hood to reveal that breathtaking big block 383, rat nestings and all, I offered on the spot to take it off his hands.

We agreed on the selling price of $20 (no, not $200, $20). Once my feet returned to the firmament, it struck me that towing this beastie to...well...anywhere, would put quite a dent in my monetary funds, so it occurred to me that perhaps I could perform an on-site resurrection. After $2.50 in fuel line, a $15 carb rebuild kit, a $26 water pump, a $15 set of plug wires (the plugs had a little carbon, but were functional), a $5 coil, a $2 point set, a battery donated from a friend's totaled big block dodge truck, two days, an impromptu carb rebuild on the tailgate, reintroduction of all essential fluids donated from the garages of multiple friends, and $6 of regular (which ain't all that much in Southern California), 383 cubes of mopar big block roared to life like it was sitting in the garage overnight. All that remained was to pop it in reverse and a nudge of the pedal and she climbed right out of the axle-deep sludge and compost without so much as a whimper. Free tires (from the same dodge truck, which was, sadly, hauled off for scrap later that day), an oil change, and a couple of new belts and hoses and a new master cylinder are all that remain to prep my wagon for some pavement-pounding excitement.

In the works are a 4 barrel Holley off a friend's parts Camaro 350, a couple of coats of black primer, dual 3" Flowmasters, and some fatter tires and spring relocator kit for the back to give it the ultimate muscle-car intimidation stance. All things considered, I think I blew away those so-called budget rides you always see in hot rod magazines. Speed Beater for Under $1,000? Hah! Try under $200 WITH the purchase of the non-operative vehicle! And so began my love affair with all which is Mopar.

Paul Brodie added his Dodge Polara story:

I read your section on the Dodge Polara with great interest as I owned one and it was my all-time favorite car and I have owned more than 30 cars.

In 1982, I came across a 1963 Dodge Polara for sale for $200. It was in near perfect condition, except for more than 80,000 miles and faded paint. It was a navy blue, 2 door hard top with light blue interior. It was very plain with only a little chrome. It had long, straight lines with a boxy rear end with a rather upright rear window and two, single, round headlights mounted high and all the way out toward the side like frog's eyes. The front bumper was a little low and rather large. It went straight across and protruded a little bit and reminded me of the way the collision bumpers were made and mounted on the 1974 Plymouth Duster, without the protruding bumpers. The grill was a rounded off rectangle between the headlights. The wheels were standard steel wheels with plain wheel covers. I really liked the plain look because it was a real sleeper, especially after I changed the engine to a 1968, 440 Magnum.

This car came with a 2 barrel 383 'B' engine and a push-button torqueflite transmission. The '62, '63, and '64 Polara's were built on the 'B' body platform, not the 'C' platform like the ones from 1965 on and were comparatively light weight. I thought that this car handled very well for a car of this size and from that time period. It had large wheel wells and I was able to put some pretty wide modern tires on it. I have some old time-trial cards from the drag strip and with the good, wide, modern tires and the 440 Magnum engine, it completed the 1/4 mile in 12.57 seconds. They didn't measure the MPH.

A friend of mine had a 1964 Polara and the '64 had a completely revised front end that did away with the frog-like headlights. Many people thought this was an improvement but I thought the headlight treatment was very distinctive on the '63 and I personally liked it a lot better. I had the opportunity to purchase the '64 Polara but decided to stick with my '63. I saw another '63 Polara at the dragstrip that had the Max Wedge engine with the cross ram intake manifold with 2, 4 barrel carburetors. I've forgotten if it was the 413 or 426 cubic inch version. The owner told me that it was an all original Max Wedge car. Another friend owned a 1963 Plymouth Belvedere and it shared the same general silhouette as the Polara but had a completely different front end treatment. I have to say that the 1963 Dodge Polara was my all-time favorite car out of more than 30 I have owned over the years, mostly Mopars.

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