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Inside Chrysler: the 1960 police cars and taxis

I cannot make any claim to accuracy for the materials that I have used to make these articles. In some cases, the journals go back 50 years. - Curtis Redgap

by Curtis Redgap

Fleet sales took off well. More and more police departments and taxi fleets were moving to Plymouth. Taxi fleet managers were wild about the strength and the economy of operating the new 225 six cylinder. It had great torque, so it could move quickly while carrying heavy loads. Yet, it consistently delivered 20 to 22 miles per gallon in the rigors of city operations.

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The new unibody made all the Chrysler lines ride solid, rigid, and silent with no rattles or squeaks. To achieve this in a fleet car was truly astounding. It was along those lines that Plymouth set aside a "fleet special" model. It could be a two or four door and a choice of the 225 six or the 318 V-8. No one knows exactly how many left the factory as "special cabs," but it was the right time with the right car with the right equipment pleasing to a fleet manager's hard heart. Plymouth cabs were everywhere!

Dodge tried to follow, but the new Dart line was yet unknown to a manager that had to explain operation bottom lines. Fleet managers tend to be loyal to a good brand, and Plymouth had always been good to the fleets.

The State Police solicited the usual units for testing in their bid. We sent over four Plymouths to test. We could have just as well sent Darts too because the prices were exactly the same. However, the "fleet special" also applied to the Police Pursuit versions of Plymouth. They were some $70 less expensive if you bought more than 5 units together on the same order. Dodge had not quite figured out all the angles of this fleet business at the bottom end of the scale, but they were learning fast. I am positive that it made a fleet manager stand a bit taller knowing that Chrysler was building something just especially for them.

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Ford made a surprising move on fleet sales for 1960. More than likely it was because their new 1960 Ford was in trouble, much like the 1958 models. I called them the "sleepy eyed specials." If you look at the front of the 1960 Ford, the grille makes it look like its about to fall asleep, but like a child it is fighting it.

After a thorough thrashing, the State Police again choose Plymouth as their squad cars. The chosen model was the fleet special four door with AM radio (a first!), heater/defroster, heavy duty suspension with sway bars, police brakes, (which oddly were the 12 inch drums from the Chrysler car with the non-organic linings). Dodge, even on the Dart, had 11 inch brakes from the DeSoto with the same linings. Just an oddity that had been there from the start with the 1957 Plymouth pursuits. They also had a heavy duty Torqueflite transmission, Sure-Grip differential with 3.21 gears, power steering, power brake booster, and heavy duty electrical system with a 75 amp hour alternator.

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The State Troopers wanted 1,350 of the new pursuits. We made arrangements to drive to the State Capital this year to deliver to the State Police Headquarters. It was my idea, and everyone was wondering why we hadn't done it before. It saved the handling at our store. It also saved the State Police money because we didn't charge the "set up" fee for putting on the lights, sirens, antennas and two way radio that we used to do at $100 a car. I also got to stay at the State Capital for two weeks, and met quite a few of the Troopers' high brass.

Uncle Harlan came through for his new fleet, choosing the Plymouth. However, the Sheriff, instead of taking the state bid, opened it up for competition, and got stuck with Fords. These were the Custom 300 with the 352 Interceptor V-8. They had basically all the same things as the Plymouth, except they had been bid in at $1,759 a car, set up from the factory. That meant the lights, radio wiring, and siren were already on the car.

Ford snookered a lot of folks that year. The "lights" consisted of a single 4 lamp Beacon Ray mounted on the roof. It was the alternating or "eccentric" model where the 4 light unit wobbled back and forth through an arc of about 100 degrees. We called them the "wobblers." The wiring and siren were not included, only the places for hook ups of the wiring and siren were there. Oooops! But the bids were accepted so they got the Fords.

The bid that Plymouth made was $1,837 per car, $100 dollars for set up fee for a total of $1,737 a car. Up against bids from Ford, Chevrolet, and Pontiac, Plymouth beat them all.

Out in California, Dodge again took the prestigious California Highway Patrol competition. Los Angles City Police choose Plymouths. The Los Angeles County Sheriff, which is the second largest department in the nation, outside of New York City, choose Dodge Darts. This represented the first time LASD ever used a Chrysler product. From their inception they had utilized Fords. In 1958 they bought their first, and last Chevrolets, going back to Ford in 1959.

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The Dodge Darts were a revelation to the Deputies. Here was full size car that went fast, handled neutrally, and stopped like you had thrown out an anchor. As one deputy noted in a log, "This Dodge was the only car that I could operate at high speed with one hand holding the microphone, the other hand holding a doughnut, and steering with my knees."

Another noted that "If the guy I was after went through a corner at 80, I could go through it at 90 without any worry."

Plymouth wasn't sleeping while Dodge played. In the second round of orders in the Spring of 1960, quite a few of the Pursuits were equipped with 383 cubic inch V-8s. This was not advertised, but it was a way for Plymouth to get its 500 units for NASCAR. The Petty clan had already equipped their 1960 racing units with the big block 383. It helped, but not much.

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Plymouth contacted the customer for permission to upgrade the 361 V-8 to the 383 (Dodge) big block. This raised the horsepower from 305 to 325. No big deal. However, the torque production flung those pursuits to a 7 second 0-60 time! Top speed was over 130 miles an hour... for a Plymouth! The 361 generated 390 foot pounds of torque at 2800 r.p.m. The big block 383 put out 450 foot pounds at 2500 r.p.m. Quite a difference in power.

The State Police accepted the 383 with huge smiles. This would not be the last time that Plymouth put bigger engines in their Pursuits, and sometimes, they didn't even tell the customer that they had done it.

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