The cars we loved.
Big cars don’t come in as many varieties as they once did. For instance, large two door cars are almost extent. The few that are available today tend to be on the pricy side, like the BMW 6 Series Coupe or the Mercedes-Benz C215. Nearly all the big American 2 door coupes were gone with the demise of the Chevrolet Caprice/Impala in 1985 and Ford Crown Victoria in 1987. These were not luxury cars per se, but offered roomy interiors and big car dimensions.
The more modest end of this market was once crowded with such cars, except that they were bigger. Chrysler once offered a diverse range of big cars that included their C-body based Polara and Monaco pair. The fourth generation cars of 1969 to 1973 were the final evolution of Chrysler’s mid-priced big cars to wear the Polara name. Offered as sedans, station wagons, convertibles and coupes, the Polara was the entry point into the world of Chrysler’s big cars.
The Monaco offered a step up with better equipment and more luxury touches. Trapezoid style taillights, seen on Dodges from previous years would be refined on the Polara. Visually the Polara and Monaco were distinguished by options and minor touches to bumpers, lights and trim. The Monaco and Polara would diverge more in time as their missions moved further apart.
For both cars, size was their ultimate luxury offering. With a 122 inch wheelbase, the pair were among the largest, most roomy cars available on the road. Only Chrysler’s own Imperial was bigger. The new for 69’ car featured fuselage styling, said to be inspired by aircraft design. The swoopy curves were fresh and modern, offering Chrysler’s late answer to GM’s Coke bottle styling. The new design approach made the new C-body cars appear lower and wider, although they were only slightly larger than the boxy cars that came before it.
There was a standard array of engine options available for both cars over the years. All engines were coupled with the common three speed automatic or the rare manual with just as many speeds. For the lower cost Polara Custom, a 318 V8 with 230 hp would be the standard mill, while optional engines included a 270 hp 383 V8. The Polara succeeded in being a big and comfortable no frills car that offered a smooth ride and a quite cabin. The simple vinyl or cloth bench seats were basic, offering nothing more than an arm rest to separate the driver and passenger sides. Consoles were optional on the Polara, but were more common on the Monaco.
There were basically two models of the Polara, the base (or Special) and the 500. The handsome 500 could resemble the Charger or Barracuda when outfitted with stripes and decals. It was the more youthful or sportier of the two and often featured the Monaco’s standard engine (the 383 V8) or the Magnum 440 with 370 hp. The Monaco came in base and 500 also (with a graphics treatment similar to the Polara 500). The most luxurious and expensive versions of the Monaco were called the Brougham. While the Broughham was all about full-sized near luxury, it cost less than typical all out full-sized luxury cars of the day.
Even with the larger engines, the 500 and Monaco were not hotrods. At best, they were comfortable GT cars best suited for the wide open spaces of the interstate. For those wanting more performance in a big car, there was always Chrysler’s 300. The Polara and Monaco never strayed off course from their mandate to provide big car luxury at a reasonable price. With that in mind the Polara was not offered as a convertible after 1970.
Monacos continued on the luxury trajectory (or near-lxury as we would call it today). They were often loaded with features like consoles, air conditioning and power windows. Like many other C-body cars, the Polara/Monaco had Chrysler’s Torsionaire sport suspension system for better handling. Monacos would get a torson bar front suspension to further improve its steering and road responses. The unitized body construction improved the big coupes stability by reducing body flex and vibrations in the cabin. The long wheelbase made for a smooth ride, making either car popular with everyone from police departments to rental car agencies.
By 1973, both the Polara and Monaco had gone through a series of minor restyling. The difference between the two was more pronounced as the Monaco got a semi-concealed headlight treatment, making it appear more upscale. The Polara began to resemble large Chevy from a few years earlier. Both cars maintained the same engine options, but the Polara could be ordered with a new 225-cid V6 while the more powerful engines had lower compression than before.
Even as Chrysler tried to make the Polara more competitive, its sales fell off quickly. The Monaco would make it to 1974, by which time it was redesigned. The Polara’s fortunes ended with cancelation in 1973. With its mid-priced big car options simplified, the Monaco went on to modest success for four more years.