1969 Dodge, and the changes that should not have been made


Old Man with a Hat
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Dec 14, 2015
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Kinda interesting, Hemmings

Preservationist Polara - 1969 Dodge Polara
A second-owner 1969 Dodge, and the changes that should not have been made

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Preservationist Polara - 1969 Dodge Polara from Hemmings Classic Car
August, 2005 - Jeff Koch

Once upon a time, a former colleague and I shared a very weak joke, based on the principle that the more you mess with something, like an old car, the more messed up it becomes--particularly if there was nothing wrong with it in the first place. We would start a magazine based on this notion, called Stock Rod, which featured nothing but factory-built cars in its pages. Tech stories would feature fancy aftermarket aluminum cylinder heads being replaced with cast-iron heads, electronic fuel-injection systems removed in favor of carburetors, disc brakes taken off in favor of drums. This way, you know everything is going to work the way it's supposed to work, with no finessing or fiddling about involved. Trust me, it's a lot funnier when you're under deadline pressure and the stuff you've just installed isn't working as it should be. The notion of such a magazine is fruitless, of course, but the basic if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it principles behind it make plenty of sense in the real world.

Now, owner Ed Walsh of Sun Valley, California, is a longtime Mopar guy; he bought this former one-owner 1969 Dodge Polara coupe four years ago with the idea of making it a daily driver, and keeping his more powerful 1969 Coronet 500 with a 383-cu.in. big-block V-8 as his fun car. The C-body Polara, all-new in 1969 with its 122-inch wheelbase, 221-inch overall length, 4,300-pound curb weight and fuselage styling, wasn't the neck-snapper Ed was used to. It hadn't run in five years, and so needed the usual cooling system flush, new belts and new tires.

"But I couldn't pass this one up. A friend found it for sale for $2,500 in Sacramento; he didn't have the money so he told me about it, and I ended up getting it for $1,500, plus $200 for a tow home. If it was a four-door hardtop I would have passed...but if it was a four-door sedan I would have still bought it, since that's the body type the California Highway Patrol used."

It belonged to a career service man who served at the Sacramento Army Depot; the gate pass sticker still remains on the front bumper as a tribute. The Polara was purchased new at Swift Dodge in Sacramento; this is the dealer where all of the CHP Polaras were delivered. Of course, as any Mopar or police car fan will tell you, the 1969 440-powered Polara police car was widely regarded as the pinnacle of cop-car development, in terms of power and comfort, for a quarter-century. The C-body was completely restyled in 1969, and all models-Plymouth Fury and Dodge's Monaco and Polara-were given slick new fuselage styling, eliminating the upright formality of their predecessors and adding an element of menace and aggression to the proceedings--particularly in four-door form when painted black and white. Ed's 383-powered coupe shares family lineage with those legendary sedans, with the added bonus of not having been beaten to death by years of high-speed pursuits.

Once Ed got it home and running, polished the oxidized paint and saw the care that went into this garage-kept Polara, he changed his mind. "It was too nice and original, and the summers here are pretty harsh; the original paint, interior and vinyl top would have been cooked in a couple of years!" He continues to baby it as the original owner did: "The only time it sits in the sun is at car shows."

But then the notion to make it better kicked in. There are two important things to note about Ed's Polara. First, it came stock with a two-barrel carburetor, and second, it had factory power drum brakes. This is significant because, although these components worked fine as they were, Ed started altering the factory's delicate balance. He installed a four-barrel carb and power front disc brakes, respectively. Each swap has been done a thousand times before. Better performance is the aim, and usually it's easily accomplished. It's not tough.

Yet, in both cases, the results were not what had been hoped for.

We'll start with the brakes, because this was actually a safety issue for Ed. "Leaving a Mopar show in Las Vegas last year, I had a panic stop while traveling at 75 mph on I-15. The first time, I slowed down, but shortly after I had to hit the brakes again, and there was nothing. Around town the drum brakes weren't bad, but at highway speeds, you can hit the brakes once or twice and it'll slow you down, but after that they fade. I don't even know why they had drums in those cars. Maybe the traffic just wasn't as bad back then."

The good news was that the disc-brake conversion option he chose was one that was available from the factory. All components--spindles, rotors, calipers and power booster--were taken from a 1970 New Yorker; the same components were available on Polara and Monaco from 1969 to 1972 and so bolted right into place. Even so, the result was decidedly mixed, in Ed's view. "The power assist isn't as easy or as strong as I'd like it to be after the booster was rebuilt--it feels like it splits the difference between manual and power. My Coronet has power brakes--you just touch the pedal and boom! You're stopped. This one will stop, but I'm not happy with the pedal effort. They will lock up, though!" Ed's resolution is to install another C-body brake booster and hope that it works as it's supposed to. A move back to the power drums his Polara came with is not in the cards.

And now we come to the four-barrel carburetor swap, a touch of vanity explained away by the notion that the original two-barrel carb needed a rebuild. "I had a four-barrel setup lying around--the carburetor was already bolted onto the intake and everything--so I swapped intakes. It's so easy on a big-block Chrysler." The result? Not so good, actually. "The carb is a 625cfm Carter #9636, and it's jetted wrong--way too lean. With a more aggressive Magnum camshaft and dual exhaust it would work better, but as it sits now, it's no better than the two-barrel carb I took off. It's not so fast either way, and the four-barrel doesn't work any better than the two-barrel, so I may as well just put it all back stock."

We don't mean to cast aspersions on Ed's mechanical abilities. Quite the opposite, in fact: His desire to take the basic package that Dodge built and make it more, within factory parameters, is admirable. But some cars simply resist being fiddled with; they get comfortable in their skin after three and a half decades, and sometimes they just don't want to be messed with.

The result? We took a spin in Ed's Polara to get a sense of it for ourselves. Slam the door shut and take stock. The seat cushion goes limp at the first sign of a bottom pressing against it, and the armrest on the door is a touch loose, but your visibility all around is fine. The C-pillar seems a little wide from outside the car, but the interior is so cavernous and the pillars are far enough back that the blind spots are minimized greatly. The clock still works, and although the speedometer is clearly visible, it seems kind of high up on the dash.

Turn the key, which is on the dash to the left of the steering wheel, and you're at the ready. The idle sounds unassuming, but you can feel enough lope in the cam that it transmits vibrations through the flaccid seat cushion. Foot on the brake, drop the column shifter down into D, and you're off.

The 383-cu.in. V-8 offers smooth acceleration and plenty of torque, although not the four-barrel-type torque we might have expected. The pairing of a 4,300-pound curb weight and two people in the cabin conspired to blunt all-out acceleration, but Ed claims the two-barrel setup actually offered better torque, and chafes at the notion that he went through the trouble and expense of doing something to his car that made it run worse than when it came from the factory. Shifts from the TorqueFlite transmission are imperceptible.

There's plenty of lean and plow through tighter corners, but the tall radial tires offer more-than-acceptable traction in the turns and an adequate ride. In truth, bumps in the road are more audible than felt, though they are detectable. While cornering, you need to bolster your torso from sliding across the seat; while the power steering is quick enough, even a little sudden on initial turn-in, the traditional feel-free Mopar power steering comes into play here. The brakes, such a bone of contention for Ed, seemed perfectly acceptable to us--but then, we don't have a perfectly operating power-disc-brake Mopar in our driveway to compare it to.

His experiences upgrading the carburetor and brakes aside, Ed highly recommends a full-size late 1960s Dodge or Plymouth for anyone interested in the prospect: "They're still affordable, and clean examples are pretty easy to find. I also checked on N.O.S. parts availability, such as trim, emblems, hubcaps, sheetmetal, etc., and while parts weren't cheap, they were available."

So two mechanical changes, both of which didn't perform so well. From a preservationist point of view, the "if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it" policy really does make sense.

This article originally appeared in the August, 2005 issue of Hemmings Classic Car.
The above story is just one man's experience. If the disc brake conversion is done properly with the correct conversion component's the difference is night and day. Maybe the power assist is not always the same but who likes the power drum brake set up that sometimes with a touch practically throws you into the windshield. Safety first. No one wants to loose there precious C Body hitting someone at highway speeds because the brakes faded or did not stop the car in time.

My green '68 Sport Fury 383-2V with a conversion to a 4V, dual exhaust and electronic ignition runs the quarter mile in the high 15 second range with an open 3.23 rear. With power drum brakes I have 2 put both feet on the brake pedal and press hard to get the car to slow down enough to take the very last turn off the track @ 90 MPH.

My yellow '68 Sport Fury with a stroked 520" 440 with a 3.73 sure-grip rear runs through the quarter mile in the mid to high 13 second range at just under 100 MPH. With the original style Scarebird disc brake conversion using '73 C Body rotors, calipers, master cylinder and brake distribution block stops just fine with one foot on the pedal and I can take the second to last turn off the track with no problem.

I know which car I am more comfortable with in a panic stop situation and my green '68 will get the same brake conversion one of these days when I get the time.

The 2 BBL carb on a 383-2V has larger jets than the primaries on most 4 BBL carbs so yes, in part throttle conditions the 383-4V engine will feel less responsive and less "torquey" but putting your foot to the floor, the 4 BBL carb is a hands down winner and with the smaller primary jets in the carb you will get better gas mileage if you keep your foot out of the secondaries.

In '68 and most years, the 383-2V used the same cam as the 350 HP 440 and all the 383's and 440's used the same heads. IHMO, a 383-2V is a great running and driving engine and if you are happy with this set up, why change but adding the correct sized and jetted 4 BBL carb, dual exhaust and electronic ignition with a proper tune make the car a better all around driver with better performance and better MPG in my personal experience. How do I know this? I just sold my '68 VIP 4-door to another forum member last year after owning it for a long time and it was a 383-2V car. Again, just my opinions as I think the Polara owner in the article did not think everything through and may have made some mistakes. Swapping to a Magnum or some other more aggressive cam ALWAYS takes away some low end torque unless you get a specific cam that is designed to boost low end torque.
I knew the engine bay didn't look right just couldn't place it
He put the small disc on with a caliper that IMO is suited better for a 5-800# less mid size car. This is why the 73 setup is in demand.
I also agree that booster is probably wrong and which master did he use.
"But some cars simply resist being fiddled with; they get comfortable in their skin after three and a half decades, and sometimes they just don't want to be messed with."

:wtf: Please, somebody let the author know it's a machine... :BangHead:
He should of consulted with The Old Men With Hats here on FCBO before proceeding.....
Ed claims the two-barrel setup actually offered better torque

A rare but correct observation. The 383 2bbl will lug up a hill way better than the 4bbl version, better intake velocity. There's a reason they never used a 4bbl intake on 383's in trucks, they don't need it and it's actually a hindrance.
Are you saying the discs on a New Yorker are too small?
'73 has one piece rotors that are better suited to absorbing the heat generated.
I also think the '73 calipers have a larger piston, but I'm not 100% sure on that. As I mentioned there is a reason the 73 setup is desirable. 74 up cars had great brakes, same as trucks and vans of that era.
My 70 Challenger has 10 inch disc up front, they are too small IMO.
The 11.75 rotors I stole from a Cordoba that I put on my 68 Charger are much better.
Braking systems have been improving on cars since the beginning of the car. Yes there are better braking systems available.
The 73 spindles were desired for a long time because the 69-72 rotors were HTF and $150-200 each, the 73 shares rotors with Dodge trucks thru the late 70s and they were about $50 each.
That has changed in the last few years, though, as 69-72 rotors are now cost-competitive enough that 73 spindles aren't the hot ticket they once were.
Both rotors are 11.75" dia x 1.25" thick (but with different bearings/seal), while the mid-late-70s B-body is 11.75" dia, but only 1" thick (and also uses different bearings/seal).

Caliper is same from 69-73, and piston is 2.75". Piston does get larger in 74 (3.1"?), but that's a floating caliper (69-73 is a sliding) and will not interchange.

As for 73 being 1-piece rotors and absorb heat better -
I don't know how much difference that makes, but regardless, the 69-72 rotors from the parts store have been unicast for many years now.