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HomeCar CultureJay Leno drives a Dodge Polara, one of the earliest muscle cars

Jay Leno drives a Dodge Polara, one of the earliest muscle cars

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The latest episode of “Jay Leno’s Garage” features what could be called a proto-muscle car. It’s a 1964 Dodge Polara with a massive V-8 under the hood.

The muscle car era is generally considered to have started in 1964 with the Pontiac GTO. But some cars fitting that template appeared before the GTO or, in this case, at virtually the same time.

While most Polaras left the factory with unremarkable powertrains, this one has the 426-cubic-inch Street Wedge engine. While it has the same displacement as the legendary 426 Hemi, the Street Wedge is a different engine without hemispherical combustion chambers. This car has a 4-speed manual transmission, with a Hurst shifter and floor-mounted tachometer.

Jay Leno drives a Dodge Polara, one of the earliest muscle cars
1964 Dodge Polara on Jay Leno’s Garage

Debuting in 413-cubic-inch form, Chrysler installed the Wedge engine in Dodge (and Plymouth) road cars to meet homologation requirements for NASCAR and drag racing. That made this engine the direct predecessor to the 426 Hemi, which debuted in racing form in 1964 and made it into road cars shortly after.

So why isn’t the Polara as well remembered as the GTO? It’s partly because the Polara was a larger, less youth-oriented car than the GTO. With its plain steel wheels, the Polara was also more of a sleeper than the GTO, which also meant it didn’t get as much attention back in the day.

This car remains mostly stock, but with modern hardware like an MSD ignition system, Optima battery, and Wilwood disc brakes. It’s also got exhaust cutouts, so you’ll definitely want to check out the full video to hear that exhaust note.

This article was originally published by Motor Authority, an editorial partner of ClassicCars.com.

Visit past stories from Jay Leno’s Garage on ClassicCars.com.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Great car and I also loved this year. Did not ever found one that wasn’t in poor shape. I have a 69 coronet r/t 440 all stock

  2. Mark Regis This car would kill a gto not saying. The Gto is junk I had one but I have a 70 roadrunner and wouldn’t trade it for any

  3. Looks like the same car that one of the Pomona Swap Meet guys owned years ago. I bought a Checker Station Wagon from that guy long time ago. The Dodge was in his garage a few miles from the Fairplex.

  4. I remember the Dodge Polara, 1964 model. My neighbor had one down the block. I was 9 at that time I would always go to his house and watch him work on the car. btw is the trunk lock circle key hole does not look like it belongs. is that a piece of plastic that looks like wood? Love your show Jay I own a 1956 Thunderbird Sage Green only a few with that color were produced. It’s a show car has won several awards including the Geneva Concours d’ Elegance in Geneva Illinois. Keep up showing those great cars from the 50’s 60’s and 70’s. Steve Stevens

  5. Fantastic presentation of a very fast but somewhat ugly duckling. Your attention to detail to make it a realistic driver is great. Going fast in a straight line was always the objective, gas stations who cars at 20 cents a gallon. Love these clips, keep em coming.

  6. I wish you magazine guys would stop calling every high performance vehicle from the 1960’s, a muscle car. The 1964 Dodge was a full size car and the so called muscle cars were the compacts that were stuffed with the big engines. By the 1970’s, the compacts had gotten bigger, and the sub- compacts came into the limelight, but almost none of them were “muscle cars”. The 1964 GTO, 442, and Ford Fairlanes were the first actual muscle cars. Ford and Dodge and Chevy were all drag racing high performance full size cars in 1959 and even earlier in some makes, like the 57 fuelie Bonnevilles, the supercharged T-birds, and Studebakers. Please stop with the confusing facts.

  7. Love the car and your show. Have to say ,you are my favorite car guy.
    If I remember right my 69 New Yorker had those same side marker lights.
    I think that I would trade my 70 GTO for your Dodge in a heartbeat.
    I would say keep up the good work but it’s not work if you are having a good time

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