1985 Dodge Diplomat Police Package: Plain White Wrapper

This car is the one that says ‘police car’ to me more than any other. Growing up in the 1980s, the Rock Island Police Department drove black and white Diplomats. And when Officer Friendly visited our school when I was in first or second grade, he was driving one of these.

1978 Diplomat

1978 Diplomat

The Dodge Diplomat initially appeared as a corporate cousin to the new, Seville-sized and very Seville-like 1977 Chrysler LeBaron. The car itself was essentially a 1976-80 Dodge Aspen/Plymouth Volaré with fresh sheetmetal, plusher interiors, and more upscale aspirations.

1981 Diplomat

1981 Diplomat wagon and coupe

Designated M-body from the Aspen/Volaré’s F-body, it was initially available in coupe, sedan and wagon vesions. But as the ’80s dawned, the newly-minted K-car took precedence as the volume model, and the Diplomat became sedan-only, all the better to take advantage of its popularity as a taxi cab and police car. 1981 was the last year for the coupe and station wagon.

1985 Diplomat

For most of the ’80s, the Diplomat, along with its near identical sibling, the Plymouth Gran Fury and cross-town rivals, the Chevrolet Impala and Ford LTD/LTD Crown Victoria, ruled police fleets.

1985 Diplomat

From ’82 to the final year these were available, 1989, these were essentially the same. ’89s, however, were one of the first Chrysler Corporation models to gain a driver’s side air bag. The equally long in the tooth Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon got them, too! Civilian versions were always available, right to the end, but not commonly seen.

1986 Chrysler Fifth Avenue

The M-body Chrysler Fifth Avenue, with its huge padded formal top, wire wheel covers, and Corinthian leather (or button-tufted velour!), was the retail darling.

1987 Diplomat

In 1984, however, a more upscale Diplomat (even the uplevel Diplomat Salon well nigh screamed ‘police car’, despite whitewalls, full wheel covers and vinyl roof) was introduced, the Diplomat SE.

1987 Diplomat

Utilizing the Chrysler Fifth Avenue’s ‘upside down’ headlamp doors and parking lamps, the Diplomat SE had a much plusher interior as well. Though it never really outshined the Broughamtastic Fifth Avenue sales-wise, it was a nice upgrade from the non-fleet version.

1987 Diplomat

In fact, only the SE was shown in dealer brochures from 1985-89. Though the Salon was still available, it didn’t merit photographs in the brochure anymore, though it did get a single, small photo in the ’84 brochure.

1985 Diplomat

Our featured car today is a remarkably clean and tidy 1985 Dippy, with the police package. Per the ad: “This vehicle has an original 28,500 miles. (May go up slightly ) ( Never used in police service ) Power windows, locks, rear defrost, coldest a/c I have ever felt and still charged with r 12 as far as I can tell.” While the car certainly looks good, I’m automatically wondering about the mileage, as these still had a 5-digit odometer.

I’ve seen so many sale ads on old cars, and they almost always say things like “55K original miles!” But of course, unless the car has a six-digit odometer, once said old car hits 100,000 miles, it will reset back to all zeroes. Doesn’t mean it’s true in this case, but without a full service history, who knows? It certainly looks to be in excellent condition. I thought it odd that a police Dippy would have power windows, but a friend of mine told me it was actually pretty common back then.

1985 Diplomat

I always liked the looks of these. While they weren’t truly full-sized like the Ford and Chevy police packages, it was still a nice package, and certainly popular. The RIPD used them right up until late 1990, when they were replaced with the redesigned 1991 Chevrolet Caprice. The big Chevy dealer in Milan, Bob Erickson, had all the decommissioned black and white Diplomats for sale on their lot shortly afterward, and I remember seeing them every once in a while in traffic. The last time I saw one of those ex-RIPD Diplomats was probably around 1995-97.

1985 Diplomat

Anyway, it’s currently on Atlanta craigslist, and also on the electronic bay. Now, true factory police Diplomats and Gran Furys don’t exactly grow on trees in The Year Of Our Lord 2019, but 15K seems high to me. But it’s still a real time capsule and a cool ’80s vintage Mopar! Thanks to Jason Augustyniak for alerting me to this machine!

19 Replies to “1985 Dodge Diplomat Police Package: Plain White Wrapper”

  1. Nick D

    Damn that is a nice car. My best friend’s dad was a deputy sheriff and had one of these when I was in middle school. He took us out once to do doughnuts in a snowy parking lot in a fully marked cruiser (before the age of cell phone cameras) – it was awesome. Also had the red and blue filters for the brights when the wig-wags were running.

    I’d love to get a not-so-nice Diplomat and drop in a fuel injected 360 with a manual.

    Reply
  2. John C.

    It seems it is a common pastime of a smallest domestic to take a shot at an anti fashion, sensible, long life car. The fleets clearly loved these. I think a little bit of investment in fuel injection, overdrive automatic, and retaining a /six might have tripled sales. Much better with a six as a taxi and attracted more of the conservative retail buyer of the 80s, who liked the more sensible size and was queasy about the durability and complexity of the front drives, but was put off by the lousy mileage and lean burn manners of the 318. With so many CAFE friendly k cars, Chrysler could make as many of these as they wanted.

    Even has it is, it was nice. Bidding out the production to Kenosha also lead to the Jeep purchase from Renault. A nice reward for Chrysler for not just dirtying themselves by sending production of it to Mexico.

    Reply
    • George Denzinger

      Chrysler already had a well deserved reputation for long-lived anti-fashion cars, i.e., the Dart and Valiant. If you remember in the early 80’s there was a movement of sorts to go back to simpler times and things. One of the style icons of this movement was the A body Darts and Valiants, a kind of yuppie hair shirt to prove how economical they were. What this mostly ended up doing was driving the prices of A bodies higher than most of us imagined, at least for a while. Then, the yuppies all moved to buying Honda Accords anyway, like they wanted to in the first place…

      I’d agree that the M-body could have run longer with significant updates to the running gear, although I’d have to wonder how well a car designed in the mid-70’s would hold up to more modern safety standards. IIRC, fitting the the L and M bodies with airbags were something of a feat; subsequent changes to the codes would only make it worse. Whether we like it or not, CAFE and the market has forced the automakers to move on from these types of cars. Our loss.

      I guess the best you can do these days is to get into a LX body. It’s about as close as you will get to one of these M-bodies.

      Reply
      • John C.

        Not sure about hippies with new Valiants. I do know that my parents had a string of them a Canadian 62, we lived in Canada till 1970, and her and his 71s. My father was scolded for bringing home a fancy pants Scamp with carpets and arm rests and those blinkers at the fender corners. They were no hippies, referred to them as bearded wonders. They continued with a string of Ks in the 80s including a fancy pants Dodge 400 but I remember them being very nervous about the switch to front drive. By then they were older and the cars were not piling on the mileage at the same rate so we never got to see how they held up at high mileage.

        Reply
  3. Dirty Dingus McGee

    The police package 360 engine, E58, makes a great start for a built engine. Came with forged crank and rods. It was quite easy to build a 400-450 hp engine for about $2500. These days finding a core engine is pretty hard, as most all are now a Toyota or a dishwasher.

    Reply
    • Carmine

      Though these didn’t have 360’s, the best they had was a 4bbl 318.

      The bigger R-body police cruisers were the last ones with the 360.

      Reply
      • Dirty Dingus McGee

        Yep, I forgot that 84 was the last year of the E58 package in the Diplomat/Gran Fury police cars.

        Reply
        • Carmine

          I’ve never seen an 80’s Plodge Diplofury with a 360……didn’t even know they offered such a thing…..

          Reply
  4. -Nate

    Nice little properly sized cars these were .

    L.A.P.D. used them as Metro (non Patrol) cars so the entire fleet was in color .

    They had mini catalytic converters mounted directly to the exhaust manifold’s outlets, this meant _everything_ under the hood cooked in Police / Taxi service, I remember the plastic air cleaners so badly warped you could see the filter inside it and that’s where the lean burn control unit was so lots of those died a heat soaked death .

    -Nate

    Reply
  5. Tomko

    In 1987 I was in the market for my first new car. I shopped Crown Victoria, Caprice and Diplomat – all in police spec.

    I really liked the trimmer dimensions of the Chryco – and I thought that it’s red-tinged navy blue was the best colour – but I ended up ordering a 1988 Caprice 9C1 that I drove for more than a decade before selling it to one of my employees.

    Fun fact: the M Body police units were also available as Plymouth Caravelle north of 49. With a lovely cursive emblem reminiscent of the Cadillac script.

    Reply
    • Tyson Cragg

      Many of the Caravelle versions of these cars in Ontario Provincial Police livery decorated the driveway of my childhood home. This is a great find. Thanks for posting.

      Reply
  6. Compaq Deskpro

    I know it drives dreadfully, might be the last car other than a pickup with leaf springs, but I really really want one of these. I have never seen one of these on the road, but I have seen New Yorkers on several occasions.

    Reply
  7. sgeffe

    Since these came out in ‘77, the Mopar folks used some of the lessons learned in the failings of the F-body launch, i.e., lined fenders to prevent rust, etc.?

    I wonder what would have happened if ChryCo had simply dropped the Aspen/Volaré, and had done strippo versions of these to fill the gap, e.g., a Valliant/Dart redo, with styling tweaks to the front and back, and maybe with lesser interior fittings? (Coupe versions of those could have been a fastback-ish formal riff on the landau-roofed LeBarons and Diplomats (think ‘85 GM B-body coupe) to evoke the appearance of the Dart/Valiant two-door sedans, and the Volaré coupe styling for the sportier models.)

    Reply
  8. CJinSD

    I loved these police cars, primarily because I could outrun them with whatever comically slow car I was driving as a teenage hellion. The early Volare Pursuit 360s were fast cars that could easily be made very fast, but the 318 Diplomats and Gran Furies were barely able to run down a Rabbit in a straight line, and the police were hopeless in the curves. Loaded down with police equipment and hefty officers, these cars didn’t have a chance. The law commanded no respect when they rolled in M-bodies, at least not in the corrupt little dump of a town where I attended high school.

    Reply
    • Carmine

      I recall from a road test that these were the slowest police cars, clocking in a 109 mph top speed, the boxy Crown Vic and Caprice did a little better with a 114 and 117mph top end respectively, this was around 1988 when the Mopar police cars were almost gone. Back then if you really wanted a police car that could push past 120, you needed a Mustang.

      By the early 90’s things changed significantly in just a short time, the first “shamu” Caprice 9C1’s could reach 130 without before the LT1 was added. The LT1 Caprices could crack 140, now you had a full size cruiser that could reach Mustang pursuit car speeds.

      Reply
    • Carmine

      I recall from a road test that these were the slowest police cars, clocking in a 109 mph top speed, the boxy Crown Vic and Caprice did a little better with a 114 and 117mph top end respectively, this was around 1988 when the Mopar police cars were almost gone. Back then if you really wanted a police car that could push past 120, you needed a Mustang.

      By the early 90’s things changed significantly in just a short time, the first “shamu” Caprice 9C1’s could reach 130 without before the LT1 was added. The LT1 Caprices could crack 140, now you had a full size cruiser that could reach Mustang pursuit car speeds.

      Reply
      • CJinSD

        If these hit 109 mph, it was before being fitted with a light bar, a radar unit, a spot light, a 275 lb deputy, a gun chest, and a radio that could heat a small house. Considering how great LA engines were at certain stages in their development, it was a sad time to be a Mopar fan. That’s before you even think about the front suspensions.

        Reply
        • John C.

          CJ interactions with The Man might have involved urban area PDs, notably NYC that bought their Dippys with /6s for better economy in bumper to bumper traffic.

          If only for those racist buy American mores hadn’t existed, the boys in blue could have had the high speed capabilities of non turbo Volvo 240s like a few liberal enclaves bought. What a terrifying sight in the ghettos of Aspen, CO they must have been.

          Reply

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