by David Belau • see the 2013 Dodge Dart • 1960-62 • 1967-83
The 1963-1966 Dodge Darts have unique looks and are often overlooked for restoration. Most of the attention the Darts received was during the muscle car era, 1967-69. But these early models shouldn’t be ignored. They’re more regal and sophisticated when compared to the brash muscle years. Since these early Darts share underpinnings with the later cars, chassis parts are plentiful. When compared to other compacts of the era, they offer a high level of class (especially the GT models). Their size makes them fun to drive and also delivers surprising fuel economy. With minor upgrades, they can handle just as well as a new car. They remain an affordable choice for restoration when looking at 1960s Mopars.
This guide will give some general information, highlight the differences between the years, options/special editions and things to look for when purchasing a car for restoration. Plymouth Valiants of the same years are similar, but have some differences. They rode on a shorter wheelbase, and had unique sheet metal and trim.
Dodge made five different body styles: A four-door sedan, two-door sedan (post), two-door hard top (no post), convertible and a station wagon. There were also three different trim levels available, the base level 170, 270 and high end GT. The GT was only available on the two-door hardtop and the convertible.
Convertible and station wagons present a problem in regard to restoration. There were less made, which makes their unique trim and glass hard to find and usually expensive. Station wagon taillights are unique unto themselves.
Common rust areas for these cars are the rear quarter panels, underneath the vinyl top, floorboards and the front fender just behind the wheel. At the date of this writing, there are reproduction rear quarters being manufactured. There isn’t any other sheet metal available.
The exterior trim on these cars is extensive when compared to the Mopars from the later ’60s. These pieces can be hard to find and expensive, so it makes sense to find a car that still has most of its trim.
Each year and each trim level had unique exterior trim pieces. The trim can be made of stainless steel, anodized aluminum or chromed “pot metal.” Chromed “pot metal” pieces tend to corrode, leaving pits. These pieces can be re-chromed, but this can cost a lot of money depending on how bad the corrosion is. It is best to find pieces that are not corroded.
Stainless steel trim is usually in decent shape, only requiring cleaning and straightening. The aluminum trim has a coating of anodizing that is usually faded. To polish these pieces, the anodize needs to come off. After polishing, the aluminum needs to be protected from corrosion either by re-anodizing, clear coating or waxing. To complicate matters, the aluminum trim is usually on the car in a place where it is easily damaged, i.e.: the front of the car. These pieces are usually the hardest to find and most expensive.
The interiors typically changed every year. The good news is that most all of the soft goods are available in the aftermarket. Carpet, headliner, rear package tray, seat vinyl are readily available. Some door panels are reproduced but can be expensive. Padded dashes were the same 1963-64 then switched to a flatter version in 1965-66. Gauges changed from year to year.
The GT models featured front bucket seats, while everything else was a bench or a folding bench seat. Rear seat frames will swap from year to year, but convertibles have a skinnier rear seat than standard Darts. Window cranks and door levers were the same for all years. Arm rests are the same, except for 1963 models. Be sure to measure arm rests before purchasing; the author has seen three different armrests that looked similar but were slightly different. Most of the weatherstripping is also available.
All Darts of this vintage have an odd wheel lug pattern. The pattern is a 5 x 4.00”. There are still aftermarket wheels made, but the selection is sparse. This can easily be remedied by swapping to the later model disc brakes with a bolt pattern of 5 x 4.50”.
The 1963 Dart is an oddball in this generation. It was only available with the 170 and 225 slant sixes. The 7.25 rear end was the lone axle choice. Transmissions were the A-904 Torqueflight and a three-speed manual. The 904 was shifted via push buttons on the dash, the transmission used cables to select the gear. The driveline used a ball and trunion in the front joint which can be hard to get rebuilt. This didn’t change until the ’66 model.
It has a one year only firewall that will not easily accept a V8. The rear window is also a one year only piece with a lock-strip style gasket. The stainless steel trim that goes around the rear window and down the top of the rear quarters is also a one year only piece.
The top of the line car in this line was the Dodge Dart GT, which was essentially the same as the lower models but with a padded instrument panel, wheel covers, and bucket seats. The bottom of the line was the Dart 170; the Dart 270 added carpeting and better trim. Dodge made 51,300 1963 Dart 170s, 55,300 Dart 270s, and 34,300 Dart GTs.
The 1964 Dart looked similar to the 1963, with the most obvious change being the convex grille. This year was the 50th anniversary for Dodge and all models were marked as such. The 1964 was blessed with the new 273 V8, which also included a new firewall to clear the engine. The slant sixes continued unchanged. The 7.25 continued as the only rear end choice. The three speed manual and push button torqueflight were joined by a new four-speed manual transmission called the A-833. It was shifted via a chrome Hurst shifter.
The rear window changed to a larger unit that used a gasket without a locking strip. This window plus the stainless steel trim around it continued until ’66.
The ’65 model was given a minor facelift with a new front clip and oval taillights. The author finds this year as the most cosmetically attractive. This year also brought about more interesting mechanical options. A hotter 273 4bbl was added to the list of engines. Transmissions remained unchanged, but the automatics were now shifted with a lever, either on the column or the floor. Cables still operated the transmissions, however. The stronger 8.75 rear end was now optional, along with four-piston front disc brakes.
There was also a couple special editions available. The Dart Charger is a very rare edition that combined the 273 4bbl, heavy duty suspension, mag wheels, special badges and a special soft yellow color exterior. There was also a cheaper version that did not include the badges. Since it is hard to identify which cars came originally with the 273 4bbl from the VIN number, look at the rear valance. There is a small rectangular cutout (about 6.00” X 0.75”) on the driver’s side, just above where the resonator was mounted. Ordinary Darts did not have this cutout.
The ’66 model was given another new front clip, squared off to mimic the new Charger. Engine options remained unchanged except for a special 273 offered in the D/Dart, a special drag racing edition. Transmissions were mostly the same but with two important changes. The ball and trunion front joint was replaced with a more common U-joint and the 904 transmissions were now shifted with linkages instead of cables. Manual transmissions used an Inland shifter. The only change to the suspension was an optional, small front sway-bar.
The interior featured a new gauge cluster that was rectangular rather than circular. The GT models got new bucket seats, with a vinyl cover metal back, and a full length console.
The special drag racing D/Dart was classed in the D/Stock class at the time. It featured a 273 with a larger Holley carb, headers, hotter cam and a manual choke. It was only offered on two-door GT models. To identify if a 1966 Dart had either of the hot 273s, the VIN number can be decoded to show which engine came in the car.
An interesting side note is that a ’66 Dart sedan driven by Bob Tullius won the inaugural Trans Am race that year.
To conclude, the 1963-66 Darts are excellent choices for restoration. They are unique, affordable and great performers. The ’63 model is probably the hardest to restore because of the many one-year-only parts. The ’65 was arguably the best looking and had the most interesting options. The ’66 had a more common transmission and driveline, making it the cheapest to restore. Try to find a car that has all of its trim in good shape as these parts can be hard to find. Convertibles and station wagons are unique but can be expensive to find parts for. Happy hunting!
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