by David Zatz • see the 2013 Dodge Dart • 1960-62 • 1963-66
In the 1960s, Chrysler Corporation had Plymouth at the entry level, with Dodge more upscale, and Chrysler and Imperial at the top. The 1967 to 1981 Dodge Dart should never have seen the light of day, but it did, and it sold well.
The 1963-66 Dodge Darts had barely enough room under the hood for a 273 V8; the 1967 Darts were wider and larger, with “big car” styling and enough room for a fire-breathing 340. They lost a certain nimble, tight feel; they gained power, and lots of it, for those few who ordered the 340. Essentially a Plymouth Valiant with, until 1974, a longer wheelbase, the 1963-onwards Darts were out of character for Dodge, but they turned out to be just what was needed when the 1973 fuel crisis hit.
The new bodies of 1967 carried the Dodge Dart to its end. The main point of the redesign was to handle bigger V8s, and to adopt a more conventional look. The 1967 V8 was a carryover from 1966 — the 273 (the 318 and 340 were still in the future). Trim lines were the 170, 270, and GT, and the middle line was the most popular; only about 19,000 GTs were made, roughly half of which were V8s. The company sold nearly 113,000 Darts in 1966, close to Valiant sales, despite a higher price. It was, in essence, cashing in on Dodge’s premium aura — an aura that, thanks largely to the Dart, would not last.
The 1968s moved Dart and Valiant styling closer; the front and rear clips remained unique. Hurst installed a 426 Hemi into some 1968 Dodge Darts, using parts supplied by Dodge; “Mr. Norm” started rebuilding existing 1968 Darts to make Hemi-powered 1968 Darts in 2007.
The upscale Swinger launched in 1969 as the cheapest two-door Dart (replacing the two-door sedan of 1968), and was sold by Plymouth in two-door form as the Scamp.
The hot Dart was the Swinger 340, named after its 340 cubic inch V8, which turned the Swinger into formidable muscle machine. Buyers wanting a two-door Dart hardtop could also get a Custom, GT, and GTS — but, once 1970 rolled around, the only options were Swinger and Custom. The slow-selling GT and GTS did not return
All other Chrysler cars were seemingly drowned out by the success of the 1970 Plymouth Duster — a Valiant, restyled from the front doors back, which restored Plymouth’s flagging sales with a vengeance. Dodge demanded, and got, their own version — the 1971 Dodge Demon. The Demon 340 replaced the Swinger 340; the Custom hardtop became the Swinger, and the old Swinger became the Swinger Special. None were anywhere near as successful as the Duster; nor was the Scamp, a Plymouth clone of the Swinger. Canadians got a Scamp Special in 1971; Americans had to wait until 1976.
Road Test magazine tested the 340 Demon in April 1971, getting 0 to 60 in just 7.8 seconds (using an automatic and bias-ply tires), running through the quarter mile in 14.6 seconds at 96 mph, with a top speed of 127 mpg. Gas mileage was at 14 city, 17 highway, close to the standard 318 V8. Cornering, finish, luggage, performance, steering were rated excellent; details, instruments, quietness, ride, visibility, overall were rated very good. The
base price was $3400 including tach, stereo cassette, and automatic.
The 1972 Dodge Dart brought new interior and seating options, as well as a more vandal-resistant, FM-ready antenna, new sidelights, brighter backup lights, an improved shift linkage, and a bucket seat-back release. An FM radio became optional, along with an inside hood release; and the grille was updated. The alternator was upgraded, transmissions made quieter and smoother, electronic ignition added to the 340, and hardened valve seats installed on the slant sixes. (See the 1972 Dart, Demon, and Swinger page at valiant.org).
For 1973, the Dart had a 111 inch wheelbase and torsion-bar suspension (Dart Sport was 108 inches), along with a standard electronic ignition and an optional sliding metal sunroof on two-door cars. The Demon’s name was dropped, reportedly due to objections from religious zealots; instead buyers could get a Dart 340 Sport, with 240 net horsepower. The Dart Sport had an optional space-maker package, with both front and rear seats folding (except the driver’s seat). An electric heated defroster was available for the rear window.
Even with the 340 leading the way in status (though not in sales), the 198 slant six was still available (except in California), along with the 225 slant six; the 318 was optional.
The Dart’s standard equipment included a vinyl front seat (the Sport, Swinger Special, and Dart Custom all got cloth and vinyl), two-speed wipers, front armrests, deep pile carpet (except Dart and Swinger Special), dual horns on Custom and Swinger, and a heater/defroster. The base transmission was a three-speed manual, with an optional three-speed Torqueflite; the Dart 340 Sport could also have a four speed manual.
In 1974, the Valiant was finally put onto the somewhat longer Dart wheelbase; Plymouth sales shot up, and Dart sales fell, to the point where Valiant sales were nearly double those of the Dart. Both cars also gained a three-speed vent fan.
1975 Darts were on their way out, but Dodge still made numerous changes, switching to an economy rear axle for 318 models, increasing the heat/defrost system capacity by 14%, adding a resonator to 318s and slant sixes with the sound insulation package, making two-speed electric wipers standard (three speeds on SE), adding optional cruise control, speeding engine warmup with a heat valve in the exhaust manifold, and using a new molded dash liner to cut noise. (For much more, see valiant.org’s 1975 Dodge Dart and Swinger page).
For 1976, the only visible change was a switch from clear front parking light lenses with amber bulbs, to amber lenses with clear bulbs. But by then, customers were switching to the new generation compact car, the Plymouth Volare and Dodge Aspen. Customers buying the new car would regret it — while those who stuck with the trustworthy Dart could gloat.
The Dodge Dart continued after 1976, in different forms; in Brazil, the Dart continued until 1981 with few differences, keeping the 1974-76 body style (see the last A-body Dart ever made, a Brazilian model.)
In Mexico, the Dodge Diplomat was sold as a Dart starting in 1980; it had both two and four door versions, with six and eight cylinders, using the Aspen front clip on the Diplomat body.
The Super Six was popular, with a three-on-the-tree manual shifter and no power accessories. The Dart name continued through 1989, when the “E body Dart” (E body with 1987 LeBaron front clip) was dropped. The 1981 and 1982 Volare were exactly the same car as the 1980 Dart, except that they used a 1980 Volare (not Aspen) front clip.
Thanks to Bill Watson for his corrections.
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