2013-2016 Dodge Dart vs 1974-1976 Dodge Dart

When the new Dodge Dart came out around four years ago, comparisons to the original were inevitable — but to which “original”? To the 1960 Dart, which was a midsize Plymouth with Dodge trim, or to the later compact Darts? The later Dart made sense, with its much greater sales and decade-plus run, but then — the first or second generation?

Dart and Valiant

While the first generation had a better ride and better handling, the second had bigger engines and more interior space — and, more important for comparisons, higher sales and a longer production run. It’s more likely to be the car people think of as a “true Dart.” What’s more, the size gap between the Plymouth Valiant (the basis for all compact Darts) ended in 1974, making it easy for us to compare our 1974 Valiant to the Dart. The 1974 Dodge-vs-Plymouth differences were cosmetic; and while a 360 V8 on the Dart two-door (and Valiant Duster), nearly all buyers picked the slant six. Forty years later, some people insist the old Dart was a muscle car; but precious few were made with the muscle engines (340 and 360, with a scattering of big-blocks), and nearly all were economy cars.

1973 dodge dart

And here’s my 1973 Dodge Dart just to show I have owned the Dodge version too.

Inside: controls and living experience

Let’s go inside. Now you can’t tell whether you’re in a Dart or a Valiant other than the steering wheel icon! (It’s a Valiant.) Note the easy automatic shifter — manuals were also shifted off the column. The sofa-seat is actually pretty good at holding you in position thanks to very loose, giving springs — unlike the taxi and police cars, which were so firm the driver could slide from side to side, and you really needed the seat belt to hold you in place. Not ideal for pursuits, you’d think. (They didn’t sell many Valiant or Dart police cars.)

valiant seats

There were numerous color choices; you could get black, of course, but you could also get blue, or red, or beige, etc. I must admit, my favorite option was the burgundy velour; I’ve seen Valiants with this fabric but only ever owned a Fury. The velour was long-lasting, though not as long-lasting as the fleet vinyl (the cheap seats above tended to split at the seams before long), and gripped you in the seat better, while giving the car a luxury feel. It ended up in the Valiant Signet when, after the fuel crisis, people wanted smaller cars that looked like their older, more “premium” cars inside.

dart interior

How about the new Dart? Damn, it’s dark in there. It’s darker than the photo indicates, because that black is real black. The styling of the new Dart actually seems a bit over the top now, comparing the two, with its bulges and curves everywhere. Rectangles were in, in 1974; not now. Today, though, you get cloth seats which are far better in hot and cold weather (trust me), bolsters, and real adjustments. You can move the bench seat in the old cars back and forth (it takes a good deal of effort or a cooperative passenger) — you can’t change the tilt. Of course, buckets were an option back then, though not a common one.

The new Darts have another big advantage: there’s no exposed wiring. They’re harder to work on, to a degree — that’s really a mix. The classic cars had a steel dashboard, so you had to go upside down with your head on the floor to work on it. The modern ones let you pull things out, but that isn’t necessarily easy, and it’s harder to get stuff back in especially without causing rattles.

valiant gauges

The Valiant/Dart dashboard was simple and clear, with a large 100 mph speedometer and clear temperature gauge, fuel gauge, and alternator (showing the state of battery charge/discharge, rathr than voltage). There were lights for brake loss, oil pressure, EGR valve servicing, and seat belts, and no tachometer unless you get the 360 V8. The headlight switch is cleverly not placed where your knees will hit it every time you get in or out of the car, but has no flash-to-pass feature; just as there’s no stalk for a quick wipe. If you got a high-end sport Dart, you got a dashboard which was far sportier.

Let’s look at the base New Dart’s display. The headlight and wiper controls are on stalks and the shifter is in the console, for both manual and automatic transmissions; all cars have a handbrake.

The new Dart has two types of gauges, the base model’s (shown here) and the optional one, which the same displays but without always seeing temperature, and with a virtual speedometer. The virtual speedometer has a seven-inch display which includes all the info you can get from the little one above, but no compass heading unless you get a nav system. It’s actually easier to read the cheaper display. It gives you transmission and oil temperature as well as coolant temperature, distance to empty, instant and average economy, even your tire pressure — you don’t get that in the classic Dart.

gauges

The 140 mph speedometer is just silly in this car and makes it harder to differentiate lower speeds, but it’s still okay — there’s enough distance. A tachometer is included — you had to really option up a classic Dart to get that.

At night, the classic Dart has numerous individual bulbs, a little tricky to replace, providing illumination; the new Dart is LED-blacklit and you probably never have to fix it. The new one has a clear instrumentation advantage though you lose the alternator gauge — on the other hand, with a powerful, modern alternator, at least twice the capacity and triple the endurance of one in the classic car, you don’t need an alternator gauge. I really do like the old gauge cluster, but the new one has much more information... and the odometer goes past 100,000 (the classic cars went from 99,999 miles back to 0 miles.)

classic dart dashboard

One area where the new Dart has an advantage is also interior related, and often forgotten — floor mats. The new car’s mats sit right where they are supposed to, because they’re held in place; the classic cars had loose, floppy floor mats that could move around. They were easier to remove for cleaning but could bunch up under the pedals, and weren’t good at holding snow and mud. Interior build quality is also better now, though both generations tend to get squeaks, rattles, and buzzes and time goes on; you can see, above, that the air conditioning vents were a late addition to the design, the brake pull is crooked, the glove compartment doesn’t quite fit, and there are wires hanging down from the gauge cluster. That’s how they were delivered! Sometimes you got non-matching right and left mirrors or trim.

Power locks and windows were unusual options in the 1970s Darts, but are standard on the 2013-16. Right-hand mirrors were optional and the old Darts had no electric mirror remote.

dart dashboard

The old Dart and Valiant had terrible aerodynamics, even though Chrysler Corporation knew the value of a slippery body and had been the first to use wind tunnels. The Duster and Demon had aerodynamically designed rear windows, but not the Dart or Valiant sedans. Either way, these were not quiet cars inside, and the glass is very thin and noise-conducting compared with modern auto glass. If buyers were amenable to 1970s noise levels, modern cars would be much lighter than they are (this is part of the Mazda3’s secret sauce).

Wind noise is incredibly high on classic Darts and Valiants; it’s minimal on new ones, which are far more aerodynamic and also have thick acoustic glass and much more sound insulation. The AM radio on the classics is a far cry from today’s fine stereos, which also play from personal devices — far nicer than hacking in a Walkman to yesteryear’s single speaker (or twin speakers, with one up front and one in the rear. Admittedly it was easy enough to run wires to both package-shelf positions and install an aftermarket stereo, once those became common and if you could wedge it properly into the available space, but you’d find it very hard to get the well tuned sound of a modern system). Oh, and while even FM was optional in the olden times, today the stereo, with auxiliary jack, is standard.

We won’t even get into water sealing and weatherproofing — except to say both have dramatically improved, and standard electric rear defrosters are very nice to have, along with side window de-foggers.

Size, shape, and capacity

1970s dart vs 2013 dart

The newer 2013-2016 Dodge Dart is 19 inches shorter in length (and 2.4 inches wider) than the 1974-76 cars, but it still has more front and rear legroom, thanks to modern packaging and smaller engines. Amusingly, though, what with all the safety gear, acoustic glass, big wheels, stereo speakers, and such, the new Dart is actually heavier than the old one! (By around 33 pounds, which is within the range of probably measurement differences.) If you opted for a V8 in the old days, it would add around 85 pounds — going for the 360 V8 meant moving to a two door and ending up with 3,415 lb.

2013 Dodge Dart  1975 Dodge Dart   
Base weight3,173 lb3,140 lb
Length183.9203.2
Legroom, front+rear77.573.4
Shoulder room, front58.256.3
Trunk volume13.116.6

You can see that the new Dart is in roughly the same size class as the original — larger inside, yes, smaller outside, yes, but nearly exactly the same weight, and both are clearly compacts by interior space, which is how the EPA classifies cars. Front headroom is about an inch higher in the new Dart.

The trunk volume deserves mention. Looking at the two Darts, one can see that the 16.6 cubic feet for the older car is quite probably optimistic and may well include the spare-tire well.

valiant trunk

dart trunk

The Duster and Demon had much larger trunks, because the trunk lid was placed higher up — rear visibility wasn’t quite as good, but you could, ironically, store a lot more luggage in back of the sporty two-doors.

Amusingly, Dodge chose to keep the intrusive hinge design from the 1970s when they made their new cars, so you can’t store anything under the hinges. At least it doesn’t have those crossbars going from side to side, or — notice that gas tank pipe in the ’74? Makes you feel all confident in the car’s safety, doesn’t it? (It also really cuts into the usable trunk space.) The old Valiant jack is the unstable kind that you attach to the bumper and pray as you lift the car, watching the bumper rise first — an unwieldy mess. Progress has been kind to us, there. But the old car has a real spare tire — advantage, 1974.

Pricing

You can’t really compare the cars without looking at prices, though.

1975 Dodge Dart
$13,746
Includes four way drum brakes (no power), 225 cid engine, three speed manual transmission (column shift), no radio, vinyl bench seats, manual gas cap, two speed wipers, lap belts, parking brake, reverse lights, one exterior mirror, bias ply tires, “doggie dish” hubcaps, ashtray, cigarette lighter, 14 inch wheels. V8 buyers got disc front brakes (318) or power front disc brakes (360).
2013 Dodge Dart
$16,000
Includes CD player, auxiliary port, airbags, front and rear shoulder belts, steering-wheel audio controls, LED tail lamps, projector headlamps, halogen headlamps, remote entry, electronic stability control, four wheel disc brakes, antilock brakes, six speed manual transmission (instead of three speed), side window de-misters, cup holders, change tray, rear defroster, seat belt pre-tensioners, FM stereo, interval wipers, bucket seats, radial tires, cloth seats, vanity mirror, remote hood and gas cap release, power windows, dual exterior power mirrors, power locks, day/night mirror, 12V ports, fold-down rear seats, power disc brakes, tinted glass, power steering, 16 inch or larger wheels

On price, the two cars are surprisingly close though the Dart is what 1970s buyers would call “fully loaded.” If you added luxury items to the old Dart, it wouldn’t add that much to the price, but then again, you wouldn’t get all that much, either (though you could get a very responsive engine). If you got the big 360 in the Dart, it would set you back less than the Dart GT today (though it would come with far less in the way of creature comforts), and deliver much more power and better acceleration despite having fewer forward gears.

As delivered, our test cars had the following options (in 2013 dollars):

1974 Plymouth Valiant
$20,092
Split back bench seat ($32), special package (power steering, whitewalls, vinyl roof, wheel covers, remote left mirror, AM radio, light package, 3-speed wipers, electric washer, day/night mirror, vinyl side mouldings, “deluxe insulation package,” bumper guards, sill mouldings, “custom exterior package,” interior décor and convenience groups, cloth-and-vinyl bench seat, all for $645), manual front disc brakes ($24), automatic transmission (no charge), tinted glass ($38), air conditioning ($395), larger tires ($15), 225 cid engine ($72). Total: $4,252 in 1974 dollars.
2013 Dodge Dart
$20,090
Adds Aero package (various fuel economy additions, seven-inch digital trip computer, “Charger-style” tail-lights) and 8.4 inch touch-screen stereo package (the upgraded stereo and USB input, but not package-shelf speakers)

As equipped, our two cars were practically identical! Air conditioning and the “convenience group” took their toll. Without those, we’d have no radio, two-speed wipers, no day/night mirror, manual steering, and a much plainer looking car that was harder to stop (and very hard to stop in a straight line).

Performance and economy

The Dart 360 could do 0-60 in around 7.3 seconds, according to contemporary accounts (that often could not be matched by normal drivers). The modern Dart 1.4 did 0-60 in 8.3, beating the old 318 cars — but not the 360 — if you had a manual transmission. Performance is more sluggish in the modern Dart, but more predictable - no bogging, no sagging from bad tuning. However, the engines are far more peaky, and just stomping on the gas will get you nowhere with the 1.4.

 225 Six*2.0 liter 318 V81.4 turbo 360 V82.4 liter
Horsepower105160150160220184
Torque185147265184280171
MPG (auto.)17/2323/3413/2028/4012/1621/30 (GT)
* There was a smaller six cylinder available, but most people sensibly opted for the 225.

Just look at those torque figures! The old 360 is of course the monster of the pack, fed by a Carter four-barrel carburetor, with a hot cam and two big ol’ valves per cylinder. Its torque isn’t much greater than the old 318, but it has enough horsepower to clobber any other Dart engine.

Speaking of torque, check out the base slant six. 185 pound feet of torque! It only has 105 horsepower, so acceleration is good for 0-20 or so but it isn’t really a barnstormer; you truly have to plan ahead for highway merging. The old “happy medium” 318 nearly matched the New Dart with 150 hp, but backed it up with a massive 265 pound-feet of torque, which started up right at idle — no empty space á la Fiat Turbo.

Check out the overly-optimistic 1970s gas mileage figures versus the pretty-accurate post-2008 numbers. (Side note - both the 360 and the 1.4 turbo require premium gas; the 1.4 turbo can be run on regular but won’t deliver good performance. It seems to tolerate midgrade fuel reasonably well.)

2.4 engine

In any case, the performance can probably be summarized like this: the old Dart, with the most common engine (the slant six), had lower mileage and far lower acceleration, but its fastest model, the Dart GT, was quicker and more responsive when properly tuned. The Dart 1.4 is unresponsive in around half the “normal driving” band, even compared with the slant six, but positively zooms in comparison once you break past 2,400 rpm, turning in 318 V8 acceleration numbers. The mainstream 2.4 engine on the 2014-16 Darts is ahead of the old Dart six and probably ahead of the old Dart 318.

What’s more, modern engines and transmissions don’t really leak, not even with mild seepage. Lest we look upon the old days with rose-colored glasses, it was very common for parking spaces to have puddles of oil or transmission fluid or both. The valve covers would seep, the rear main seal would seep and then drip... it could be messy. And did we mention maintenance? Forget the “ten year spark plugs” or “ten year antifreeze.” It was tune-ups every six months (at least), spark plugs every year or two, rotors and distributor caps at regular intervals, full lubes, and oil changes every six months, not “when the engine computer tells you to and it could be up to ten months.” Admittedly they didn’t require crazy oil weights or synthetic oils, but there was a lot more maintenance.

The classic engine bay would look like this unless you had air conditioning, coolant recovery tanks, EGR, and such, which were all added on top — see below. The engine bay tends to be quickly swallowed up in a haze of dirt and grease, while the modern Dart can stay fairly pristine-looking for years and years.

People also tend to forget all those times you got stuck because the choke wouldn’t work right, or something else caused the car to refuse to start in the cold or when the engine was hot. It wasn’t unusual to see people holding their chokes open with a screwdriver while they tried to start. There was this thing called “flooding the engine” you could do, which is pretty hard to do now. Cars did not always start on the first touch of the starter.

slant six
This is a 42 year old Valiant — the engine bay is identical to that of the Dart — with just 18,000 miles on the odometer, and a temporary negative terminal hookup. The air cleaner is much easier to service but is replaced more often. Note the messy hose/wire arrangements — yes, those are mostly the way the car was made at the factory. Unlike the 1973 car shown above, this one has OSAC emissions control, an antifreeze overflow container, EGR, manual brakes, and air conditioning. Both cars have electronic ignition.

Then there’s stopping distances — there’s just no comparison. Under light load, the best a Valiant or Dart could do was sixty-to-zero in 225 feet, according to government-mandated factory tests. The Dart does it much faster — how much faster we could not say, but one magazine tested it to go down from 70 in 186 feet. Stopping a modern Dart is easy - just stomp on the brakes. An old Dart will have problems if you haven’t manually tuned the brakes; the non-power drum braking requires a great deal of effort and the power disc brakes tend to lock up easily. The ideal is on our ’74 — manual discs up front; they should be manually balanced, but will then perform admirably, stopping the car in only a few dozen feet more than the new one. (Modern Darts have electronic brake-force distribution.) Needless to say, on snow and wet surfaces, the new car’s ABS is usually better than the driver’s manual brake pumping.

Cornering

When it comes to cornering, there is simply no comparison. Any of the old Darts are like a school bus compared with a new Dart. It’s just no contest. They handled well in the 70s — they don’t now, and not just because the old cars had 14 inch wheels (yes, even with the 360) with bias-plies. Still, compared with a modern car, there’s lots of body roll and the tires don’t grip the road as well, partly because there’s so much sidewall. (We have modern performance radials on the Valiant, so it should outperforms cars from its era on the best bias-plies the factory had.)

from behind

You can, of course, fit larger wheels to the old cars, with lower-profile tires, but the modern suspensions are more sophisticated and use better materials. Times moved on, and if Chrysler engineers of the 1970s had the suspension budgets and materials they do today, they wouldn’t still use the torsion bars that were so good back then.

Safety

Unless you’ve missed decades of increasing rules, you probably know that drivers of modern cars can flip over or be T-boned and walk out when a classic car driver would be stone dead. Starting in 1974, Darts and Valiants got semi-modern shoulder belts, but airbags were still way in the future, along with door beams and crush zones.

As for visibility, the classic Dart easily wins the “side visibility” contest with better sidelights and bigger windows; it needs the optional right-hand mirror, though. The modern Dart wins for headlights and tail-lights, but especially for brake lights, with its instant-on LEDs and third center-mounted unit; the backup lights are brighter, and a rear view camera is optional (without it, the old Dart has better rear visibility due to its lower trunk lid). Neither has exceptional window visors.

What was the point again?

I think we can safely say we’ve made progress. We’ve lost some things along the way; the simplicity of operating a radio and climate control without ever having to look at either one, the lower price of more primitive cars, cheap fluids, and torque that’s always there when you want it. But we’ve gained a lot, too.

As for whether the New Dart deserved to be called a Dart...

  • The two cars have roughly similar interior space — the new one has a bit more, admittedly, but both are compacts.
  • They are both sedans. There were two door Darts but many, many Darts were four-doors and few were the Duster-clone fastbacks.
  • Both had three engine options.

both cars

  • Pricing was similar, in constant dollars (adjusted for inflation), which is pretty amazing.
  • Neither car appears to have been profitable; a product planner from the 1970s wrote that they hoped to break even on the Dart and Valiant, but needed them to capture younger buyers.
  • The cars were both aimed at the same market segments despite the gap in years, and both sat at the bottom of the product lines (in the classic car’s case, you have to factor out the imported Colt to say that).
  • Originally, both cars aimed at European design and priorities (the Dart changed quite a bit from first two second generations) and arguably handled better than their domestic competitors.

The biggest differences, accounting for changes in technology and regulation, were probably in the powertrain (class leading in 1974-76, but decidedly not in 2013-16), emphasis (interior and handling in the new ones, powertrain and suspension in the old ones), and origin (fully domestic in the classics). Oh, and the quality ratings — the original Darts ranked up at the top; the current ones, low-to-middling.

You can take a closer look at our test 1974 Plymouth Valiant (including the price sheet) or our 2013 Dodge Dart Aero.

Dodge Dart vs the competition

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