Dodge Darts

 
 

The Dodge Dart (1960-1976)

 
 
The Dart was introduced as a lower-priced, shorter wheelbase, full-size Dodge in 1960 and 1961, became a mid-size car for 1962, and finally was a compact and "offcially" an A-Body between 1963 and 1976. Dodge also used the "Dart" name for a Ghia-built show car in the 1950s.
 

1960 

 

The first Dodge Darts were full-size cars developed to replace the Plymouth as the low-priced car for the Dodge dealer network; Dodge dealers had been selling Plymouths since 1930, but divisional restructuring in 1960 took Plymouth away from the Dodge dealer network. The Dart was a shorter wheelbase full-size car than the standard-size Dodge line, and was based on the Plymouth platform. The Dart line was divided into three trim levels: the entry-level Seneca, the mid-range Pioneer, and the well-appointed Phoenix.
 

Introduced for the 1960 model year, the Dart was at once a short term marketing masterstroke. Sales of the Dart outstripped those of the full-size Dodge Matador and Dodge Polara, but it also created an in-house competitor for Plymouth. Even advertising from 1960 and 1961 compared the Dart to the "C" car (Chevrolet), the "F" car (Ford) and the "P" car, Plymouth.

As Dart sales climbed, Plymouth's sales dropped and Chyrsler's corporate heads did nothing to stop the in-fighting between the divisions. Dart sales were so strong in 1960 that Dodge had to cut back its medium-priced model lineup. The full-size, mid-priced Matador was discontinued after the 1960 model year as buyers flocked to the better-appointed and less expensive Dart Pioneer. The premium Polara was left alone to wage battle in the medium-price segment.

 

1961

The Dart emerged again in 1961 as the smallest full-size Dodge (118 in, 2997 mm wheelbase), restyled to emulate but not duplicate the senior Dodge Polara (which had a 122 in, 3099 mm wheelbase). Darts were again subdivided into three trim levels: the premium Phoenix, mid-range Pioneer, and base Seneca.

Engines choices available started with Chrysler's new-for-1960 225 in³ (3.7 L) Slant-6 engine; the 318 in³ (5.2 L) and 361 in³ (5.9 L) V8s were also available in various configurations. Phoenix convertibles were all equipped with V8 engines. Beginning in mid-year, some Darts ordered with the 225 in³ engine were equipped with the die-cast aluminum block. Darts in all series were equipped as standard with three-speed, column-shifted manual transmissions. Chrysler's pushbutton-shifted TorqueFlite automatic was available at extra cost.
 

But Virgil Exner's odd restyling with its reverse fins, rear fender scalloping and odd-looking concave grille was highly unpopular with consumers. There was also an adverse reaction to the low positioning of the Dart's taillights; drivers in other cars complained that they couldn't see the minuscule lights positioned just above the corner of the bottom bumper. As designed, the taillights wrapped around to the side of the vehicle to provide side visibility at night, but of the total taillight area, the majority was faced on the side of the car, not the rear of the vehicle. By mid-year, Dodge was forced to make auxiliary taillights available to consumers at extra cost through its dealer network. However, the lights were awkwardly placed near the inboard side of the reverse fins, and made the odd-duck Dart look even more ungainly.

As a result Dodge saw Dart sales drop by 53% to 142,000 units; the even more bizarrely styled Polara fared even worse by producing just 14,032 units — a whopping 67% decline from the "slow" 1960 sales year. And that was just the beginning of the bad news for Dodge in 1961:

  • Of the total number of Darts sold, almost half were sold in the Dart's least expensive model, the Seneca (66,100).
  • Combined sales of the Dart and the Polara were lower than Plymouth's sales for 1961.
  • Dodge ranked ninth in sales in the American market in 1961, down from sixth place in 1960.
  • Sales of the compact Dodge Lancer were 74,773 units compared to its Plymouth twin, the Valiant , which sold 143,078 units for the same year.

The Lancer aside, production of the 1961 model year saw Dodge's total production drop below that of the slow selling 1959 model year and dangerously close to the disastrous Eisenhower recession year of 1958.

 

1962

 
For 1962, the Dart was downsized as part of Chrysler's hastily planned effort to compete with what company leaders thought would be downsized large cars from Chevrolet. Chevrolet actually fielded a genuinely full-size car, and the Dart was perceived more as an intermediate than as a true full-size car. The Polara shared the body change with the Dart, but was offered in higher trim. Dodge dealers voiced their displeasure at being unable to offer consumers a true "full-size" car. To placate its dealer network, Chrysler hastily created the Dodge Custom 880 by mating its 1961 Dodge Polara front clip to its 1962 Chrysler Newport's de-finned body. Debuting in January 1962, the Custom 880 helped to remind customers that Dodge indeed offered a full-size car. 
 

Styling aside, the new Dart was on an all-new lightweight unibody platform, featuring Chrysler's well-received torsion-bar front suspension and asymmetric leaf springs. The rigidity gained through the unibody process combined with the suspension provided sound handling, braking, and acceleration; the latter especially with the mid-year 415 hp "Super Stock" 413 in³ (6.8 L) V8. Chrysler continued to use this platform, with minor variations continued through 1979 and in several models.

The Seneca, Pioneer and Phoenix trim levels were dropped in 1962. Dart trim levels became Dart, Dart 330, Dart 440, and Dodge Polara 500, the latter being offered in 2-door hardtop and convertible styles only with a 4-door hardtop added in December. The Polara 500 was not built or sold in Canada, and the Dart series were the same as in the U.S.

 

1963-1966

At the end of the 1962 model year, Dodge dropped the Lancer nameplate and moved the Dart name to Dodge's newly-redesigned "senior compact" referred to due to the wheelbase having grown from the Valiant's 106.5 in to a relatively lengthy 111 in (2819 mm), which remained in place until the final Dart was built in 1976. The Dart was available as a 2 or 4-door sedan, 2-door hardtop coupe, station wagon, and convertible. Three trim levels were now available: 170, 270, and GT.

The Dart GT was marketed as a premium/sporty car, available as a coupe or convertible. The car, trim aside, would remain basically unchanged until it was restyled for the 1967 model year. A lightweight 273 in³ (4.5 L), 180 bhp V8 was introduced mid-1964, with a high-performance 235 bhp version for 1965, when disc brakes were also released for the first time.

Sales of the Dart began to rebound in 1963 and remained strong for the duration of the Dart's tenure as a Dodge model.

1967-1969

The Dart and its sister model, the Plymouth Valiant, were significantly redesigned for the 1967 model year. In addition to new styling, the cars received revised steering systems, wider front track (and wider spaced rails) and redesigned K-members capable of accepting physically larger engines. The Dart would keep this basic form, with a few face-lifts consisting of revised front and rear end styling and interior trim, until the end of A-body production in 1976 (US/Canada/Mexico) and 1983 (South America).

The restyled Dart for 1967 featured a rear window (back light) with compound inverse curves. This created a unique appearance at the rear of the greenhouse, but tended to collect snow and created thick C-pillars that looked formal but created blind spots for drivers. Curved side glass was used for the first time on a Chrysler compact. Up front, there was a new dual-plane front end contour: the center section of the grille, bumper and leading edge of the hood were recessed from the front plane of the car. The single headlamps were placed forward of the recessed center section, defining the front plane. (There are reports Chrysler stylists were forced to use round headlamps after having originally created the front end arrangement anticipating timely US government approval of rectangular headlights, which did not occur. DOT records do not support this notion, but additional research is in progress on the matter.) Park/turn lamps were set into the grille, in the corners formed by the transition area between the recessed and forward sections. This same front end treatment, with minor cosmetic changes to the grille and the park/turn lamps relocated to the front bumper, was also used by Chrysler Australia for their 1967 VE-model Valiant.
 

With the new design, changes were made to the Dart line-up, beginning with the elimination of its station wagons and the base model's "170" designation. The only body styles were the 2 and 4 door sedans, the hardtop, and the convertible. The base 170 model was now badged simply as Dart. The 270 and GT versions carried on unchanged for the most part. In late 1967, the GTS model debuted but was built in limited quantities due to its lateness in the model year; the 1968 GTS would be, arguably, improved by fitting the new high-outout 340 in³ (5.6 L) V8 engine as standard equipment.

The 2-door sedan was dropped at the end of 1968 and replaced with the Swinger 2-door hardtop for 1969. Also added was the Swinger 340.

Engines

The 170 in³ Slant-6 engine remained standard equipment, though its power rating rose from 101 bhp to 115 bhp for 1967, owing to a new camshaft and larger carburetor. The 225 in³ Slant-6 was a very popular and inexpensive upgrade option. The 273 in³ (4.5 L) small-block V8 was joined on the option list in 1968 by a 318 in³ (5.2 L) version. The 318 was rated at 230 bhp versus the 2-barrel carbureted 273's 180 bhp and the 4-barrel carbureted 273's 235 bhp. The hottest Dart was the new performance-oriented GTS model. The Dart GTS came standard with the 340 in³ (5.6 L) V8; a 383 in³ (6.3 L) big-block was optional. The light weight and high power ratio of the 340-equipped cars, together with the excellent handling for which the Dart had become renowned, made them a favorite of drag racers. The big-block versions were difficult to steer and stop, so their function was practically limited to straight-line drag races. Furthermore, the big-block engine was extremely cramped in the compact Dart's engine bay. There was scarcely room for even the small, restrictive exhaust manifolds that were required due to the space constraints. Road tests of the day generally recommended the 340 over the 383 or the 1969-only 440 in³ (7.2 L) engines.

Changes during the styling cycle

In 1968, Dodge released one of the most feared drag cars ever: the 1968 Hurst Hemi Dart. Dodge would ship Dart body shells to Hurst and they would install a ram-inducted 426 in³ (7.0 L) Hemi V8 under the hood. Using fiberglass fenders and hood, belt straps for window cranks, and A100 seats for decreased weight, this car and its sister car, the Hurst Hemi Barracuda, would dominate Super Stock for decades to come, in fact, it still does today 92006.) Grand Spaulding Dodge, a notable Dodge dealer in Chicago owned by legendary builder "Mr. Norm" Krause, put the 440 in³ Magnum engine under the hoods of selected Dart GTSs and renamed them GSS for "Grand Spaulding Special." Efforts like this led Grand Spaulding Dodge to become a noted provider of Dodges specially modified for extremely high performance, much as Yenko and Royal Pontiac did for Chevrolet and Pontiac, respectively.

Other changes for 1968 were more subtle. The park/turn lights in the grille were moved slightly inboard and made round. Side marker lights were added to the front fenders and rear quarter panels, to comply with newly introduced FMVSS 108. Other changes to comply with new federal safety laws included collapsible steering columns, additional padding on the dashboard and sun-visors, a brake system fault warning light, shoulder harnesses (separate, this year and until 1973, from the lap belts) and non-glare matte finish on the windshield wiper arms. Chrysler's "Clean Air Package" emission control system became standard equipment on cars sold in all 50 states. The steering linkage was revised again, as were the windshield and back light gaskets and trim-lock strips, leaving the 1967 pieces in these departments as one-year-only items. The standard rear axle ratio was dropped from 2.93 to 2.76 with all standard-performance engines and automatic transmission. Part-throttle downshift functionality was added as a refinement to the TorqueFlite automatic transmission in 6-cylinder cars, to retain acceptable city performance with the taller rear axle ratio.
 

For 1969, the Dart received annual trim updates including another minor revision of the grille, and a return to rectangular park/turn lights. The 1968 round side marker lights were replaced with rectangular reflectors. Head restraints were optional equipment until January 1, 1969, when their installation became mandatory under federal law. The 6-cylinder models received a carburetor anti-ice system borrowed from Canadian-market Chrysler 6-cylinder engines, and the drum brake automatic adjusters were revised for more consistent operation.

1970-1976

The Dart was refreshed for 1970 with front and rear changes designed to bring the car closer to the design themes found in Dodge’s full-size vehicles through grille and contour changes. In the rear, the Dart’s new rectangular tail lights (becoming two sets of dual lights in 1971 to 1973 models) were set into a wedge-shaped rear bumper design. 14 in wheels became standard equipment, and the 170 in³ Slant-6 was replaced by a larger 198 in³ version for improved base-model performance and greater manufacturing economy. Changes to the fuel system improved drive-ability, economy and emission control. Part-throttle downshift was added to the 8-cylinder automatic transmissions. In compliance with FMVSS 108, both side marker lights and reflectors were installed at all four corners.

Beginning in 1971, the "Swinger" name was applied to the high line two-door hardtop (formerly the Custom) while the base hardtop was called the "Swinger Special." In 1974 a new luxury trim level Special Edition series of the hardtop and sedan was introduced. Standard features for the "SE" model included color-keyed wheel covers, vinyl roof and a plush velour interior. Dodge would continue to rely upon the Special Edition, or SE trim level through the 1990s on its other vehicles as well.

Also in 1971 Dodge also gained a version of Plymouth's popular Valiant-based fastback Duster, called the Demon. As was the case with previous Dodge re-badges of Plymouth Valiants (e.g. the 1961-1962 Dodge Lancer), sales of the Demon lagged behind those of the Duster.
 

The Swinger 340, Dart's performance model, was replaced by the Demon 340 for 1971. Chrysler Canada, though, did build a small number of Swinger 340 hardtops based on the Swinger Special for two dealers in Western Canada. For 1973 the Demon fastback was renamed Dart Sport, in response to certain Christian groups' complaints about the "Demon" name and devil-with-pitchfork logo. The big-engined fastbacks thus became Dart Sport 340 in 1973, and Dart Sport 360 for 1974 when the 360 in³ (5.9 L) V8 replaced the 340 in³ (5.6 L) V8.

1973 models gained more massive front bumpers to comply with new federal regulations, as well as side-impact guard beams in the doors and new emission control devices. New single-piston disc brakes replaced the more complex 4-piston units offered from 1965 to 1972, though Chrysler did not address the premature rear-wheel lockup that continued to plague disc brake equipped Darts. Chrysler's robust new electronic ignition system was standard equipment with all engines, and starter motors were revised for faster engine cranking.

In 1974, the rear bumpers were enlarged for the same reason, and the Dart gained larger taillights set above the rear bumper, rather than within it. Shoulder and lap belts were finally unitized into a retractable, inertia-sensitive "Uni-belt", replacing the difficult-to-use separate belts that had been installed through 1973.

Aside from a new grille, the 1975 models were virtually identical to the 1974s, except that California and certain high-altitude models were equipped with catalytic converters and so required unleaded gasoline. A 4-speed manual transmission was offered for the first time with a 6-cylinder engine since 1965, and with a new overdrive 4th gear ratio. A special-image model of the Dart Sport, the Dart Sport Hang Ten, featured surf-themed graphics.

In 1976, several special models were offered. The Dart was made available in a police-spec version, with production code A38. The A38 Dart had the highest-specification components and systems from front to back; suspension (with a rear sway bar), brakes, cooling, electrical, and power train systems were all maximum-duty. The engine was Chrysler's 360 in³ V8, with an A727 TorqueFlite transmission. Production totals were low, with most A38 Darts going to the Los Angeles Police Department and the Ventura Police Department in Southern California.

The Dart Sport got several special variants for 1976. In a tie-in with the American bicentennial celebration, a Spirit of '76 edition was released featuring white paint with prominent red and blue body side striping meant to evoke the image of the American flag. And with fuel economy becoming more of a concern, a special Dart Lite was released. This was a Dart Sport made as light as possible with an aluminum hood, trunk bracing and bumper brackets, an aluminum intake manifold (for the first time since 1960) on the 225 in³ Slant-6 engine, specially-calibrated carburetor and distributor, extra-tall rear axle ratio, and TorqueFlite automatic or A833 4-speed manual transmission. The Dart Lite and its sister model, the Plymouth Feather Duster, were rated at an impressive 36 mpg highway with a manual transmission.

Ultimately, the Dart was phased out and replaced by the Dodge Aspen beginning in late spring of 1976, but during its total production run, the Dart earned a reputation as a dependable and "bulletproof" car.

 

Performance packages

The Dart was available with a range of engines, from the workhorse Slant-6 to the big-block 383 in³ V8.

For the 1969 model year only, there was also the addition of the 440 in³ V8 in the Dart GTS model and a very few 426 Hemi models in the "Hurst" edition Dart.

Mexican Darts  

 

The Dart name was used on Mexican-market Dodge F-body cars, known in North America as the Aspen, between 1976 and 1980. The name was also applied to Dodge M-body cars between 1981 and 1982, and also to Mexican-market K-cars.
 
 
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