COAL: 1971 Dodge Dart – Above and Beyond the Original Brief

This is a story of a car that was supposed to dispatch its owner and his family in a most unassuming way, as most A to B cars do. But this owner– my Dad- had unintentionally traveled with this Dart far more than he (or the car) ever perceived. And the story, as follows, is somewhat emotional for me to read, because to deliver it here I needed outside help.

 

I wanted to write this post ever since I discovered the photos you’re about to view, but I’ve had a few setbacks; You see, obviously because this is not my COAL but my father’s, coupled with the fact that it takes place during the 1970s, my recollection of it is very much lacking (not surprising since I was born in late 1971). It does not help that my father, who had a phenomenal memory, passed away in 2013, aged 85, and anyway, was never a car guy of any kind.

So I turned to the one person who was there – my older brother, who happens to be not just a car-guy but also a CC reader and from time to time, commenter. For privacy reasons he prefers to stay anonymous, so we shall leave it at that. The story, in his own words is laid out with photo inserts from me.

Over to big brother:

My father was a frugal man; one could say he lived beneath his means. Although he was raised to become a farmer, a serious injury during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 (hitting an Egyptian mine while driving an M3 half-track) meant that he could no longer do the hard physical work which was, back then, part and parcel of running a farm (orange groves in this case). Realizing this, dad got enrolled with Jerusalem’s Hebrew University Law Faculty and became an attorney, later even starting his own law firm, so that the wherewithal was there.

That however – in so far as his cars were concerned – never translated into anything more than the most basic model a given manufacturer offered. And when we talk about “manufacturer”, back then it was a North American one. First, American and Canadian cars were a cut above all others in the reliability stakes; you have to remember this was Israel where parts – if needed – had to generally be repaired or imported at far higher prices than in the US. A car made in North America was also the “right” car for a successful professional; in fact it was almost the only option for such a person in the days before Japanese cars achieved Lexusdom. Others, like the bigger Vauxhalls or (British) Fords, were far and few between (why buy a Vauxhall Cresta or a Ford Zephyr when a base Chevrolet or a Fairlane cost only a little bit more?). And to the extent you could get one, a Jaguar represented a maintenance nightmare. German cars? Not really. Remember this was before the Audi/BMW/MB phenomenon as we know it today. Moreover it was only 10-15 years after WWII – back then many Israelis (like my father) refused to buy German on principle.

Caesarea beach, 1964. See the 53’ Chevy in the background.

So a North American car it was. However, it had to be right. For dad this always meant a six in base trim: for one, at the speeds the car was expected to travel on the roads we had (55-60 MPH tops), the sixes were more economical than a V8 (even in those days fuel prices in Israel were a lot higher than in the US). They were also easier to maintain and, for a small town lawyer, not too prestigious (“you should be seen to be successful but not too successful” was what dad told me when I asked him why he never got something with more oomph). And so dad had a base 1953 Chevy 150 with the 235ci Thrift King six, a 1957 Canadian Plodge with the 250ci Flathead six and then a 1964 US Ford Fairlane with the 170ci… Six.

1966, and the only Plodge family photo I could find.

As you can see, dad was not beholden to any make; as long as it was conventional and made by the Big Three (hence no “strange” Corvairs, obscure AMCs or shoddily-assembled Israeli Studebakers), he was happy with it. Oh: and all of them were purchased second hand although he did always get low-mileage, good condition cars. Did I mention he was frugal?

You get two Fairlane photos, because I (Yohai) like it so much. Also, the second photo has me in it – it’s summer 1971 and my Mom is pregnant, carrying me.

So when the time came to find a replacement for the Fairlane, there was no question what sort of a car it would be and dad did not disappoint. This time, however, he did something he never did before or since: yes, it was US-made, had a very low mileage and was a six (although with an auto box – by that time, even base models were expected to come with those). No, what was unusual – even mind boggling in light of my father’s philosophy – was the fact it was bought as a total loss. The car, a 1971 Dodge Dart with a 225 slant six/Torqueflite, was owned by the manager of a canned food factory in town and was involved in a frontal accident. I’m not sure how dad got word that the car was available but what motivated him was not just that as an insurance write-off it would have cost very little but knowing a certain very talented body-man, one who learned his trade from an English coach-builder in the old-fashioned way. The guy – when he wasn’t drinking – could work wonders with metal and was confident he could fully repair the car.

And so the Dart was brought to his workshop and work summarily started. I remember going to check up on progress with my father and as a child of 10 you can bet I found it fascinating – as well as the Mercedes-Benz Pagoda which kept the Dart company but never seemed to have any work done to it (later I found out it was a present from a local VW dealer to his wife, who shortly later died from cancer – the owner could no longer look at it and for a while it was stored at the garage). After about 3 months, the car was finished at last and started serving my father and the family in the unspectacular way a 225 Dart went about fulfilling its unspectacular obligations. Unspectacular other perhaps than the color which resembled military camouflage. I somehow do not believe was anything offered by Mopar – I have a feeling it was a mistake by the painter but my father did not care (although my mother did). This was at the end of 1972, and none of us could imagine what was in store for the car…

1973 started just like any other year. Little did we know it would be one of the most difficult years in the history of Israel. I am of course talking about the October/Yom Kippur War, an event which affected not just Israel and resulted in the first OPEC fuel crisis. For those who may not remember or are too young to know – and without getting into the politics – that was another in a series of never-ending Middle Eastern conflicts between Israel and its Arab neighbors; in 1973 – no doubt helped by the complacency of the Israeli government – Syria and Egypt attacked Israel on the most important Jewish holy day, Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is essentially a day of atonement by way of fasting: you eat nothing for 24 hours and hope the Almighty will forgive your last year’s sins. In fact, it’s not just about the fasting: the country is virtually brought to a standstill, there are no open businesses, nobody goes anywhere and nothing much happens outside the Synagogues. And in 1973, this extended to the IDF which was essentially at minimal strength with many servicemen on leave for the holy day – perfect timing for the Egyptians and the Syrians to launch a surprise attack.

On the day I remember coming back from the synagogue with my father and, not having anything better to do, wandered off to the main street aimlessly. I remember meeting a couple of other school mates and just fooling around as 12 year olds are want to do. So here we were, standing in the middle of the road when all of a sudden we could hear the distant sound of truck engines, and not just one or two of them. Now who the hell was going to drive TRUCKS around on Yom Kippur? It did not take very long before a convoy of loaded tank transporters rolled through the street, the drivers all looking tense and worried. We instinctively realized something was wrong, very wrong and when men started coming out of houses and flats dressed in military fatigues (those being reservists who either were called to their units or concluded what was happening) we knew Israel was – again – at war.

All this should have not mattered to my father. After his injury he was invalided out as unfit for service so the chances he would be called up were non-existent. The Dart was another matter: like all civilian vehicles back then it could be enlisted into service and it was. Someone at the IDF’s Ordnance Corps obviously thought they had to have an extra staff car; after all, the Dart shared its drivetrain with the Valiant which was top brass car in the IDF. Now normally if your car was requisitioned by the IDF you would have to take it to a transport center and leave it with the men in uniform, hoping you would get it back not totally ruined (yes, one could claim for damages but it was obviously a hassle). My father who- remember- just invested a lot of money in the car, would have none of it. “They can have the car but I will be coming with it. I’d be damned if I let some 20 years old boy to be let loose with it” were more or less his words. And so dad and Dart departed, headlights painted to conform with black-out rules, a couple of Jeri cans in the trunk and a few tools for good measure too, and returned only two months later.

During that time the Dart served as a staff car, supply van and reconnaissance car of sorts – without missing a beat. In fact it crossed the Suez Canal shortly after forces under the command of (then) Gen. Ariel Sharon established the first bridgehead into Egypt. Dad was ordered – once cease fire was established – to take the car and look for deserted Egyptian ordnance which could be taken over by the IDF. Given the freshness of the cease fire, this was by no means a “safe” assignment as one could not really know who might be hiding behind bushes or building and/or how informed they were they were not supposed to shoot anymore, and it took him and the car well into the Egyptian side of the Canal.

Here is one such Egyptian ordnance in the shape of a Ukrainian-built KRAZ 214. By the Red Army camouflage I guess it was freshly delivered by the USSR and fell into IDF hands before the Egyptians could paint in in their desert sand colors. And the Dart is just visible behind it.

Almost unbelievably, Dad met with one of his cousins and one of mom’s cousins who were on reserve duty and they got as far as Ismailia:

The three photos above show the Dart on the road running between Ismailia and Suez .That road went along what was known as the Sweet Water Canal the Egyptians drew from the Nile and set up along the Suez Canal.

At some point it became clear that the cease fire was stable and talks about ending the war started which signaled the return of dad and Dart to civil life. Dad was somewhat slimmer and the Dart dustier, but a visit to the local gas station for a wash and vacuum sorted the second out. And there was a big meal to take care of the calories.

The Dart’s latest photo that I could find. This was taken sometime in 1977 (the photo opening this post was taken about a year earlier). Both much later than its Egyptian adventure.

After that little adventure the Dart returned to normal service and was kept until 1978. By then the car had done who knows how many miles and was becoming worn out. Dad’s frugality also expressed itself in being able to extract the last ounce of useful life from his cars before selling them, and the Dart was no exception. As the Check-Up Card below attests (presumably commissioned by a prospective buyer), there was much to do in order to keep it going; clearly our body-man had a bit more Arak then we thought and something had to done about the low compression:

In blue is a translation of the printed card. In red- the hand-written diagnose of the tester. The rather comical “we are responsible for nothing” disclaimer at the bottom of the card translates to: “We confirm that the above check-up was conducted to the best of our professional ability. We are not responsible for any fault undiscovered in the course of the check-up, or due to purposeful hiding of faults. Appealing against our findings will be accepted only on the day of the check-up and, should this be accepted by us, we shall refund the appellant for the costs of the check-up only.”

I do not know whether the Dart was bought after this specific check-up, but eventually it was sold, to be replaced by an English Ford Cortina of all things. That in its turn was replaced by a Chevrolet Citation but that is another story…

Not a single photo of the Cortina could be found, but here’s a photo of the Citation. I wrote a few words about it here.

To his last day Dad insisted the Dart was the best car he ever owned, and in light of what that car had to go through, I don’t think one could argue with that. It was a testimony to how the Chrysler concern used to build cars back then, and I would doubt a modern Chrysler 300 would have performed so stoically under similar conditions. A few years ago I tried to find out whether the Dart was still alive; alas it seems to have been struck from the Israeli DOT records which most likely means it was scrapped. There is a slim chance the papers have been “deposited”, that is, the car is off the road, unregistered, but…

So ends the story from my brother.

 

Some years ago I was able to find out the Dart was last registered in 1995, and no further record of it is evident (The Fairlane, by the way, was last registered in 1981). As for the person who bought the Dart- I remember Dad saying that he was a vegetables and fruits’ merchant who, upon buying the car, duly removed the back seat and used it to transport cases of the stuff. Dad said he used to see the Dart in our home-town “working” away constantly.

And I found in Dad’s vehicle’s folder some years ago, this is his handwriting:

Translation:

(In red) File in vehicle’s folder.

17.7.78 – The Dodge was sold to Raffi for 127,500 Israeli Lira.

21.7.78 – I gave the vehicle’s license and insurance to Sayed Abu Hossain to deliver to the buyer.

 

This is so typical Israel of the time – nothing official, all done by-the-way and who is this Sayed Abu Hossain? Actually, I believe I know this character as a loyal ex-employee of my Dad’s father, when he used to own a local gas station. But that’s another story. Never mind, history has it that the car arrived at its rightful buyer and all was well.

My most vivid recollection of the Dart is the ice-cold\burning feeling (depending of the time of year) of the sky upholstery of its back seat when Dad drove me to school back in 1977-78, first and second grades. But I do remember the car itself, in all its yellowish galore. And yes, Dad loved that car, which took him where no car has ever done.

Since we’re dealing with a Dart and in line with other posts of mine, I will now insert some photos of various Darts I photographed in classic car meetings over the years, all of which are of the last generation (1967-1976), much like this recent Valiant post:

I uploaded this sad 1969 Dart to the Cohort a while back. It is literally running into the ground, full of rust holes and general neglect.

This is much better, and a Swinger too. Same year as the neglected Dart above, 1969.

Moving on to 1971, the same year as Dad’s Dart, although these two are again two-door Swingers.

Here’s a better look at one of them, shown at the two photos above.  This is probably the closest look to Dad’s Dart, suns the two doors, of course. This particular example is very well preserved.

While staying in 1971, this one is a Demon, which, as you can see, has had some modifications done. This was taken years ago…

…While this was taken more recently, and as you can see the entire top of the car is now black.

The two photos above show two Darts from 1973, and the unavoidably giant front bumpers.

And this 1974 Swinger completes the ugly look as the rear bumper joins the party. As for the rear wing- well…

Again from 1974, here’s another Demon in a somewhat less-than-satisfying state.

Moving up one year to 1975, and this is a relatively untouched Swinger. the two photos below show a four-door well-known-in-the-scene Dart that’s undergoing constant modifications- maybe by now looks different once again.

Here’s one of the very last Darts, from 1976. That’s such a 1970s look on that car, and even though I said I hate the 5MPH bumpers, somehow I like this one.

To end this post, I’d like to share with you how I fell upon Dad’s photos of this military excursion. Some years back, even before Dad’s passing, I had an idea to go over the thousands of slides we had stashed away in a closet, and have those of them that have family value scanned. I cannot begin to tell you how many surprises I found within those boxes, and the ability to scan them exposed to light a medium (film slides) that would normally be hidden forever in protector cassettes and boxes. It also created a chance to have them digitally cleaned and enhanced. Besides, it was nice to sit with my parents and listen to their memories that were awaken by the images they saw on the computer monitor.

So if you have slides or photos hidden away in some attic that you can go over them with you parents, I recommend you do so- you’ll never know what you’ll come up with, and it’ll give you a nice thing to do with your family.

And lastly – I uploaded to this post all the Dart photos I had, but more from Dad’s excursion can be seen here, as photos were taken also in the Golan Heights as well as Sinai.