The Dart name first appeared on a Dodge in 1960. By 1963, it was placed on the compact Dodge and there it stayed until 1976. That year, Dodge launched their new F-Body compacts that soon proved to have alarming reliability and build quality issues. Such a debacle could have irreparably tarnished the Dart name but Dodge had decided instead to replace the venerable Dart and Valiant names with Aspen and Volaré. Except in Mexico.
If Mexican-built Aspens had build quality issues, they mustn’t have been bad enough to tarnish the Dart name. The F-Body Aspen was known as the Dart during its entire run, while its Plymouth counterpart was badged Valiant Volare (no accent, as Spanish speakers pronounce the ‘ay’ anyway in words ending in ‘e’). For 1980, the Dart and Valiant Volare names were moved from the F-Body to the restyled-for-1980 Diplomat M-body.
Confusingly, the 1980 Dart alternately used the regular Diplomat front end and that of the 1980 Dodge Aspen. Likewise, the Valiant Volare used the fascia of the 1980 Plymouth Volaré.
The Dart and Valiant ranges consisted of coupe, sedan and wagon models; a separate performance model was also available, and this will be featured later. Six- and eight-cylinder engines were available and the standard Slant Six with a column-mounted three-speed manual transmission was a popular combination.
While the M-Body Diplomat would live on in North America until the end of the decade, the M-Body Dart survived only until 1982. This new, more formal Dart had been positioned as a more premium offering right in time for Mexico’s worst economic crisis since the 1930s. Rising fuel prices had precipitated the need for a new, compact Chrysler in North America, and the floundering economy of Mexico in the early 1980s also made the new, more economical K-Car a more desirable option.
The K-Car was launched as the Dodge Dart K and Plymouth Valiant Volare K, which were identical to their Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant counterparts in North America but for one strange distinction: the Dart initially used the Reliant’s front clip, while the Valiant used the Aries’ front clip. Power was provided by a lone 2.2 four-cylinder engine; manual and automatic transmissions were both offered, as was a choice of bucket or bench front seating and sedan, coupe and wagon bodies. However, the Valiant was sold only as a two-door.
In 1986, the Dart K sedan was succeeded by the Dart E. This was a version of the larger K-derived E-Body used by the Dodge 600, Plymouth Caravelle and defunct Chrysler E-Class and used a larger 2.5 four-cylinder engine. Two years later, Plymouth received a rebadged Dart E called the Valiant Volare E.
These Dart Es remain an extremely common sight in México, Chrysler having provided consumers with a simple, practical and fuel-efficient mid-size sedan. The Dart E went head-to-head with the Ford Tempo/Topaz and the various GM A-Body sedans.
The E-Bodies were replaced by the Chrysler Spirit – no Dodge or Plymouth nameplates anymore – in 1989, thus finally ending the long-running Dart nameplate more than a decade after its discontinuation in North America. It would not return until 2013 and earlier this year, the nameplate was retired once again.
The Dart name had become synonymous with simple, honest transportation in North America and the trusty, dependable reputation it had developed was echoed south of the border. The spirit of the Dart had lived on in the subsequent Aspen, Aries and 600. In Mexico, both the spirit and the name of the Dart had lived on in these Dodges.