Curbside Classic: 1974 Dodge Dart Custom – “A Body” In Motion Tends To Stay In Motion

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It was a warm day in the spring of 1974, and Clyde and Lorriane were sitting at their kitchen table that Sunday morning discussing their need for improved transportation.  It seemed their 1962 Chevy II had finally given up the ghost when a rod decided to explore new territory within the engine block.

Clyde had been self-employed as a barber for the past 21 years.  He and Lorraine never went very far from home, their extended families lived nearby, and their only child had just left for college.  They realized basic transportation was all they needed, as extravagance simply wasn’t a part of their economic reality.

1974 Chevrolet Nova-08-09

As Clyde and Lorriane perused new-car lots later that day, they weren’t impressed with anything Chevrolet had to offer.  When it came to smaller cars, they weren’t enthralled with the Nova, and as a barber, Clyde had heard from enough different men that he shouldn’t touch a Vega with a 10-foot pole.

1974 Ford Full Line-05

A bit later, while walking the lot at the Ford dealer, Lorraine commented that the tail lights were identical on the Pinto and Maverick.  She and Clyde both thought the Maverick was a decent-looking vehicle, but something about it just wasn’t inviting.  As they suspected they would have their next car for quite a long time, they wanted something they’d like, as well as something durable.  The Maverick’s demeanor just didn’t make the sale for them.

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Discouraged, Lorraine suggested they stop at the Dodge dealer.  Clyde was not thrilled about the idea, but figured why not?  As they pulled into the Dodge dealer’s driveway, they saw this baby blue Dart sitting just outside the showroom.

Lorraine really liked the color; she said it wouldn’t show dirt very easily, and at least it wasn’t one of the metallic greens, golds, or browns so often seen on contemporary new cars.  Clyde–typically one to suffer from Dodgephobia. as he had always owned GM products–also knew from his customers that a Dart or Valiant was, in their collective opinion, the best thing ever offered by the Chrysler Corporation.  They had told him nearly unfathomable stories of sadistic treatment of slant six and 318 cubic inch V8 engines that even if half true would make this a nearly indestructible machine.

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The fact the base price of a Dart Custom was within $4 of the base price of a Nova Custom helped Clyde salve his Dodge paranoia.  He suspected that when he came back tomorrow, the Dodge salesman would likely be more willing to negotiate than the guy at the Chevrolet dealer.

Since Clyde always had Mondays off, he and Lorraine returned to the various dealerships the next morning.  After test- driving a Nova, a Maverick and the Dart, they wrote a check to the Dodge dealer.  Clyde and Lorraine were very happy with their purchase, and kept the car for many years.  Clyde would later joke the Dart was the automotive equivalent of a Timex watch: it could take a licking and keep on ticking.

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This story about Clyde and Lorraine is fictitious, but it was inspired by, of all things, a barber here in Jefferson City who will have been in business for 60 years in September.

While Clyde and Lorriane are fictional characters, it would be safe to wager there were plenty of actual Dart buyers with  similar stories.  For someone who was looking for a reliable automobile and wasn’t into flashiness, the Dart was as strong a contender as any in 1974.

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The Dart was mildly updated for 1974 in order to meet federal crash-protection standards.  The bumpers were now of the chromed “guardrail” variety, which necessitated new tail lights that were bigger than in 1973 and now placed outside the bumper itself.

By 1974, the Dart was getting a bit long in the tooth.  The aging sedan platform, which dated back to 1967, could arguably have been viewed as something like fine wine by the truly appreciative and contributing to the Dart’s continued success.  For model year 1974, the base Dart and Dart Custom, seen here, sold a combined total of 78,216 units.  Elsewhere in the Dodge lineup were the Coronet and Monaco: Total sales of base and Custom series Coronets totaled 44,773 copies, while the Monaco, comprising the same two series and a Custom four-door hardtop, sold 33,341 examples.

Looking at it another way, in terms of sedans– typically a manufacturer’s bread and butter–the compact Dart was outselling both the mid-sized Coronet and the full-sized Monaco.  The story was similar over at Plymouth with the Valiant / Satellite / Fury triumvirate.  At Ford and Chevrolet, mid- and full-sizers were selling on a par with, or even outselling, their 1974 compacts.

As a side note, a little research can often produce fascinating questions.  Taking into account only four-door sedans, the 1974 Dodge Dart could have outsold the 1974 Chevrolet Nova:  The Nova came in base and Custom series, but the Dart also came in a Special Edition trim whose production total was not included in the comparison above.  The reference source stated two things leading to this speculation; first, production of all Nova four-doors totaled 84,300 units, and production of all Dart SEs, including two-doors, was 12,385.  If only half of those were four-doors, Dodge may have outsold Chevrolet.  How often has that happened?  (Note to self:  As an engineer, getting all geeky with numbers is in your DNA; others may not get so lathered up about them.)

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Was the Dart simply that good–or was the rest of the Dodge lineup simply that inferior?  If Dodge might have actually outsold Chevrolet, did cross-shopping by people like Clyde and Lorraine happen more often than first thought? Does this change the old “Ford / Chevrolet” argument to “Dodge / Chevrolet”?  The questions keep flowing.

To be philosophical for a moment: Anyone who does not approach life as a series of events that provide the opportunity to strengthen your appreciation of things and improve yourself in all regards is seriously missing the point.  Some time ago, I wrote a CC on a ’72 Plymouth Scamp (here), a car that prompted me to realize that compact cars of this era had a lot of good things going on.  This Dart has affirmed that revelation.  Yes, for years I viewed the Dart as undesirable and stuffy, but primarily as simply geriatric.  Time does change one’s perspective, doesn’t it?

If you peruse the archives of Curbside Classic, you can find a refreshing amount written about Valiants (like this article and this one) but not nearly as much on Darts (although there is this one).  Yes, there is a certain degree of randomness in what we find in the wild, yet it is good to find such a prime example of a Dodge Dart.  The Dodge Dart is a vehicle that is perhaps one of the biggest unsung heroes of the 1970s automotive landscape.

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When Paul created Curbside Classic, his tagline is “Every Car Has A Story”.  Seeing such things as this old city sticker certainly makes one hungry for more details about the car it has been with for over three decades.

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