(first posted 6/21/2015) There are a number of chapters of the Niedermeyer Auto-Biography still unwritten. Some of you might greet that news with yawns, groans, or worse. But I consider it a familial obligation to document all of the Niedermeyer-mobiles, real or imaginary. My father’s 1968 Dart falls into the former category, a bit too much so. I groaned (or worse) when he first drove it home, but came to respect it, and even managed to wring out a certain degree of sportiness from it.
So why has it taken so long to write up this chapter? Because I could never find a 1968 baby-shit (“Medium Gold Poly”) stripper two-door Dart like his. But Google is casting an ever-wider net, and last night, I found one just like it; well, almost. Needless to say, my father’s Dart did not have white wall tires.
In Iowa City, we only had one car, as my father walked to the EEG Labs at the UI hospital; something he did with relish, as he was an inveterate walker/hiker, that being the one (and only!!!) characteristic that we shared. In 1965 he was recruited to Johns Hopkins Hospital, to be the head of the EEG Laboratory and a professor of Neurology.
Not surprisingly, he was advised to settle his family well out in the suburbs (Towson), as Baltimore’s white flight had become a full-scale exodus, and Johns Hopkins Hospital was/is located in one of the older parts of the city, which had become very run down.
So he needed a commuter car, and bought his first GM product, one of only two he would ever buy from the General. It was a 1965 Opel Kadett A sedan, in this color of green, sans whitewall tires (of course). I thought he would have been better served by a VW Beetle, but my father was always cold (literally), and he wanted a car with a good, strong heater. And the Kadett did have that.
Rightfully, I should tell the whole Kadett story before the Dart, and just recently, I was telling Stephanie the rather unorthodox sole camping trip my father and I made in the Kadett, in our first exploration of the Appalachians to the south, and ending up in North Carolina. In addition to the new scenery, we provided some to the folks in the hollers and hamlets down there, who stared at the Kadett as if it was an extraterrestrial alien, which it might as well have been. Or maybe it was us they were staring at. The 40 hp 993cc Kadett would not have made a good moonshine runner, despite its relatively big trunk, except for maybe escaping the law by driving off the road between narrowly-spaced trees.
Let’s just say that this bucolic picture of a father and son fishing does not represent our experience on a number of levels; those are the Not-Niedermeyers; the Niedermeyer’s don’t go fishing, for starters. When I find a suitable Kadett A, I will tell you just how I came to have a scar across my wrist, and other fun tales of that trip, being my father’s…um…full-time attendant. He hadn’t been camping since WW2, and swore he would never again, but this was the only way to explore the Dolly Sods, and I was (conveniently) a 12 year-old Boy Scout. So I procured the tent, folding cot, and all the other supplies, was put in charge of their use, organized the meals, and cooked them. Is supper ready yet, Paul? Is my camping bed set up yet, Paul? Shall we stay another day, Paul? NO!!!
Anyway, the Kadett only lasted three years (I told you to buy a VW); well, it was still running, but had already required a valve job and was feeling a bit prematurely aged. It was a very light but rather flimsy car. My older brother’s endless red-line speed-shifting while shutting down VW’s in stop-light drags and other hijinks likely contributed to its issues.
I strongly suspect the timing of trading in the Kadett for a new car coincided with my brother getting his own car, a 1957 MGA whose terminal rust issues could be monitored on an almost daily basis, if not quite hourly. That sad chapter has been written already. No more sharing the car…time for a new one.
So off he went one day, once again failing to consult with me. And he drove home in this: a base Dart two-door stripper without a single option, not even an AM radio. This was his pre-car radio days, but soon after he got the Dart, he realized that the 45 minute commute through the city was much less tedious with news and talk radio, so took to carrying a cheap little AM portable transistor radio on the dash. Pimp my ride.
The featured Dart two-door does not have its original interior anymore, so I had to do some Googling to find something close. Oddly, this Dart 270 hardtop has the very same thin and cheap-feeling vinyl that belongs in the base Dart, and in my father’s car. Hmm. Which was also all-black, as in a cave, unbroken only by the chrome door pulls and a few miserly touches of plasti-chrome on the dash. But!! In a classic case of assembly-line mix-up, the rear seat in his Dart was not at all the same as this base upholstery in front.
His car’s rear seat was from a deluxe 270 model, like this green sedan, nice tuck-and-roll vinyl of a decidedly higher grade. Whoa! Where did that come from? Maybe it should have gone in the 270 hardtop pictured above, along with someone else’s mismatched front seat. Ah, the good old days.
This shot is from yet another ’68 Dart, and it has an automatic and air conditioning. Perish the thought! Well, until 1978, when Pop finally got tired of riding through Baltimore’s famous summer humidity sitting on hot smooth black vinyl, and bought himself an air-conditioned Mercury Zephyr. But that’s another story.
I’m showing this shot because it’s the only one I could find with the base steering wheel. And I’m here to tell you it was a miserable thing. Chrysler changed the plastic formulation in ’67 or ’68, and now it felt perpetually greasy, and had a gray film on it. Or it seemed that way. And of course it was hot. Yuck.
This Dart proudly shows of its “Charger 225” slant six, which undoubtedly powered the vast majority of Dart sixes. But my father’s stripper, true to the name and concept, had the little 170 cubic inch (2.8 L) version, which as of 1967 was rated optimistically at 115 (gross) hp. The 170 used to be rated at 101 hp; I defy anyone to tell me what changed from the 101 hp version to the 115 hp version other than…the PR Department’s optimism.
The only picture I could find of a red-painted stock 170 was this fuzzy picture. The only visual difference is that the 225 block is a bit taller, and I think there’s a little hose or something from the water pump that might be correspondingly longer. But the real difference is in the one inch longer stroke on the 225. Yes, the bores of these two sixes is the same, at 3.40″. But the 170 has a modest 3.13″ stroke, while the 225 swings a mighty 4.13″ stroke, making it very undersquare, and a real torquer, in relative terms.
Meanwhile, the little 170 is willing to rev; one in a really good state of tune can be made to turn 6000 rpm. I don’t know if Pop’s would do that, since it lacked a tach, obviously, and he got his cars tuned up at a little gas station whose mechanic “Woody” was…all-too obviously not very sharp. But my father was loyal to a fault, and he got tune-ups on his Dart quite often, and would come home and say enthusiastically: I got a really good tune up this time! Well, Pops, getting a tune up shouldn’t have to be like gambling…
The Dart sported a three-on-the -tree, and a miserable thing it was. These three-speeds that Detroit was still sticking into many of their cars were totally 1930s technology: no syncro on first gear, which sucked in typical big-city traffic. Who wants to stop fully, or is good enough to double-clutch to get a clean downshift? Or just grinds the gears?
And they all were missing a gear, literally. First and second were ok, ratio-wise, but the jump to third (direct) was way too big. That worked half-assed with a big six or better yet a lazy V8, but the little sixes were strangled by these gearboxes. Especially if one wanted to have some fun. Never mind the slow and balky column shifter.
The countryside to the north of Towson, heading up towards Pennsylvania, is a driving mecca: endless old country roads that constantly wind through creek and river valleys, shoot up over hill and dale, and with straightaways connecting them, often with abrupt little rises perfect for catching air. Or thinking so. It’s like rural England, and there’s a reason sports cars were so common there.
My high school buddy had his family’s brand new Datsun 510 with which to get endlessly lost on these maze of roads. And with which to actually catch air. It was the perfect back-roads bomber, with its lusty OHC four and slick four speed stick.
The Dart had the potential to be one of the best American cars back on those roads, except for a couple of issues. Well, the giant hole between second and third was hardly minor; it meant either revving the piss out of the 170, which never complained, or bogging it down in a more reasonable shift into third. These sixes just cried out for a proper four speed, with the third gear being heavily used.
In my ’66 F100, with its 240 six and its three speed with overdrive, my favorite gear is second/OD, comparable to third gear on a four or five speed. It’s the one I use the most around town, and the one that I can rev out to get me up to highway speed if I’m carrying a heavy load and need to merge into a highway or freeway. I can’t imagine life without it anymore.
There is this ’68 Dart in Eugene, which I wrote up here. It’s a deluxe 270 version, but I show it because it highlights another issue with Pop’s dart: grossly undersized tires. I’m not sure what exact tire size this Dart is wearing, but they’re radials and wider than the ultra-tiny 6.50 x 13 inch bias-ply mini-donuts my Dad’s Dart wore. So if these look small…think skinnier yet.
I looked up the ’68 Dart brochure, and sure enough, those 6.50 x 13s were standard only with the 170 six; with the 225, the tire size moved up to a still-puny 7.00 x 13. My point is that reaching the maximum adhesion on those curves was all-too easy to do, and was a liberal education. But this is where the Dart’s positive side comes in: it was essentially perfectly neutral in its handling attitude.
Thanks to the little six, manual transmission, and nothing else up front over the wheels, the Dart had a very favorable front/rear weight distribution, and hence the neutrality. Throw it into a tight back road turn, and it squealed like a lanced pig, but equally from all four of the little tires; well, mostly the two outer ones, but without the terminal understeer so typical in American cars of the time.
As confidence built, little well-controlled drifts became part of the back-road diet; the Dart never stung. The suspension was reasonably firm enough, although better damping from a set of good shocks would have been nice. Dad; Woody says that the Dart needs new shocks; I found some good Konis…they’ll make it ride much better. As if…
The manual steering was of course too slow for serious sporting, but doable. Downshifting into second on a very tight uphill turn full-out was a serious ergonomic challenge that really would have required three arms to pull off properly. At least it had plenty of genuine feedback, which is rather essential for the style of driving I was cultivating between Bunker Hill and the Pennsylvania state line. Mom’s Coronet wagon’s power steering was utterly devoid of feedback; might as well have been a remote control device.
The shitty little Dart was no Datsun 510, but with a few modifications, it could have given it a run for the money, or even spanked it. The Hyper-Pak version of the 170 was rated at 148 hp, but was alleged to give more than that. In NASCAR’s brief compact racing class, the 1960 Valiants would do 130 mph, and the engines ran at 6500 rpm. And the Valiants utterly spanked the Falcons and Corvairs.
Swap in a four-speed, or preferably a T-5 five speed, some bigger wheels, tires, brakes and a bit of suspension tuning, and the Dart could be a killer back-roads bomber. A number of folks have done just that, and the results are impressive.
Enough MMing. I’d like to think this was actually my dad’s Dart, sporting primer on one side and some of the original paint on the other. But the 225 six and TorqueFlite make that impossible. Just as well. But I’m sure someone drove his for at least another ten years or more, as all my back-road bombing didn’t seem to faze it the slightest.
In my old age, I’ve come to see that my father was smarter than I gave him credit for, even with his choice of cars. My older brother may have contributed to the Kadett’s early demise, but my father made sure that wasn’t going to happen again. So consciously or not, his choice of car was the perfect one in that regard; I only took out the baby-shit stripper Dart when I was desperate, and it was up to any and all the abuse I could subject it to.
Learning to drive a slowish car to its limits, over and over, is the best way to accumulate real driving skills. And it improves the odds of living to tell about it. So yes, Pop, it’s probably just as well you didn’t come home with a Dart GTS 340 four speed. Not a choice he likely ever pondered, but it’s Father’s Day, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
That’s just a hell of a story, Paul. Thanks. My sister drove a 1965 Valiant with a 273 as her first car. But, dammit, I was too young to drive it while she had it. However, when I turned 16, she had obtained, with help from dad, a 1963, yes, 1963 Catalina 4-door sedan, light brown with a white roof. This was a blast to drive, and she did let me, a lot. I also learned what a hot radiator could do. Never again did I get burned like this one burned me on the side of my 15-year old face. Blistered me. But I still loved her car and its weirded-out transmission.
A guidance counselor at my high school had a similar vintage Valiant 200 two-door sedan. It was a little rusty, but he got a lot of use out of it. Oddly enough, my dad’s logic was similar with the first car I got to drive on a regular basis. It was our ’78 Gutless Cutlass with the 3.8 and automatic. Slow, slow, slow, but it drove and handled pretty well. The ’77 Century with a 350 was a lot better, but I didn’t get to drive it very often. I wouldn’t have minded an old Dart with a slant six to tool around in, and, as you say, a four speed would have been just the ticket.
Great story Paul. My fathers ’60 Dodge had a 225 slant six and three on the tree. One of his biggest complaints about that car was the shifter and transmission.
Another great story, Paul. At least Dad’s ’74 Duster stripper had an all syncro 3 speed and the 225 six mandatory in California for ’74, it had enough torque to pull the missing 3rd gear better in high. Earlier this week (CC effect again) I pulled up next to an elderly lady driving a ’68 Dart 2 door, her tiny little head peeking over the top of the steering wheel. It had a few bumps and bruises, but I’m willing to bet she had it since new. I think it was auto, but was a 6 for sure. Happy Father’s Day. My Dad and I had little in common and as I was growing up we had even less. As age took it’s toll we were able to resolve a lot of our differences, and he often thanked me for stepping up to take care of him and Mom. It took a lot out of me, but in the long run, what the hell, they raised and protected me, so I’m happy I was able to help.
My dad said to me once “the car always feels different after you drive it” and he had a Volvo so maybe your pop was right not to get another foreign job. He must have known your bro was thrashing the Opel, dads know these things, and it’s kinda cool he “prepared” for you by getting the Dart 170. He could have said you can’t drive my car. This is all your brother’s fault 🙂
Great read as usual Paul. Happy Father’s Day!
My Cousins in Baltimore and my Mother’s parents in Philly could not afford to White Flight so it is interesting to read about families who do. I enjoy reading these articles and it is interesting the different kinds of thrifty people can be. When my folks bought their 05 Kia Sedona they refused all the dealer perks and were even reimbursed a month or so later when the dealer had still failed to mail the key fobs. This Kia had Red, White, and Blue stripes down the sides a few inches high which ended in an American Flag which was dealer installed. My folks saved at least $200 by having the dealer remove these cheesy decals they themselves installed.
My mother bought a blue 1970 Dart Coupe (Swinger?) from my Great Aunt’s Estate in the late 1980s. No AC, but it had 4 Drum Brakes an automatic transmission and black vinyl benches with lap belts. I know it had the ribbon Speedometer, but I do not know what engine it had or if it had power steering. One of these days I want to buy a 1970-1972 Dart Coupe.
What is it about Kia dealers and cheesy pinstripes? The one in my area puts them on everything, complete with extra “Kia” logos (!)
No idea at all and think about it, the Kia Sedona is built in South Korea so the pinstripes are even more silly, maybe even offensive.
Kias and cars in general with extra decals are amusing because 21st Century passenger cars with them are not terribly common in my experience.
Great story! My Dad’s car taste were similar. Lots of strippers or something close growing up. This one reminds me of my brothers first car which was bought at an auction for him by my Dad. 68 Valiant 100 2dr., avacado green with plain black interior like shot above. It did have some sort of decor package which did add chrome strips and moldings to the exterior like was on the uplevel 200. His was a 225 automatic and had working factory air, a little bit rare even in Mobile, Al on that type of car. The car was bought for my brother to use to get to a summer job in Wilmington, NC but had one problem which reared it head about 200 miles from Mobile when the Oil Light popped on. Anyway 2 quarts of oil added and keeping a check on it still got my brother through his 2 final years of with very few if any other problems. We called the car the Arab because it loved its oil.
Paul, I’m guessing from the article you want to throw things when you hear of modern luxury cars featuring vinyl seats standard under special names (MB tex, BMW tex, etc.) it’s better vinyl, but having experienced vinyl seats as a child, I am revolted.
I understand your frustration, it sounds like your father had, among other things, that peculiar Hair-shirt mentality common to people of that generation and immigrants. They feel extra frugal when miserable, whether they need to be or not, or whether there’s actually any frugality, and to heck with everyone else’s needs. Ma bought a new Sentra in 1986, which was also a miserable penalty box due to vinyl seats, no air conditioning (in Atlanta!) no radio, no clock, no cigarette lighter . . . Unlike a Chevette, which no matter how much you optioned it was still a Chevette, a Sentra could be made into a decent appliance with a few hundred dollars worth of options. The hair shirt version bespoke a miserable, masochistic rather than virtuous frugality.
That being said, the vehicle I drive most often is an 06 stripper Caravan, which is luxurious compared to the early version. Air, cruise, tilt, electric windows/locks, comfortable cloth seats. . . I wonder how kids growing up now view today’s stripper automobiles, which are emphatically no longer penalty boxes?
A family member used to always buy family vehicles with no air-conditioning and, as that became more and more common, still chose to not option air-con. It got to the point where he had to special order a ute in the 2000s without a/c, which can’t have helped its resale value.
He now has a VF Commodore SV6 which is very, very nicely equipped and he loves it. I’m glad.
“…that peculiar Hair-shirt mentality common to people of that generation and immigrants. They feel extra frugal when miserable, whether they need to be or not, or whether there’s actually any frugality, and to heck with everyone else’s needs.” Nice.
I thought those kind of dads ended with the Depression-WWII generation, but I’m guessing Paul’s is ten or twenty years later. And now others here seem to know similar guys from later too.
My dad was the Depression-WWII Greatest and sometimes Cheapest Generation, and one of those too. Immigration was mostly back in the mid 1800’s but things held on longer in those days of tradition. I guess the potato famine was never quite in the past.
Interesting that the Paul Dad was a neurologist who I’m guessing didn’t have to pinch pennies to this extreme. And the Opel choice is farther into left field than most of the hair-shirt types would go. The lure of much higher mpg was probably too much to resist.
The difference between the extra cheap base Dart model and the nicer ones with some typical options like power steering, brakes, AC (Baltimore!), Torqueflite, and a radio for god sakes is really night and day. The nicer upholstery, cloth even, and such luxuries as foam padding etc. would make just the basic sitting there requirement a lot nicer.
Until the later 50’s, cheap models would have about zero chrome and black rubber around the windshield. You might as well have painted I’m a Cheapskate on the side.
Guess how I know: A 1958 Chevy base model has one (!) cardboard sun visor, cardboard kick panels (the inside wall in front of the doors and under the dashboard), no armrests or any way to pull the door closed other than the door handle, no oil filter, painted metal dashboard, and (probably no foam, just jute or something in there) plain flat vinyl seats. And a 3 speed stick with a first gear whine exactly like every Chevy going back probably to the 30’s. I bet Paul’s right: until the bitter end American 3 speeds were probably designs from the 30’s, except maybe cars like Falcons maybe getting a cheaper small version.
The 1958 Chevy Delray/Yeoman wagon did get a chrome line down the side, which for a 1958 GM product was minimalism. The brochure shows that cheopo interior small than the others because they don’t want anyone to notice.
Actually Ford spent the money for a brand-new synchro box for the ’63 models.
Not to be confrontational, but your Caravan is not a stripper. My 03 Caravan has the 2.4 Liter 4 Cylinder engine, no power locks, no power windows, no cruise control, and no tilt steering wheel. It does have an AM/FM Radio with a Cassette Deck and front Air Conditioning though.
Thanks. Reading this is being plunged all the way to 72 – my father had a 71 4 door sedan which he kept until 77, having accumulated more than 150,000 miles and survived the 73 war as an enlisted staff car (the picture below was taken in Egypt after the war). His was at least 225/Torqueflite but no options other than that. Oh, the car before was a 64 Fairlane with the small six, three on the tree and… vinyl seats to be stuck to. He did not share your father’s color choice – it was Wimbledon white, a dark car in pre-aircon Israel would have been a furnace. Yes, my father was thrifty: he too succumbed to the luxury of climate control in 1980 when he got the Citation.
Drop the ride height a couple inches put a Kmac sway bar kit in decent shocks and lower profile tyres and these old Valiants are great to drive too fast a Speco floorshift helps no end too and if you want dome herbs under the hood drop in a Hemi 6 or just get a 71 Aussie model and do the suspension. Great old cars I’d have another any time.
Tree shifters are a PITA, Ive owned countless versions Vauxhall went to full syncro in 61 but for some reason nobody else did, my Minx came with tree shift a 4 speed finger tip control according to Rootes propaganda even after a thorough overhaul I still hated it and subsequently fitted a full syncro floor shift box, and I drive non syncromesh trucks for money, I love a 18 speed Eaton truck trans they shift as smooth as silk but hate collumn shift with a passion.
Just took the “north to PA” drive last weekend, on the way from Towson to the Lincoln & Continental Owners Club meet in Glenn Mills, PA, on Rt. 1. Hasn’t changed a lot since seeing if my dad’s ’64 Dart (270, TorqueFlite) was a sports sedan on the way to exotic York, PA. Thanks for the excellent articles and memories.
Forgive me, Paul, for this being tangential–but seeing this ChryslerCorp ad really brought back my itch to take “Dad’s car” out on my own (1960s)–and my suspicion that he knew darned well how I was thrashing it:
I must have missed that at the time. 🙂
My dad’s tipoff was that there was no rear tire tread left on his 460 Elite.
My mother was surprised at the short tire life on her 74 Luxury LeMans. The rears were fine, but the outside edges of the fronts were worn smooth. I suggested that it was probably cheap OEM tires. I think she bought it.
You mentioned your father did not seek out your advise on the purchase of the Dart. What would you have had him buy in the price range he was in?
I, too, am curious about what you would have recommended!
Love reading more chapters of your Auto-Biography, Paul!
Let’s just say he wasn’t truly constrained by a set dollar amount. I can assure you the other neurologists at Johns Hopkins were all driving quite nice cars. The nurses and his EEG technicians were driving nicer cars. Even his secretary! He drove this Dart for ten years!
How about a BMW 2002? I would have endorsed that enthusiastically. Or just maybe a nice GM A-Body hardtop with a V8, automatic, and AC?
Of course, that was My POV then; now I think it’s somewhere between funny and cool that he made such a contrarian choice.
My father wisely ignored my pleas for an Alfa Romeo Alfeta.
I’d like to hear more about these Darts with 170 motors with hyper pak and extra gears.
Google: “slant six doug dutra” and you’ll find lots of info: https://www.google.com/#q=valiant+slant+six+dutra
Everybody has a Valiant story, and were I to buy a new car in 1968, it probably would have been a V 200 with 225 and Torqueflight, as most of them were. The cars had that visceral “good car” feeling to them. They were peppy and not too expensive to run. Further, they seemed to last through Quebec winters better than most.
My dad also bought strippers, although as he aged, he got into nicer stuff. I have a stripper as my dd but what constitutes a “stripper” now is a lot different than in 1968.
Yeah, I am drawn to cars with the lowest cost of ownership, and lowest probability of a breakdown as well. At one time that meant Rambler. I think the Valiant may have taken this title when the Rambler went away, but maybe not. The AMC Hornet was pretty easy on the pocket book too. If I could pick and choose models and drivetrains I would lean towards a Hornet hatchback with the Vehiculos Automotores Mexicanos(VAM) 282 inline six and a four-on-the-floor.
I have tastes just like your Father, Mr. N. My 63 Valiant Signet is absolutely without options, 3 on the tree, formerly a 170, now a 225 un boosted steering and brakes. Came with only a radio, heater and possibly whitewalls. It’s a different sort of fun for me.
The linkages on the 3 speed manuals sucked. My parent’s new 63 Dart Wagon had to be towed to the dealer to repair the linkage which had bound up and kept it from shifting. My Valiant’s biggest weak point has been just that same problem: the linkage and the insanely flimsy z bar/torque bar to which it connects.
Nothing masochistic about it to me. Modern cars are bloated with features I have no use for. Modern drivers haven’t a clue as to what constitutes a truly “stripped” automobile.
I went to a car show a couple weeks ago where two guys spent the entire morning fixing the 3-on-the-tree linkage of a ’60 Ford. A bolt had fallen out and they were having quite a time getting it together again.
I’ve had 8 cars with floor/console manuals, all but one FWD with remote linkages and all but (a different) one beaters at best and junk heaps at worst, and have never had a shift linkage issue.
HQ series Holdens were the worst tree shifts for jamming but its 2 minutes to sort if you know how.
As I have recently experienced with a modern car, a failed BCM required prying up the trim panel surrounding the central shift lever and forcing a lever up to move the car into drive. On my drive to my mechanic, just about everything else controlled by the BCM went haywire. Needless to say, I would have been grateful if I only had to spend some time trying to re-bolt a difficult linkage together.
When I went shopping for a replacement car last year, the closest thing I could find to a stripper was a base Civic with 5speed. It comes with power windows/locks/brakes/steering, a CD player, an MP3 player, and air.
My “stripper” Rio has central locking, USB audio input, four speakers, CD player, power windows, tilt wheel, adjustable seat hight, rear defogger, power steering and power four wheel brakes, with abs and ebd. Then there’s the DOHC CVVT 16 valve direct injection engine, mated to a six speed manual. That’s only a partial list.
That 3 on the tree never got any better, even when the cars became collectible. My showroom condition 1963 Valiant wagon with the 170, owned in the late oughts was nearly impossible with that space between 2nd and 3rd. It took away all the joy.
It seemed like Chrysler didnt have a 4 speed that would fit even when the built a hot version of the Valiant for the Aussie market it still had a 3 speed box albeit with floor shift, the Pacer was a nice quick car apart from that error,
I believe it was Australia’s local content requirements that caused Chrysler to use the 3 on the floor.
They couldn’t import them, & it wasn’t worth making their own. So they waited until Borg Warner produced one here.
Thanks for the story too.
Not quite Chris local Borg Warner 4 speed production all went to Ford it took an increase in production capacity for the Valiants to gain a 4 speed.
In the mid 70s I owned a 69 Plymouth Valiant 2 door, a Signet, which I believe was the top trim line for a late 60s Valiant. However, the only indications that this car might be special were the chrome surrounding the upper door frames and the 2 front seats (sort of “mini” benches), not really bucket seats. This car was like many thousands of other 69 Mopar compacts in that it was “bottle” green but unusually (?) the interior had matching green carpets and WHITE seats and door panels. Of course, it had the near requisite slant 6 with automatic transmission and under dash A/C.
A very reliable and easily maintained car….but surely an appliance, even 40 years ago.
My apologies for numerous typos and rough edges. I banged this out late last night, and didn’t review and check it properly. And this morning we split for a very long day in the mountains. A bit embarrassing.
No worries Paul. You’re due. Happy Father’s Day!
After all these years, I understand why Dennis Weaver had such a hard time outrunning that truck in “Duel’ (even if Weaver was piloting a slightly later Plymouth Valiant).
He had the extra ballast of Steven Spielberg hiding behind the front seat.
You can supposedlly see him there in some shots.
A wonderful read about a car that quietly asked for respect and eventually got it.
I used to get an occasional ride from the Plymouth version. A friend of my mother (and my piano teacher) bought a 69 Valiant 100 2 door sedan. It was that medium green with the same upholstery as your Dart, but in tan. She was admittedly a more typical customer.
She claimed that it had 3 options: AM radio, backup lights and the 225 slant 6. She had special ordered it. She got married in the late 70s to a man even more frugal than she was. They kept the Valiant as primary transport until the rust finally got one of the torsion bar anchor points in the early 80s. I don’t think it amassed 60k miles the whole time.
I always had a thing for the honesty of that little car.
Powerwise, the /6s and 3 speed manuals were miserable on these (but were unbreakable,) so I completely understand Paul’s lament from a driver’s perspective. Couple the weak drivetrain with a lack of any sway bar, slow manual steering and tiny wheels and tires and its a miserable driving car.
But a 340 Dart (or any A-Body) is a really fun ride, and while they are celebrated for great street and dragstrip cars, I dont think they get enough credit as road cars. Even a 318 Dart with a Torqueflite, fast ratio steering box, sway bars and disc brakes is a surprisingly fun ride.
Ah, yet another example of Chrysler cannibalizing sales from their own car lines (although I don’t think it was as bad as some other circumstances). In this case, Dodge already had the Dart hardtop and convertible as their somewhat stodgy answer for the ponycar market. Dodge dealers cried long and loud about that one (even though they got the Charger as a specialty car) until Chrysler upper management finally relented and Dodge would eventually get their own ponycar in the ill-fated and too late E-body Challenger.
Unlike other two-door sedans (which seemed to be more of a holdover from an industry thought process decades old), you can’t really blame Chrysler too much for offering up a Dodge version of the 2-door sedan Valiant since it was a simple matter of using a different doghouse as well as their own quarter panels and tail-lights on a Valiant. Plus, sales of the Valiant during the go-go sixties were strong enough that it’s unlikely they lost much. So long as the product was relatively competent, just about anything sold well back then. Still, you have to wonder about the wisdom since it was yet another encroachment by Dodge into the low-price field at which Plymouth was squarely aimed.
Dodge had its own dealerships and Chrysler/Plymouth was a different one so the badge engineering gave them each something in the same class to sell, although of course Dodges were historically a notch up.
The ’68 Dart sat on 3″ longer wheelbase 111″ vs 108″ and was 7″ longer 195″ vs 188″. The Valiant rode it’s shorter wheelbase from ’67 to ’74.In ’75 they went to the Darts 111″ wheelbase.
My first Dart was a ’67 Dart stripper 2dr sedan, vinyl seats, 225, auto and an AM radio. Also had no carpeting, just rubber floor mats. It had those tiny 13″ tires & wheels which were way too small for the car. It is also the only of the 3 Darts and 2 Valiants that I have owned over the years that I left the 13″ tires on. The rest either came with 14″ tires or I changed over to 14’s. What a difference the the 14″ radials vs 13″ bias ply tires make. I wish I had them all back now. They were cheap, dependable and when the did have a problem they were easy and cheap to repair.
The very first car my father (who was also an European immigrant) purchased was a 1968 Plymouth Barracuda notchback w/a 318 w/automatic transmission, white walls & AM radio. Compared to Paul’s father’s car, it was a Hemi ‘Cuda ?
My present car is a base model 2005 Focus w/crank windows, but w/AC & CD player, which I’m happy to have
The last stripper car my Father bought was a brand new ’56 green Chevy 210 2 door sedan, the ancient 6 cylinder engine, 3 on the tree. A heater was the ONLY option on this car. Dad later added junk yard wheel covers, an aftermarket, manual tune, AM radio and painted the top white. His rationale was that he, Mom and the 2 month old me were about to move from Kansas City to New Orleans, he needed a new, reliable car and the Chevy was all he could pay cash for.
This Chevy replaced a top of the line ’53 Ford, V8, overdrive and all the chrome. Dad mourned the loss of that Ford for decades!
Dad said he hated that Chevy every time he drove it. He sold it in 1960 for a new, fully loaded Plymouth Valiant V-200 and never bought another Chevy.
Another great story Paul. I always love the updates on what the Not-Niedermeyers are up to.
Your Dad was the new but absolute cheapest shopper, whereas my family was absolute cheapest bar none in those days.
Having attended university in German, your dad sounds all German to me.
I had a 64 Valiant, push button automatic with Slant Six. It was a solid, unexciting, honest car. It was a great first car. Bought it for $200 and it lasted four years spinning around the Rockies. Brakes, sometimes, optional. Cheap to run and cheap to fix.
My sister just bought new Honda Fit (Jazz). It comes in three levels. She picked the middle one. Like Hondas have always done, there are few options and to get what you want you have to pick the level with that stuff. The middle one has things like lane monitoring, keyless entry, pointless shift paddles (on a shiftless automatic), alloys, and even a sunroof. And all the PS, PB, AC, power windows that are pretty much unavoidable (for good reason) these days. The high line model has leather only, and she didn’t want leather.
The automatic is $800 more, but gets a couple more miles per gallon. Of course if you keep a stick long enough you will probably be spending $1000 on a clutch. The automatic may or may not last forever.
So the base model has the modern basics, but actually weighs less because of less sound deadening and bunch of other things and who knows what else. Shades of the olden days. The price differences between the levels aren’t that much considering the equipment.
A friend of hers, a guy about 50, got one too. The base model. She said he only buys the cheapest anything no matter what. So the cheapskate hair shirt middle aged guys live on!
emjayay, We have the same FIT. That CVT costs $135 every 30,000 miles,
service with some magic fluid made from Unicorn blood. The clutch in our
03 Civic is working perfect after 274,000 miles (the car has only needed one
repair in all those miles). Wife’s car, I would have gone with the base.
What a great post, Paul. I love that your dad took frugality to a whole other dimension. And I’m also wondering how on earth the car made it off the assembly line with a mismatched back seat! This wasn’t the Chrysler of the 70’s, after all.
My mother was born just before the stock market crash that ushered in the Depression. We ended up with some embarrassing strippers also, only these were in the full-size category. We could have had nicer midsize or compact cars for the same money after 1960.
I do have a stripper of sorts now in my fleet — a 1998 Nissan Frontier regular cab with air and a 5-speed manual, plus a 30-watt AM/FM/cassette with 2 speakers! Crank windows, manual locks, and a straight bench seat, but DOHC, fuel injection, ps, and pb (with rear-only antilocks).
My dad was a child of the Depression and could be cheap as hell. His last pure stripper was his ’80 AMC Concord wagon, Iron Duke, manual trans, manual steering, vinyl seats, and no a/c. That would be that last non-a/c car he would own after we took it on a trip to El Paso late one summer. Yikes!
Great article and comments too .
Pops , being a Depression Child , never really got over pinching pennies ’till they bled in spite of his need for $3,000.00 suits because he was a famous Doctor you know (insert eyeroll here) .
We had some really awful cheap strippers from the 1940’s through the end .
I love pretty much any MoPar A Bodied car , yes the cheaper ones were pretty wretched but all could easily and cheaply be up graded and they were simple , reliable and inexpen$ive to operate and repair , the Yankee Farm Boy in me will never forget that .
A dream car for me would be a ’64 Barracuda carefully optioned .
‘ Three On The Tree ‘ shift linkages all sucked , I’ve rebuilt them in many different brands , they still sucked .
I have a memory of going with my Mom to pick up her brand new Dart 2 door hardtop–slant 6, auto and AM radio–she drove it until around 1975 and after she sold it we would see it once in awhile being driven by its new owner–jacked up rear end and wide tires. We got a few A bodies in the family–my brother’s 69 Dart Custom and my brother in laws 69 Dart Swinger with slant 6 4bbl and duel exhaust–all resonable to buy, collect and drive.
Thanks for sharing this Paul. Reading this, I was suddenly 8 years old again, riding in the back of Mom’s ’68 Dart sedan, with the black vinyl bench seat sticking to my skin on hot summer days with no A/C and those miserable “barn door” vents providing the only airflow. And there was the AM/FM transistor radio hanging from the rearview mirror. But at least we had the 225 slant six and automatic transmission. As a kid whose friends were running around in air conditioned LTD Country Squires I hated that bare-bones Dart but now appreciate its simple and honest simplicity.
With the benefit of about 40 years of hindsight, I think the Dart 225 was a great car–perhaps the most “honest” car to come out of Detroit in the 60s.
The pictures of 2-door sedans remind me of family friends of ours–they had a pale yellow 68, 225, auto, p/s, am radio, black interior, dog-dish hub caps, and skinny tires. Very reliable car!
Thanks for the memory, have a great new year, and keep up the great work!
Paul, thanks for all the great articles, you and your elves have added a new dimension
to my cyberlife (the only life I have).
I am pre Baby Boom by a couple of months. Your observations on the thriftiness of
the immigrants is so true. Wars and depressions seem to mess up people.
The smaller Toyota pickup comes in stripper trim. But you gotta beg.
You have to love these cars. They were pretty reliable for their day, and their clean design has worn well…they still look nice. And then there is the fact that everyone had one or knew someone who had one. In my case, my neighbor had the exact same 68 two door sedan, in a nice shade of Aqua Blue, black interior, am radio, and automatic. I think it had the 225 though. The neighbor who owned it made the mistake of parking it in the street one night, and ours being the busy thorofare it was, the Dart was hit hard in the left rear through the left front fender. It was replaced with a 71 Chevelle Nomad wagon, Mulsanne Blue with black interior, 307, automatic and AM radio. In an opposite move from the Dart, it had full wheel covers and whitewall tires. So, my neighbor preferred base models with just a few niceties.
It’s funny to me how so many here have stated their fathers were prone to buying stripper models. I was fortunate, my Dad was a car guy, and wanted something with a bit of style and optional equipment. He had many company cars, all stripped down base model Valiant, Rambler American, Falcon or Chevy II four doors. His last company car was a 69 Biscayne, ( a promotion meant you got a larger car) six cylinder, automatic and nothing else but the standard equipment. He did put in an AM radio though. Our cars were always a bit more fancy. My first memory of our cars was a 53 Mercury Monterey, which was about nine years old when it was replaced by a gently used 55 Coupe De Ville. That was replaced by a low mileage 60 Series 62 coupe, and then the first brand new car in our family became a 1968 Impala Custom Coupe, followed by a 71 Chevelle Malibu coupe. The Chevelle would be traded in on a 74 Impala with every option available, as my Dad said it would be his last new car. It turned out he’d keep the 68 Impala until 1991, and the 74 until 1997. After that it was a series of used Chevys.
Great story. My dad also had a base ’68 Dart painted gold, though his was a four door and had the luxury of an automatic transmission. I was young at the time and the car was sold well before I was driving age. For better or for worse my dad had a 1985 Thunderbird turbo when I came of age…occasionally I had the pleasure of driving that unchaperoned.
A friend had one of these with a 340 and a four speed. Wicked fast. Wouldn’t mind owning one in good condition with suspension and brake upgrades.
My first car was a yellow 4 door 1969 Dodge Dart with a 225 slant six and three speed manual transmission. Other than the alternator failing and a couple snapped alternator belts, it never failed for the 131,000 miles I drove it. It already had 189,000 miles when I bought it in 1983. I should never have sold that car. if I still had it, it would probably out live me.
Sad to realize that Chrysler had the perfect car rolling out of their factories in 1967, but didn’t realize it. The V/D was the perfect blank slate for whatever Chrysler wanted to sell for the next twenty years. It could have been a slightly stretched V8 intermediate, a V8 muscle car, a wagon, and by utilizing it, Chrysler could have save itself millions at a critical time.
Chrysler management didn’t seem to recognize the corporation’s market weaknesses. The Fuselage Chryslers didn’t gain market share, and suffered quality issues. Chrysler went down market with the Newport Custom into Dodge and Plymouth full size markets when neither had market to share with Chrysler products.
Keeping and updating the V/D would have avoided the sloppy intermediate line up, the Volare/Aspen, and the overall costs of trying to downsize after the 1974 Gas Crisis. A more frugal and simpler model line up was forced on Chrysler and it could have been avoided if Chrysler management had any foresight, or appreciation of the Valiant/Dart cars before 1972. By the time they saw what they had, Chrysler didn’t have the money to upgrade or enhance the Valiant Dart.
This car was a small ray of sunshine for a company so determined to bankrupt itself.
Chrysler Australia did much of what you describe here with the A-body platform. They devised some very good, very interesting vehicles over a broad range of design briefs. Some of those cars might’ve done very well in the American market.
So – what the heck?
Anyone in Michigan knew this was happening in Australia? No one at Chrysler still thought they needed to produce those awful US intermediates? Yeah – this not only would have sold, it would have prepped Chrysler for a more profitable downsizing.
What was happening in Highland Park to prevent this from occuring?
“LOLROFL, it’s cute how people in countries other than America think their ideas count, isn’t it?” That’s what was happening in Highland Park. It was a rampant, widespread disease. And it still is.
(Chrysler Australia are reported to have sent one or another latter-day A-body variant of theirs to the mothership in Michigan, requesting assistance sharpening up its handling. The Americans were astonished at how well the car handled, and left it untouched.)
A Kiwi showed Australians how to make Valiants handle, except he didnt tell them what he did he simply blew the doors off Alan Moffat and his championship wining GTHO when that team came to NZ
Daniel & Vanilla Dude, the cars would have to have been better built than what was produced, they were tough cars that did their job, but a lot of the materials in them were not as good as the competion.
Good god, what had Chrysler Oz sent to America, an R/T Charger? The standard – and by far best-selling – Vals managed to handle a good deal worse than the GM and Ford locals of the time, and they were pretty bloody awful! It COULD be made to do well, though all of it in a fairly crude way for road use, but that sure wasn’t the usual Val sold.
And it wasn’t at all small, despite being based underneath on the decently-compact ’67(?) US model. (One clue’s underbonnet, where the old inner panels are miles inside the fatter Oz body). The styling of the ’70’s Oz Valiant (which I personally like), looked far too big for the average Oz consumer, and if a North American saw one in real life, they might be surprised how bulky the car looks.
It was a rampant, widespread disease. And it still is.
No it isn’t.
The Ford Fiesta, and the Focus were both designed overseas and sold in the US and globally. The EcoSport is from India. The Transit Connect is from Turkey. The Ranger was sold overseas before coming to the US.
That’s just Ford. GM and Chrysler have sold European cars in the US for 70 years. We have a long history of driving foreign designs sold under US brands.
My point was not to knock US brands, but to acknowledge that Detroit could have adopted the global thinking they have used in the past, and use today. It is a shame that Chrysler didn’t appreciate what was being done in Australia and New Zealand because those Chrysler people knew a thing or two about making a good car like the Valiant, a long term success and a profitable one. Chrysler needed to do to the Valiant, what they ended up doing with the K-Cars and spared themselves hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.
It’s unclear what or whose point you’re no-it-isn’ting, but…not mine.
“…The shitty little Dart was no Datsun 510,…”
Funny thing in this car chase from the movie Blazing Magnum, a Datsun 510 was the stunt double of a 1967 Dart in this car chase scene at 5:50 in this clip.
My grandfather bought my mother a ’69 Valiant (in that mustard gold color) new in the fall of ’68 when she started school at Temple and her Anglia with the bad front end repair shook too much on the Sure-Kill Expressway.
That car traveled the length of the Garden State Parkway hundreds of times in twelve years. I remember the times it stalled in the toll plazas on the way to the shore. Mom carpooled for nursery school with me in it in the end of the seventies. One quart of oil every fill-up. It was sold in 1980 to Ruby Pollack’s son Ron who had the camera store and a bunch of old Studebakers, when Mom upgraded to the Caprice wagon from Malcolm Konner in Paramus. The Valiant was sold on some years later to a pair of lesbians from Bloomingburg who didn’t add the quart of oil, and it blew up on the Wurtsboro hill.
Black vinyl seats.
Paul, maybe the color isn’t quite right, but this somewhat-look-alike (big engine, alas) sold on eBay recently: https://www.ebay.com/itm/174704157759?hash=item28ad2de43f%3Ag%3AbqwAAOSwPK1f9Q0X&nma=true&si=kCMDwXvU10UCQaZWUsj3mn2IqWc%253D&orig_cvip=true&nordt=true&rt=nc&_trksid=p2047675.l2557
That’s a great picture of that Dart, but I hate seeing the little Pentastar get painted over. Sacrilege, I say 🙂
Those Dart/Valiants can be made to handle far better than a stock Datsun you need to lose 30mm of ride height and fit a double sway bar up front along with wider lower profile tyres the throw it into a corner at too much velocity they just turn no muss no fuss, on the original 14 inch razor blades the factory fitted yeah they not so good We only got the 225 or LA V8 and Valiants got a good rep for being quick not 3.3 Vauxhall quick but a step above a Falcon or Holden great old cars.
A ’69 Plymouth Valiant brick like this hit 163 miles per hour uphill at Watkins Glen in the 1997 One Lap of America round. NOTHING was as fast, from Mallett-modified Corvettes to factory-supported Vipers. The overall lap-time was the second best of the year.
Oddly enough, I too have flogged a an ultra-basic (four-door) 170 3-speed Val over curvy roads, and found the old roarer to be not bad fun. A good car? Not really, but not awful, either.
It belonged to my cousins, and my dear and beloved aunt trusted implicitly that her polite and smart-enough newly-licensed nephew would not be an idiot behind the wheel with her kids on board.
Apologies to you, my long-gone and still-missed second mum. I had an 18 y.o. brain, and also a penis. (The former, thank god, is no longer that age or guided by the latter).
I drove it like a fool, with your kids giggling on board as they slid about oblivious to the danger. My only vague dispensation from moral condemnation was an awareness and respect for the 4-wheel drums, as they were beyond awful. Oh dear me, the retrospective shame.
Anyway, moving right along, it’s quite true that with a floor-change 4-speed, a bigger carb to help the reviness and disc front brakes, the basic package could potentially be made into a not-bad car at all, though I’ll be shallow enough to admit that if I happened to spy my neurologist today turning up in a Suzuki Celerio, I might just seek a second opinion…
I took driver’s training, at night since Catholic high had none, and a 1968 Dart 4 door stripper like this was the car. Can’t recall if it even had a radio not that it would have mattered. Every trip out was composed of one student driving, instructor in passenger seat and two students in the back all in the dark as it was fall.