Chrysler’s history in Brazil is very much a V8-dominated story during the sixties and seventies. In 1959, the Simca Chambord powered by the small Ford flathead V8 was the first domestically-produced V8. The Chambord, and its successor Esplanada, were built until 1969, when a more modern competitor to Ford’s Galaxie was needed. This time Chrysler brought something a bit more up-to-date to Brazil, especially in the engine compartment.
Chrysler hammered out an agreement with the government on a $50 million investment in its plants to modernize its locally-produced products. Meanwhile, until all the renovations were done, they had to keep the Simcas in production, but now with much better quality.
Finally in 1969, the new Brazilian Chrysler was presented; a genuine American Mopar product, the Dodge Dart. The first model to be sold was the four door sedan, equipped with the quite new small block LA 318 and three-speed manual transmission, with shifter on the column.
The car was a very nice surprise. It’s a bit unnecessary to say much here about all the qualities of the “A” body Mopar has, after all, the “CC” crowd knows all of them way better than I do.
The Brazilian Dart had exactly same design as the ’69 American Dart. The engine, which only had the two barrel carb and a lowered compression ratio for the low-octane fuel then being sold, was rated at 198 HP; still good enough to melt those skinny 14 inches bias–ply tires in a burn out.
That 198 hp number was convenient (manipulated?), since breaking through the 200 hp barrier would make the prices of the ownership taxes go through the roof.
The market accepted the car with enthusiasm; the Dart quickly found a comfortable spot right between the middle class Chevy Opala and the upscale Ford Galaxie. This spot was so successful that Chrysler decided to offer only the 318 V8 option, no cheaper “inliner” six around here. The two door hardtop coupe came along by the end of 1970 as a 1971 model.
The costumers had a few complains about the car. First was the small gas tank, with only 62 liters, but the worst was the drum brakes in all four wheels. In our opinion the car was too fast and too heavy for this kind of brake system.
The buyers soon elected the coupe as the favorite Dart, and that model easily outsold the four door. The sales numbers made the guys at the Dodge marketing department thinking: “Why not a true “Sporty” Dart? The solution was pretty obvious: the Dart “GT”, just like in the North America…
Well, that was not quite what the Brazilians designers had in mind. Let’s try to follow their logic.
Chrysler Corp. had created a car that many enthusiasts (me included) call the perfect “Muscle Car” : the ’68/’69 Dodge Charger R/T. The car has an intimidating style, powerful choices of big block V8s, and heritage from the race tracks… even the name was “bad ass”. So, why not created a Dart with some design clues from the Charger?
With that idea in mind, in 1971 the Brazilan Charger R/T was unveiled to the public. It had the front fascia with the headlights covered by the grille , some cool stripes, and the stretched “C” pillar, called Mexicana in some parts of the US.
I didn’t know for sure, but Chrysler used this extended flying buttress c-pillar in some Darts all over the world. The four speed manual “on the floor” transmission was standart for this “Charger” as well bucket seats in front and vinyl top. The 14 inche steel Magnum wheels wrapped in optional Firestone D-70 “Red Line” tires completed the visual package.
But the more important changes were in the engine part. The LA small block got a different two barrel carb, a higher compression ratio that required high octane gas, and dual pipes exhaust. All Chargers had their engines painted in Gold instead the standard blue in the Darts. Those little improvement made the 318 produce 215hp. Finally, front disc brakes were adopted.
Simultaneously, the Charger “LS” was unveiled, a less sporty version of the Charger, equipped with 3 speed transmission on the column, wheel cobvers instead the Magnum wheels, no stripes, and the optional automatic transmission.
The buyer could mix equipment from the R/T into the LS and vice versa.
In 1972 came the Dart “SE”, the simplest of them all, with no hub caps, no internal ventilation, no windshield washer, less chromes… but the car was as very cheap; half the price of a fully loaded Charger R/T.
The Charger instantly developed its reputation as the most powerful and fastest car in the country. Its prohibitive price made the car a rare sight on the races tracks, but it was feared on the streets.
In 1973 the Dart/Charger line received the first cosmetic changes and some new versions. From the Spartan “SE”,
to the luxurious “Gran Sedan / Gran Coupe”,
and the Chargers, there would be a Mopar for every taste.
By this time the “Oil Crisis” was in full gear and the sales numbers weren’t so thrilling. To face this problem, the Brazilian Chrysler presented in this same year the “Dodge 1800” a compact car based in the British Hillman Avenger, but perhaps this car can be the subject of another post.
For the following years, the “big” Dodges changed very little, and Chrysler started to offer the Darts with some details once exclusive to the Chargers like the hidden head lights front fascia and the 4 speed on-the-floor transmission. This mix made the cars loose the already little personality they had. It was time for some real changes.
In 1979 the whole line changed. It was still the same “A” body underneath but the front and rear fascia were redesigned. The Darts got roughly the same front as the 1973 American Darts, and the rear is something like its 1974 American brother.
The top of the line “Gran Sedan / Gran Coupe” were replaced by the “Le Baron / Magnum” models.
Here’s the rather gaudy Magnum coupe. The extended rear roof buttress was now gone.
The new cars were charming, the design guys even managed to create a “basket handle” top on the Magnum. The sun roof was optional.
In other hand, The Charger R/T lost completely its persona; it was no more than a Magnum with alloy wheels, two tone paint job and a weird louvers on the side windows.
But the fate of the V8 Mopars in Brazil was already doomed. Volkswagen do Brasil started in 1979 the acquisition process of Chrysler Brazil, with only one thing in mind: the truck assembly line.
The 1980Dart, already built under the VW management, was the last year of the Charger R/T, and in 1981 the production of Brazilian Chrysler was officially shut down .
The black Dart in the picture above is a 1981 model and is allegedly the very last “A” body produced in the world.
Odd enough, the LA 318 were kept in a low-level production for a couple more years, converted to run on ethanol. In a time when the alcohol was way cheaper than gasoline, the V8 was an interesting option in the new line of VW trucks.
The Dart became more than a collectible classic car in Brazil; it was the closest we got from a real muscle car. Ok, we had V8 Mavericks too, but Ford tried to adapt that car to the harsh times of very expensive gas; they even made four banger Maverick GTs!
In other hand, the Dart was born and died in full V8 honor; we never had a “lesser” Dart.