Curbside Classic: 1971 Dodge Dart Demon – Duster’s Doppelgänger

(first posted 4/15/2016)      “In fiction and folklore, a Doppelgänger (‘double-goer’ in German) is a look-alike or double of a living person, sometimes portrayed as a paranormal phenomenon, and in some traditions as a harbinger of bad luck. In other traditions and stories, they recognize your ‘double-goer’ as an evil twin.” (from Wikipedia)

In 1971, Dodge introduced the Dart Demon after demanding it’s own version of the Valiant-based Plymouth Duster, which had been enjoying strong sales since its introduction in 1969. Plymouth in return received its own version of the Dodge Swinger, which was offered as the Scamp. The Dodge Dart Demon would not be long for this world, however…

The Demon was based on the lightweight A-Body platform, and when combined with the Chrysler 340 (5.6l) V8, (conservatively) rated at 275 hp and 340 ft.-lbs. of torque, was a performance car that lived up to the name. 0-60 mph times were typically in the 6-7 second range with a top speed of near 130 mph (209 kph). Handling was good for the era, and the car could return 14-15 mpg.

Our subject car is a 1971 model as indicated by the split front grille and Demon decals on the fenders. 1972 models had a revised grille and cast badges on the fenders instead of decals.

An additional trim level was added in mid-1971, called the Dodge Dart Demon Sizzler. This package added some of the dress-up items from the Demon 340 to the base model.

You can’t really see the single exhaust pipe in the shadows, but it looked fairly small in diameter, which leads me to think this is a base model Demon, which came standard with the 198 cu. in. (3.2l) Slant Six making 125 hp (SAE gross) and 180 ft.-lbs. of torque. Price as-new was $2,343, compared to $2,721 for the Demon 340. The 225 cu. in. (3.7l) Slant Six making 145 hp (SAE net) was optional, and given that this car has an automatic and air conditioner, it almost certainly has at least the 225 six, possibly the 318 V8. Rallye wheels look sharp on this car, and 1971 marked the first year both sides of the car got “lefty-loosey” lug nuts.

A peek inside reveals tasteful plaid upholstery, an automatic transmission and air conditioning. Note the Demon insignia on the door panel, plus the period-correct cupholder. What’s curious about this car is that the 1971 Dart sales brochure only lists dark blue, tan or black for interior colors with the seat being “all vinyl.” Perhaps this car is actually a Demon Doppelgänger itself? Or had an interior from another car swapped in?

At any rate, this closeup of the grille reveals period-correct California “blue” plates, which were introduced in 1969.

The rear license plate frame says “Wegge Dodge,” which google says is located in Pasadena, CA, and still appears to be in business, only not as a Dodge dealer anymore.

The Demon never really sold that well, but that’s not the main reason the name was shelved after only two years. The originally-proposed name for the car was to have been “Beaver,” until Dodge found out that the term had an unsavory meaning, especially for those who were into the CB radio fad and knew trucker lingo. So in order to avoid controversy (hah!), Dodge created a cartoon ‘devil’ character and named the car “Demon,” with a play on words in their marketing materials encouraging potential customers to come in to the dealer for a “demon-stration.”

Religious groups, however, quickly and very vocally complained about the “demon” name, to the point of organizing protests, both against the car as well as against the Dodge brand. Culture is very different today, but at the time, the spiritual concerns over the name resonated with a broader swath of people. Whether Dodge considered this to be a “any news is good news” situation or not is unknown, but they stuck to their guns (and the name), at least for a while. About 80,000 Demons were sold in 1971.

By the 1972 model year, mounting religious pressure and lackluster sales of only 47,762 units prompted a re-evaluation, which led to a change of name to Dodge Dart Sport for 1973. The Sport name would continue on through the end of the A-Bodies in 1976 (including a Spirit of ’76 edition).

So in the end, the Duster’s “evil twin” was short-lived and brought a bit of bad luck to what could have been a successful idea for Dodge.