Cohort Outake: 1966 Dodge Dart GT and Dart 270 Hardtop Coupes – The Last Exner-mobiles

(posted at the Cohort by Curtis Perry)

Jim Cavanaugh’s recent CC on a 1964 Dodge Custom 880 pointed out that the 880 was the last relic of Chrysler Design Chief Virgil Exner’s “Forward Look”. By 1965, Chrysler’s full size cars were completely made over under the direction of its new design head Elwood Engel. The same happened in 1966 to the mid-sized cars. That left the ’66 Dart and Valiant as the last living relics of the Exner era. And it’s still on mostly full display, even if the front end was been fully Engelasized.

The original ’63 Dart (along with the Valiant and cleaned-up semi-full size Dodges and Plymouths) was a farewell shot by Exner, and went a long way to redeem himself for the numerous awkward cars that somehow found themselves being released and built during the difficult 1960-1962 model years. Some of these cars were designed and approved during his absence recovering from a heart attack, others just somehow slipped by, and of course the ’62 cars were downsized due to corporate edict.

But he left having largely righted the listing Chrysler design ship. The ’63 Dart was of course still a bit out of the mainstream, with its prominent single front headlights and protruding front fenders, a design that it shared with the Chrysler Turbine car. The Turbine is typically associated with Engel, but undoubtedly much of it was already in the works, at least the basic front end design, before he put his stamp on it, which is quite visible on the sides, predicting the ’65 Chryslers.

In 1965, the Dart got a new grille which toned down the prominent headlights. The transition was underway. But the front fenders were still the same, or certainly mostly so.

For its 1966 finale, Chrysler saw fit to tool up new front fenders for the Dart (as well as the Valiant), to make the transition to the Engel era complete at least from the cowl forward.

But as can be seen here, that did not apply to the back two-thirds, although they were toned down as much as possible. Which means very little. The distinct roof line and rear fenders and tail lights were still classic late Exner; the last production cars to sport his influence. The end of an era.