It didn’t take long for the Dirty Dart to weasel its way into my heart; after all, who can resist a beat-up underdog of a car that probably gets more attention than everything else I own except the ’53 Buick? The Dart’s best attribute is that it has reminded me how much I love cars that are just a little bit roached. There’s a certain freedom in a unique beater, and the Dart’s mine.
It’s not that the Dirty Dart isn’t quirky and lemonesque; in fact, one could describe its tenure with me as being fraught with foibles. First, the speedometer displays a reading that is roughly 10 percent fast. I tried to resolve that by installing some 14″ wheels with taller tires on the back, but the speedometer remains 10 percent off (as verified by GPS). I have no idea how that’s physically possible in the world of mathematics that we occupy, but there you go.
One may ask why I don’t simply change the speedometer driven gear. In early Chrysler A-Body land, said gears are uncommon and expensive, like roughly 100 dollars expensive. So that’s why. One may also ask why I was willing to drop over 100 dollars on a pair of new tires when I already had new tires on it. Well, my calculations estimated that the engine was turning 3300 RPM at 70 with the 185/70R13s on the back, and these tires theoretically dropped that to 3100 RPM. That’s not greatly significant, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Under the long, graceful, peeling hood, the old steering box was as worn out as most of my idioms. Luckily, I found a somewhat less worn used one to go in its place. Unfortunately, the exhaust shop treated the steering box as a non-replaceable unit, bending the pipe in a fashion that rendered access to steering box bolt number three nigh on impossible. This required unbolting the engine and jacking it up to the limit of its travel, and even then my dexterity was severely tested.
My wagon also needed new lower ball joints and a new idler arm. All of this is nice, but I’ve noticed that the steering doesn’t return to center as easily as it used to. The alignment is good, so I’m guessing the new Moog parts need a little time down the road to loosen up a bit. At least that’s what I’m telling myself to get my mind off the “new parts curse,” which simply denotes my observation that new parts aren’t built like they used to be.
It may come as no surprise that the Dart has suffered from some electrical maladies. It had no dome light when I bought it, so I installed a used one, and luckily, someone had the foresight to tape the original factory wire to the headliner, so I only needed to splice in the new lamp. The gas gauge still doesn’t work, and the temperature gauge pegs as soon as I start the engine.
In a futile attempt to alleviate these issues, I’ve tried two printed circuits, two sending units (for the temp gauge), two temp gauges, and tested for voltage to the gas gauge. I’ve even tried two gas gauges (I bought a used instrument cluster) with no luck, and I’m sick of working on that. Instead, I adhere to the time honored ritual of filling the tank every 200 miles. I also installed an auxiliary temperature gauge. At least the ammeter works well.
As I mentioned in a previous installment, I replaced the tired 170 with a 225 from a ’74 Charger. I initially used the Holley 1920 from the Dart’s original engine, but the power enrichment system was physically broken; the metering block corner that held the plastic power enrichment lever cracked, leaving it lying in the float bowl. Therefore, I swapped on my only other option, the Charger’s Holley 1945. Unfortunately, this carb is pre-catalytic converter, peak malaise. It was lean, as verified by the seat of my pants and my wideband O2 setup. I jetted up two sizes, which helped, but the idle and transition circuits are still unacceptably lean, which will require some deft enlarging of idle restrictors with some pin drills. Or….
I may just use one of the two ancient rebuilds I found on eBay this winter. One’s another Holley 1920, and the other is a Carter BBS from a ’73 D100 truck (which was reputedly rich because trucks weren’t subject to emissions laws yet). I also bought matching choke stoves for each, so I’ll have plenty of opportunities to tinker.
When I first bought the Dart, the windshield wipers wouldn’t park correctly, and it took hours of examining wiring schematics and switch operation for me to determine that someone in the past had tucked one of the necessary wires up into the dashboard.
Therefore, I now have perfectly parking wires that also have a variable speed function, which is handy, even though I almost never drive my old cars in the rain.
In a moment of weakness, I splurged for new carpet and weatherstripping to replace the disgusting specimens that came with the car. Unfortunately, the weatherstripping is very tight, and I’m still shutting the doors harder than I should have to. Ah, the joys of new parts on old cars…at least the new carpet is a noticeable improvement.
Of course, this is all par for the course when tinkering with old cars. I’ve found that my priorities include having a car that reliably runs and drives and stops and steers. Major systems should work, including all lights and signals. Wipers should work, but washers don’t have to. Strange noises bother me, so I try to attend to them (although the Dart does have a whiny differential that may stay whiny for a while). As long as those systems are go, I can be satisfied with my old junk.
At first, I walked around the Dart seeing nothing but the laborious, expensive work I’d need to do to make it pretty, but I soon realized that it’s already the perfect beater, so I don’t have to dump a bunch of time and money into it to enjoy it. As a result, my sight unseen junkyard clunker has turned into a reasonable deal, and 50 years later, just like the ads said, Dodge put a Dart in my heart.