COAL: 1961 Dodge Dart Seneca – Forward Look Family Heirloom

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(Please enjoy this latest COAL submitted by Ben Settler, aka Sodbuster)

The magnificent beast you are looking at was purchased new by my great-grandfather in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada in the fall of 1960. My dad bought it from his estate in 1983, where it has sat for the last three decades. Another of my great-grandpa’s cars, a 1939 De Soto, is also in our possession.  We rarely get rid of anything around here, as you may discover in possible subsequent posts.

I remember riding around on the gravel roads in this car when I was a kid, when we would get it running from time to time just to keep it sort of going.  The column shift broke in the mid-90s, putting an end to that sort of fun. Dad would turn the motor over by hand once in a while since then, but other than that it’s just been a lawn ornament until last fall when my son and I hauled it over to my place and got it running as a surprise for Dad.  Five generations of my family have cruised in this car, and we are slowly trying to bring it back to life.

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This, as I discovered last fall when researching this thing, is actually a Plymouth dashboard, making this one of the famous (or infamous) Plodges.  As most Canadian car folk can tell you, until the mid sixties, Canadian-built Dodges were often hybrids of Dodge and Plymouth.


For comparison, here is a shot of the dash of a US built 1961 Dart Seneca (courtesy of


And here is a 1961 Plymouth Belvedere, albeit with a push-button automatic.  Mashing the two together like this seems like a strange way to do things, but we’ll let bygones be bygones.  The Dodge dash is certainly more outlandish; the wings make it a bit hard to look at in my opinion.  I do enjoy the Plymouth speedometer with the little red bars that climb up for each 5 mph increment.  I wonder how long it took to figure out how to make that work?

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The entire car is about as basic as you can get, featuring a dome light for an amenity, and that’s about it.  There is a radio delete panel, as well as a little white plastic plug blocking the hole where the cigarette lighter would go.  The interior has certainly seen better days.  A lack of indoor storage means all our classics end up left outside.

The rubber floor mat has all but disintegrated (along with the front floor pans, unfortunately)–too many years of sitting outside in the Canadian weather.  There is hope for the door panels yet, and I’m hopeful that the front seat could be repaired.  Notice the extension on the arm of the rear view mirror.  Apparently Grandpa Hardy added it to make the mirror easier to see.  I had to remove it because it created a terrible blind spot for the driver (I guess it worked for him, though).

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The back seat is in reasonable shape, thanks to patchwork seat covers made by great grandpa.  The matching ones on the front seat had totally disintegrated over the last forty or fifty years, thus the damaged front seat.  The headliner was totally destroyed, but we saved the bows so we can get it replaced.

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There seems to be a special kind of hate reserved for Exner-era Mopars, particularly these ’61 Dodges, which I’ve never really understood.  Certainly they are unusual, but I’ve always had a fondness for them, although growing up looking at this one sitting on the lawn probably biased me in its favour.  I guess this tail light arrangement is what you would call “form over function.”  I have seen some with other taillight arrangements, which I believe were a mid-year addition when other drivers complained about not being able to see these ones.

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This fine example, being the base model Seneca, lacks even back-up lamps.  The plugs for them are there in the rear wiring harness, but that’s as far as it goes.

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Here’s a picture from an original 1961 sales brochure that Dad found on Ebay.  This dapper gentleman and his lady friend certainly seem to be enjoying their base model Seneca, as does their dog. You don’t see too many pictures in car ads these days featuring middle aged men wearing a jacket and tie.

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Ye olde slant six.  When we dragged the car out of the weeds last fall, I was afraid that even getting it running would be a major problem.  To my great amazement, we poured some gas in the carb and it fired right up, forty-plus year-old ignition system and all.  Note farmer fix for fuel supply hanging from the passenger side hood hinge.  The fuel tank was so gummed up with old gas we couldn’t even blow air into the tank from the fuel line.  Since these pictures were taken, I have dropped and cleaned the gas tank and replaced the tank screen.  The tank was in surprisingly good condition, and now works just fine, fuel gauge included.

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To the best of our knowledge, the engine is as it was assembled in 1960.  We have done an ignition system tune-up, and dealt with a leaky master cylinder, stuck wheel cylinder, rusted out exhaust and rusted accelerator pedal hinge. The engine starts and runs quite well, needing a prime only if it has been sitting for several days.  I’ve noticed a worrying delay in the oil light going out when I start it, not to mention some lifter chatter before the pressure comes up.  I guess parts are easy enough to find, but I definitely don’t want to go tearing into the engine.

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This picture shows it sitting on the ’70s vintage bias-ply tires that were on it.  The left front one was so rotten that I had to air it up then sprint over to take the picture before it keeled over like a wounded duck.  Needless to say, not much good for going any farther than the end of the driveway.  Since then I bought a mismatched set of fourteen-inch tires for $80 from a guy I found on Kijiji, but made a miscalculation when converting from the old bias size to P metric.  We now have something of a lowrider, which I think only improves the look.

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One nagging question: do we repaint or leave as is with the original “patina”? I’m starting to think that the original paint is too far gone, especially with the body rot around the wheel wells, but as they say, it’s only original once… Perhaps I will solicit some opinions from the Curbside Classic community.  For comparison, here is a nearly identical car in the correct color.

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Thoughts anyone?  I’ll try to do an update later. Thanks for reading!