Vintage Ad of the Day: 1961 Dodge Dart Pickup – Unexpected Name and Unexpected Diesel Power

1961 brought a totally new generation of Dodge trucks. What’s easily forgotten is that for its first year only, it was called Dart. Now that’s a bit odd, given that the Dart was at the time Dodge’s popular full-size passenger car series. And Diesel Power? In 1961? What’s that all about?

Given that the Dart name was not anywhere to be seen on the 1961 pickup brochure as well as a number of its initial ads, it’s pretty safe to assume that the Dart name was added at the last minute, or possibly even just after it went into production. There’s no Dart badges on it anywhere. So why the last minute rush to add Dart to its name?

The 1960 Dart, Dodge’s new entrant in the popular low-price segment of the full-size market, was a smash sales success. Since Dodge dealers no longer had the possibility of selling Plymouths, they were given a directly comparable model, the Dart. Sales and market share exploded, from a sleepy 156k units and 2.5% market share to 368k and 5.6% market share. And 88% of those were Darts.

Of course they pretty much all came out of Plymouth’s hide, which dropped from 459k in 1959 to 252k in 1960, and market share dropped from 7.3% to 3.8%. Undoubtedly, Chrysler-oriented full size buyers found the Dart to be much more stylistically palatable compared to the rather odd 1960 Plymouth. This reminds me; we’ve never done a proper CC on either of these, and I shot a Plymouth ten years ago or so. Good to know there’s still untrod ground to cover, although finding a ’60 Dart might be a bit of a challenge.

Back to the Dart pickup. No doubt the white hats at Dodge were chuffed about their hit, the 1960 Dart. So they figured they’d spread some of that Dart pixie dust on their new pickup.

It didn’t work. I don’t have ready stats available, but from what I’ve picked up, the new ’61 Dodge pickup was not well received, and sold barely better than the quite aged truck it replaced.

That probably explains the new grille for 1962, and the lack of any references to “Dart”. Meanwhile, the passenger car Dart line fell back to earth for 1961, dropping almost 50%. That probably also explains the lack of the Dart moniker too. And by 1963, the Dart would reappear as a genuine compact, and to considerable success.

And now to the “diesel power” part. To tell the truth, I’m a bit stumped by that ad, as all the information I have suggest that the Perkins 6.354 six cylinder diesel was made available on Dodge pickups late in the 1962 model year. Maybe they got it wrong, and it was actually late in the 1961 MY. Either way, only some 1000 of these 120 hp units were installed. Americans just weren’t ready for diesels in their Dodges in 1961-1962. But then they wouldn’t be ready either in 1978, when some 2,835 Nissan diesel powered Dodge pickups were sold. Finally, when in 1985 the first Cummins diesel was implanted, things took off. Third time’s a charm.



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