At the tag end of Summer 2009, an acclaimed Canadian Chrysler historian and expert pointed me at an ad for a car; specialists in the field of addiction call this enabling behaviour. I couldn’t then and can’t now imagine what in the world might’ve made him think I’d be interested, aside from it being a sharp Dodge Dart Custom 4-door, loaded up with options. It was said to be a southern car, for sale in one of the suburbs of Detroit. I was a few hours away in Toronto, and expert-historian—K.M.—was much closer in Windsor.
Emailed pictures, questions and answers, etc. K.M. went and inspected the car for me, and the seller and I kicked things around. I think he liked me better than the other would-be buyer, who wanted to “put a big block in it and make it a sleeper” (shhh, don’t tell anyone about the big engine and fenderwell headers and giant tires and stuff; it’s a secret because this is a sleeper, you guys!).
On Thursday 20 August I’d sold the rainleaky red ’71 Dart with no options and over 150 kilomiles, for $2,800. On Saturday 22 August I bought this rather de luxe ’73 with 44 kilomiles for $2,600.
There would of course be transport and incidentals, and obviously there’d be some fixes and tweaks and upgrades and that, but all in all I considered it a smart weekend of horsetrading. And it was, but I would come to be reminded of a basic law of buying an old car of whatever which age, kind, and price: you don’t buy it once, you buy it at least twice over.
Boy, did this car have solid metal everywhere (don’t mention the tailpipe)!
Logistics were arranged, with K.M. facilitating. He drew up a list of parts and supplies he reckoned I ought to bring when picking up the car. I arrived at the seller’s house to find the car substantially as he and K.M. had described it. Except as we stood there talking in front of the idling engine, it became steamily evident the top tank-to-core solder joint no longer existed along a long stretch of the front of the radiator. The seller obligingly knocked a chunk off the agreed selling price, I loosened the radiator cap to the first stop, hoped for the best, sank down near unto the floor (seat foam? Uhhhhh…I think we used to have some of that…there might still be some in the back) and headed for the upper extent of the lower peninsula. I tried to keep on top of adding water, but between watching to stay on the right roads and watching to stay on the road at all by the feeble light of the uselesser-than-usual sealed beam headlamps—oh yeah: I was first driving this unfamiliar, long-stored old car 300 miles after dark—I let it get away from me. Around 11:00 at night, not far from Kalkaska, the radiator ran outta water. There was no dashboard indication, for the factory temperature gauge didn’t work (and neither did the dashboard lights) and the sensor for the aftermarket gauge slung under the ashtray was tapped into the block drain, which never ran dry or heated up especially much. The car had been running fine, but began to ping and lose power, then it seemed like it was raining on my half of the windshield—that was the side with the working wiper; perhaps if the other one had been working I’d’ve noticed it was dry over there. Once I pulled off the road and stopped, the “rain” turned out to be blowback from the underhood geyser. Clouds of steam so big they engulfed the whole car and most of the 3-lane highway; it was boiling hard. There were a few modest homes not far away. I hoofed it to the nearest trailer with lights on and knocked on the door. Mrs answered and got Mr, who said “No problem, my ol’ Saturn has a bum rad, too, I’ll getchya some jugs of water”. The first batch of water flash-boiled into steam immediately it touched the radiator; it took lots of jugs before the water would stay put. But by and by it did, and I pressed onward with no further underhood fulminations, and with another tally mark under those sociology lessons I’d learnt at the wrecking yard.
I made it where I was headed, sometime between late night and early morning. The next day, the overheating shifted from under the hood to under the credit card. No new radiator was readily available, and I was on a tight schedule—which always makes it faster, easier, and less expensive to get parts and service, no?—so the one in the car went to Grand Traverse Radiator for a costly but extremely freaking necessary overhaul. Here’s the old rotten-to-the-core, lookin’ a little wavy on account of less-than-perfect photo stitching in 2009:
In the light of day and the glare of ownership, the car overall was certainly one of the nicer Dart Custom 4-doors I’d seen lately (or since), but…well…ignorance and luck and faith in old A-bodies had once again worked in my favour on that trip. If I’d really seen the condition of the radiator I’d’ve had doubts about making a 4½-hour trip. And if I’d seen the electrical, ah, “repair” I uncovered the day after that trip, I wouldn’t’ve made it at all: the fusible link had been replaced with a piece of fuselink wire (so far, so good) of too-large gauge (so far, so bad) with its bare copper strands crammed into the vicinity of the applicable bulkhead cavity and “secured” there with a drywall screw, the rest of which was a metal spike, right out in the open near all kinds of other metal—directly and unprotectedly connected to battery positive (so far so OMGWTF). The heat from that high-resistance cram-it bodge did a real job on half the plastic bulkhead. All that got fixed properly.
And it wasn’t just the seat foam; there was a lot of degraded rubber and plastic all around the car. It had long lived in Kentucky and seemed as though stored someplace with a lot of ozone or something. With my main mountain of parts right there at hand, and some very good parts stores in the area (Thirlby’s), I easily ran up a pretty good list: new carburetor—another Carter BBS swap in place of the Holley 1920, like on the ’71. Renewed radiator; new hoses and thermostat and belts (replacing what might’ve been originals or very old genuine Mopar replacements); new front brake hoses; windshield washer reservoir; battery cables and hold-down; idler arm; trunk mat; shock absorbers (fancy Edelbrock IAS items replacing the car’s originals).
New headlamps, but of course! Only the best: Marchal H4s, with that glorious kitty cat logo.
The car still needed a heater core, wiper bushings, some missing paint replaced on the sill panels, trunk floor and underfloor. Still needed a heater core, wouldn’t be long before it would need a new exhaust system including the manifold (heat riser valve was broken). Bunch of miscellaneous stuff.
The spare tire was the car’s original bias-ply item. The four on the ground looked almost new, but they were no-name Chinese-made “Runway Enduro” ones. The FTS tire fiasco was still recent, and just…no. I’m not a spendthrift, but tires are on the shortest version of my buy-the-best-I-reasonably-can list; along with shoes, eyeglasses, and brakes. A shop in Traverse City provided a set of really good Vredestein Quatrac 2 all-seasons.
There was an excellent body shop across the street from the workshop where all the repairs were done, so I took advantage of the much more affordable rates and had the bodywork seen to: trunk floor closed up, sill and quarter rust eliminated, other stuff tidied up, a proper underseal, the whole car buffed and shined, all to a very high standard of craftsmanship. Even the spare tire well was clean and shiny as new when they were done working on the car. They put on new bodyside mouldings, terminating well before the front of the fenders. A bit of an unusual installation, but I think it looked quite fine and intentional.
A new reproduction right-side mirror was installed, too, the kind that’s manual but looks like the left remote mirror. This was a disappointment; it was poorly made in China, and its slimy vendor in America knew it—to the extent of suddenly pretending not to speak English or remember how to answer phone calls and emails. Also, as a small flat mirror all the way over there on the other side of the car it was substantially useless. But it looked nice until the chrome bubbled and peeled as the underlying pot metal began turning back into zinc dust.
Gee, that terrible idea of sticking a straight pipe from the fuel filler to the tank in the boot! That must do wonders for arranging the luggage and stuff carefully to maximise the use of space in the boot.
Interesting that you would take the photos of new owners taking your vehicles away. It was something we don’t always do with our cars after the sale transfers. Strangely, my family never thought of taking photos of our first American car and the subsequent American cars that my father’s company provided. We have the photos with those cars partially shown in the background but never fully posed with us proudly standing next to them or sitting in the driver’s seat.
Eventually, Chrysler got around to using a filler pipe that followed the quarter panel and trunk floor contours to the tank inlet. Still not exactly elegant to have a damn filler pipe out in the open of the trunk area, but at least it wasn’t sticking across as it had been from the beginning.
Eh. It didn’t get in the way all that badly, all that often. Only very rarely did I have to carry so much stuff in an A-body that the fillpipe interfered. Given the choice between this and (say) the GM fillpipe placement behind the rear licence plate, I’ll take this Chrysler setup—easy pick.
The straight pipe probably makes for easier filling though.
No particular difficulty filling any A-body’s tank. The fillpipe on the ’68-’75 A-bodies had a much greater downslope to the tank, though, and resultantly much less tendency for gasoline to slosh all over the quarter panel when the tank got full, compared to the ’60-’67 models. The ’75-’76 catalyst-equipped A-bodies were even better still on that front, with the nozzle restrictor serving as an effective backsplash preventer.
What I don’t understand is why the tank’s filler opening had to be right in the top ‘middle’ of the tank. You’d have thought it would have been on one side, much closer to the filler pipe and avoided that long filler pipe instrusion into the trunk area. I think that’s the way it was normally done when the fuel filler door was on the quarter panel.
It’s like one of those horse/carriage scenarios; the car was designed around an existing gas tank and the opening was placed in the middle so the designers could put the fuel filler door on either side.
Thats the best Valiant/Dart so far very tidy but you have to be kidding about it not having 3 point seat belts even my 66 Hillman has those original fitment 71 saw belts for all passengers in new cars here I know we had a new 71 HQ Holden aussie demanded it we got em by default.
It didn’t have unitised 3-point belts, which came in ’74. It had 2-piece items: a retractable lap belt with a belt-sensitive webbing lock (pull the belt too hard and it would lock, then need to be retracted fully before another try). The lap belt tongue had a cleat, on which clipped the metal end of the separate, non-retracting sash strap anchored to the roof behind and outboard of the front seat. So buckling in the one tongue fastened the belt. This was an improvement over the ’71’s entirely separate lap and shoulder belts, each with its own tongue and its own buckle. Still an uncomfortable nuisance, though!
Australia (and likely New Zealand by proximity) was one of the world’s early adopters of lap/sash belts. American regs didn’t require them until ’68, and as I say, the single 3-point belts didn’t come along til ’74. Rear 3-point belts weren’t required in America until sometime in the late ’80s or early ’90s, because American automakers straightfacedly claimed they weren’t cost-effective and tactically delayed and delayed and delayed the regs.
December 1989 was the (pathetically late) date when rear outboard shoulder belts became mandatory on cars in the US. Even then, trucks and vans were exempt until MY1992, and some convertibles also seemed to snag ad hoc exemptions…every ’90 and ’91 VW Cabriolet I’ve seen came with lap belts only in the back seat.
A great read!
Did you adjust the carburetor in any way as you went through the mountains? Any hard starting while you were up there? When you were done with the mountains did you need to change out any fouled spark plugs?
Being a resident of Kansas I’ve always wondered about taking my carbureted square body up in altitude but have no carb adjusting experience.
Some carburettors have the automatic adjustments for the altitude.
My 1986 Chevrolet Celebrity ran like a 10-horsepower diesel engine on my way up from Raton, New Mexico to Trinidad, Colorado. It took about a day or so for my car’s carburettor to adjust itself, and the car ran fine in Denver area.
When I came back down to the flatland (Dallas, Texas), my car had so much oompah and accelerated so fast like it had turbocharger. On the next day, my car was back to its usual self.
No, I didn’t adjust the carburetor. The only relevant adjustment that would’ve been practically possible without disassembling it was the idle mixture. The Carter BBS carburetor was relatively well behaved at altitudes other than home; the car still ran pretty well despite the mixture being off. In the old days, trips up the mountain did not involve carburetor adjustments, but moving substantially up or downhill meant taking the car in to be adjusted for the altitude. In extreme cases one would change carburetor jets. More altitude-adjustability came in the late ’70s, when a few carburetors—none of the cheap ones used on Slant-6 cars—began to feature aneroids for automatic altitude compensation.
No carburetor-adjusting experience? Here, have this book, which was given to me by my grandfather (the one with the yellow ’72 Dart).
This one feels very familiar. I had a ’74 that I daily drove 2007-2014. Light blue with a white top. Mine had a 318, so 15 mpg was about the best I saw.
It was a good car, but needed a lot more work than yours, and I just never could quite keep up.
I remember those sky-blue-with-white-top Darts and Valiants!
Around town, my fuel economy wasn’t very good, which was normal. And while the car could be made to run well with careful attention, like all old cars its state of tune began deteriorating the instant the engine was started. There was a lot to drift from optimum, too, depending on ambient temperature and barometric pressure and characteristics of whatever gasoline I happened to fill up with, etc. The perfectly consistent perfect running and driveability we take for granted in today’s cars just did not exist in yesterday’s.
And there was a lot of stuff to come unscrewed or otherwise loose; in the cold-start movie I’ve now unblocked, you’ll see bits of paper wedged under dashboard trim to quiet rattles as just one example.
I’ve had a few slant six cars over the years, not for long, mind you, but in real world driving I got 18 MPG Imperial in the city, or 15 MPG is the smaller USA gallons.
I never did much more than 21 MPG Imperial in highway trips. That said, living on southern Vancouver Island means you don’t drive on a highway all that much.
In comparison, in my 2018 VW Golf, I have no problem getting 7L/100 KM in Vancouver’s horrendous traffic. On the highway, getting 5.0L/100 KM (47 MPG) is easy and 4.6 (51 MPG) is doable if I keep it under 100 km/h.
This is on no-deathanol fuel.
Yep, your mileage is about right. Sooner or later with this topic the probability approaches 1 that someone will pipe up about their ’69 Dart with 400,000 miles on the original engine that got 30 mpg uphill all day long. These kinds of fish stories are almost always due to a fast-running odometer, aided and abetted by various kinds of error of calculation and/or rose-tinted memory.
What gasoline without ethanol are you buying…? Maybe Esso or Shell high-test? Could wish undiluted regular gas were still available, but that’s been years.
I exclusively use Chevron 94 octane, which is sans-deathanol.
In my Golf, it makes a noticeable difference. On 87, there is pronounced turbo lag, making it impossible to lug the motor below about 1200 RPM. On 94, it picks up cleanly and will easily pull 800 RPM.
With 87, there is a pronounced ping getting underway on a hill. On 91, it’s very mild but on 94, there is no ping at all.
The cost over regular fuel is 15% more, but without deathanol, that is 10%. This is about $7.00 at present prices. Since I buy like one tank every two months these days, the cost is well worth it.
In fact, the owner’s manual strongly hints that the car will run better on premium fuel.
Your turbocharged car would explain the maths working out for you. They don’t, for me; my V6 Accord doesn’t run differently or give better fuel economy on high-test than on regular, regardless of ethanol content. E10 contains about 3.3 per cent less energy than undiluted gasoline, and a 3.3 per cent difference in fuel economy gets lost in the noise to the right of the decimal point under ordinary driving conditions—carefully-prepped, -driven, and -measured economy tests might begin to show it up.
There are sound reasons to oppose the dilution of gasoline with ethanol as it’s done in North America—particularly with regard to old cars and small engines on yard equipment and such. But the problems all appear to be caused by a poor choice of implementation, not by the concept itself. Dig this: the ethanol used in most gasoline is anhydrous; almost no water in it. Turns out hydrous ethanol (with water in it) utterly prevents corrosion of a whackload of different fuel system metals—weird but true; believe it or don’t. Research findings published in this 2005 SAE paper: 50/50 gasoline/ethanol blends were tested on steel, copper, nickel, zinc (carburetors!), tin, and three types of aluminum. The tests showed that when the water content of the blend was increased from 0 to 1%, corrosion was no longer evident.
And hydrous ethanol takes less energy and money to produce than anyhdrous, and is easier to transport, so would increase profits all along the supply chain.
And the water in hydrous ethanol acts like the water injection systems of old; there’ve been some tests showing better fuel economy with hydrous E20 (20% hydrous ethanol/80% gasoline) than with 100% gasoline. Hydrous E15 is available in the Netherlands”> (link also contains refs to more studies finding the same as the SAE: hydrous ethanol = no corrosion).
More info here and here and here, all dating back a decade or more. Sooo…better and cheaper…where’s our hE15 pump fuel, dammit?!!
Of all of your Dart/Valiants, I think this is my favorite. The color compliments the shape so well, and it looked so good when polished up.
So many adventures at the border you have had! You could write a whole book just from those experiences.
I only went through the border once back in ’90 with a friend (the peace sign while on base guy) and it was super quick.
Wow, 1990. I really should get out more.
While there, a couple of (attractive; maybe not the most traveled) girls pulled up along side of us while cruising and one of them (after seeing my license plate) called out “What’s Indiana?”
An odd thing to ask, and I still don’t really have an answer. Its just home and I never really left.
I really should get out more, but I like my naps with the cats. Cats are badass at napping.
Another good read, Daniel. Thanks as always.
Cats? There’s a nap for that!
We drove our loaded up 1973 Dart for over 160,000 miles. The slant six was pokey. The overall vehicle was a good daily driver. We sold it to someone after we bought our 1978 Dodge Aspen wagon, also loaded. Loaded Aspen was far more than the options available on the Dart. So, I had a power seat, power windows, power door locks, AM/FM Stereo radio, bucket seats front with cushion and arm rest between them. It was a six-passenger vehicle. The Dart served us well as did the Aspen.
The Slant-6 in this ’73 ran a lot better at the end of my ownership than at the start, but it never ran as well as some other Slant-6s I’d had. I suspect if I’d checked the cam timing, I’d’ve found it a bit retarded. Andor, maybe I shouldn’t’ve waited so long to put on that new exhaust system!
“. . . big ol’ rebellious ol’ contrarian. . .”
After living in Arkansas for many years, this now sounds natural. It wasn’t always so.
When I first moved to the South, I kept hearing big ol’ – as in “Frank just bought a brand new big ol’ Buick” or “He built himself a big ol’ new garage” or “His new wife is a big ol’ young girl”.
Until I got used to this expression, I wondered if anything big in the South was ever new. Big stuff seemed to turn ol’ the day it was made.
Maybe Southern Canada has the same expressions as the American South? Inquiring minds want to know.
BTW – Very nicely written article about an under appreciated car.
I just like to mix up my idiom, and my momma’s f’om V’ginia.
(Now wait just a li’l ol’ minute, here…!)
When I came to the States in ’86 the Dodge Darts were still quite common on the road. I liked them because they are properly proportioned if not sleek. The concave rear glass made them immediately recognizable.
Thanks for the stories!
Fer sher, fer sher!
Wowch! What a bungle in the bunghole that first trip across the border was! Almost reads like a third world country trying to extort money out of you. I’ve never moved anything of value between the US and Canada, so all of my crossings have (fortunately) been uneventful.
Those Marchal headlamps do look swell; besides the logo, I dig the look of the optics on the lower half of the lens… kinda makin’ me want to stop playing with sealed beam toys, eh.
Guess I’m affected by sounds a bit more than the average person, too. And specific load thermal flashers just sound like the “right” noise for a turn signal to make, to my ear. Interesting that the Dart uses that nub to hold the flasher… most vehicles I’ve run into have the usual metal clip hugging the flasher body to hold it in place, though I *think* Pintos use the nub, too. So this begs the question- Since just about all new cars rely on a lighting control module to flash the turn signals, why do all manufacturers dub in the sterile “click-clack” sound of an electromechanical relay, instead of the more harmonious sound of a bimetallic strip doin’ its thing?
So far in this series we’re 1:1, American:Canadian, with churlish border guards. I’m not yet done; took some more kicks at the border with a car to be storied soon. Here’s another chalkmark in the American column, though:
I flew from Toronto to Winnipeg and rented a car to drive down to Fargo, North Dakota to meet some extended family for the first time. Rental car was a brand-new Dodge Caliber with very few KM on it. American border guard in the middle of endless wheat or corn fields was a jackass. “You’re a US citizen…why would you want to live outside the US?!!” When I answered (carefully avoiding pronouns) “My other half is Canadian, and didn’t want to move South, so I moved North,” he said “Well, if anyone tried to pull that with me, I’d tell her who wears the pants in my family!” Really no good response to that kind of assholism, so I kept my mouth shut.
It didn’t help; he sent me in for an “agricultural inspection”. They made me empty my pockets and closed me in a little room with a window, through which I watched them rifle through my wallet, baggage, and pockets and the car. They pulled the spare tire and X-rayed it. Asked me questions repeatedly in rapid sequence, obviously trying to trip me up: “Where do you live? What’s your birthday? Whose car is this? Where are you going? What’s the purpose of your trip?”. When I answered “Fargo for a family get-together”, one of the agents said “What part of Fargo?” I said “I don’t know exactly what part it is, but it’s centred around Straus Clothing, which is the family business”. The agent’s eyes lit up and she said “My sister worked there for years! Tell ’em you met Gwenn Peterson’s sister!” It didn’t expedite the inspection any.
Only the first guy was a goof, the rest were professional. Still, when they said I could go, I thanked them for making the country safer; Maybe I can’t quite do pokerfaced, sincere North Dakota-spec snark at a native-speaker level, but I can speak it well enough to get by.
I had the same thing happen to me a number of years ago: Same border crossing (Pembina, North Dakota); same pocket-emptying rapid-fire interrogation; same little room I was forced to sit in as customs officials tore apart my car, searched my luggage, and leafed through my private diary page by page. I was still living in the US at the time and had travelled to Canada to attend an atheist conference, which was /real/ fun for me to explain to hostile ears.
Atheist conference! Surely you didn’t admit that.
They’re in the middle of a bunch of fields; I reckon they’re bored and the odd traveller who happens along provides a chew toy for them.
RE : Canadian border guards ;
I think it’s more one pf those deals where some folks look for jobs that give them some amount of power over others, then they abuse it mercilessly .
I too had a serious problem with a very young guard once in the early morning, I waited 45 minutes while he hassled the geezers in the R.V. in front of me at sunup, only us two vehicles, he was wearing one fancy glove sort of like Michael Jackson and I muttered to my Sweet ”I bet this guy is an asshole” and sure enough .
I’ve had this same experience coming into the U.S.A. from Tijuana a few times .
Diligence at this important jonb is one thing, harassing those who are trying to $PEND TOURI$T DOLLAR$ in your country is foolish .
OBTW : do not _ever_ bring a hand gun across the Canadian border ! .
The border guard position seems to attract playground bullies and the ones they kicked around.
Is there a story behind your wise words against trying to bring a handgun into Canada?
Yes, of course .
The Canadians are *very* serious about hand guns and you _will_ spend jail time if they catch you with one .
I don’t suppose you could be enticed to tell us your story…?
I don’t know about other provinces, but I’ve read that you may not bring a radar detector into Quebec AT ALL, not even disconnected in the trunk. Of course your trunk normally wouldn’t be searched if you entered Quebec from a neighboring province.
Sorry Daniel ;
This story involves other guilt parties and a year spent in jail .
I do try to share my stories whenever I can but not always possible .
I traveled Canada quite a bit in the mid 1960’s and always enjoyed my visits, it’s *different* and nicer in many ways than the U.S.A., not enough to make me want to live there though .
Great story, and a nice-looking Dart!
You mention: “surefire cure for the disc-braked A-bodies to lock up the rears…”
My brother and I had 1974 A-bodies, both Plymouths. I had a Valiant Custom 4-door, equipped (and loaded) much like your Dart. He had a Gold Duster, equipped about the same. Both had discs front, drums rear. I did note the tendency of the rears to lock up but got used to it. His Duster was terrifying; driving it I could feel the difference. One rainy day in SoCal he braked. The Duster locked up its rears and the car spun across four lanes of suburban city street, winding up facing the correct direction…but the opposite way from where he had been going. He had missed every nearby car. A bit (only a bit???) unnerved, he made a U-turn and continued on his way.
A Dodge Aspen with disc/drums showed no lockup tendency. Chrysler must have gotten those right.
The federal safety standards for braking performance grew more stringent in the middle of the 1976 model year (1 January 1976); changes made to comply with the tougher rule were made to the last few months of Dart-Valiant-Duster production, and most or all of the Aspen-Volaré cars got the better stuff, too.
So stupid, though; even before the reg was tightened, Chrysler had the parts in the house to fix the rear lockup completely for $0.00 per car…and just chose not to.
Thanks, Daniel, for another great Dodge Dart love story. I’ve become quite fond of my Saturday morning coffee and another great Daniel Stern story. Please keep ’em coming.
Thanks kindly. I’ll keep it up as long as I can, though the end of the series is coming into sight…!
This is a very entertaining series — I’m glad you’re writing it.
It’s lovely to see this Dart, as I remember when cars like this were uber common on the streets. I miss seeing them.
Oh and: your video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4klU_rFK8ps is private so we can’t see it.
Oops! Thanks for the alert. I’ve fixed the video so everyone can see it now.
And thanks for the compliment. 🙂
Oooh, I like this one. This car is the exact color in/out of the 73 Duster my college roommate had for awhile – memorable for the 318/3 speed floor shift that showed me how fast a 318 Duster really was, even stock. If the car had been able to reliably start when cold, that would have been a plus.
Really, those colors (with the black vinyl roof) are perfect vintage 1973. Everyone wants to point to the super bright colors offered then, but those metallic browns/golds were EVERYWHERE then and far outnumbered the bright colors.
You were lucky to have the cloth seats – even at that mileage the vinyl ones would have split in nearly every one of those seams. At least that was my experience with the Chrysler Insta-Split ™ vinyl used in that period.
Yeah, Chrysler kind of never met a penny they didn’t try to pinch in half, eh!
Also yeah, earth tones were big at the time. I donno, is that better, worse, or just laterally different to today’s relentless “palette” of beige-grey-silver-black-white and maybe a blue or a red if you pay extra?
A couple of additional thoughts (because I love this car so much.
1. The Guess Who was my life soundtrack from the summer of 1971 thanks to some older cousins who had an 8 track in the rusty beater of a 64 Ford Galaxie 500 they were allowed to drive.
2. The cold start sounds terrible to me. My 71 started cold not later than the the second “neeer” and often after the initial “na-rayer”. I counted 15 “neeers” in this one. Hot starts were my nemesis (until I started adding the 2nd carb gasket in warm months, with the tradeoff of a slow, stumbly warm up).
3. Yeah, I said 2, but that is the best Mopar steering wheel after the metal horn ring years.
On a level street or a mild upslope the cold start would’ve been faster; that backdown driveway was not a carbureted car’s friend, whether nose-up or nose-down. Moreover, it’s a neat trick to get a carbureted car to fire off from cold on the first or second compression—perhaps even without the choke—but I’d rather give the oil a head start getting where it needs to go in a cold engine by cranking with the starter a bit before light-off. And anyhow, my Accord always takes six compressions to start, hot or cold. Not five, not seven, but six. So I don’t begrudge a much older carbureted car taking 15; it still woke up easier in the morning than I did at its age!
As to the steering wheel…eh. I liked it okeh, but the rim was much too thin.
Maybe an electric priming fuel pump near the tank with a momentary push button ? .
As a Journeyman Mechanic I too dislike engines that don’t start quickly and so have added this to prime the carbys of vehicles that suffer the modern foo-foo ‘motor fuel’ the tends to evaporate during heat soak when shut off .
Overall I think this car in spite of the FUGLY color, is a dandy .
It started from cold with just under three seconds’ cranking after sitting out several nights; that’s certainly a prompt enough lightoff for me or, I would say, any reasonable person. What real benefit would be had by spending money and effort to add complexity and failure points? What problem do you reckon I’d be solving?
Well Daniel, I loved the cold start! I swear, starting a Dodge is like foreplay. For me, sometimes I want to get right past the foreplay and go. Then other times, like your cold start, I want the foreplay to go on for a little while. Nothing wrong with that!
Priming the carby promotes faster starts and that increases battery and starter life .
If you enjoy all the noise, no worries .
The Hamtramck Hummingbird works very well but isn’t my favorite starter .
Still no sale here; any starter or battery is already dead that’s pushed over the cliff by cranking the engine for three seconds, and a bit of cranking gives the oil a chance to head for where it needs to be before lightoff.
I’m old and remember when it was normal for a well tuned engine to spring to life in 1/2 or 3/4 or a turn….
I got spoiled by this and still like it .
Electric fuel pumps also stop vapor locking cold, I live in the South West and spend lots of time in the Desert .
They can also cause a bunch of new problems, including some very dangerous ones.
Unlike a fuel-injected vehicle with a fully-closed fuel supply system, a carbureted vehicle has an open fuel supply system. If you have a problem that causes the carburetor to flood—stuck float, stuck inlet needle, etc—the engine will stall. A mechanical fuel pump will stop pumping, but an electric one will keep right on pumping as long as it has power; it’ll happily pump the contents of your fuel tank into the carb, which will overflow and spill into the intake tract and onto the engine and street below. The same will happen if you are in a serious crash. Sure, “turn off the ignition”, but after even a relatively minor crash you might well not be in a position (or conscious) to do so. This can be addressed with thoughtful fuel pump control circuitry, but if it’s not addressed at all (as is often the case with electric-pump retrofits on carbureted cars) it’s not safe. And the main relay for the pump needs to get wired with its trigger circuit contingent on the oil pressure sender’s state. If there’s a ground at the sender, then the pump doesn’t operate. That way when the engine stalls for whatever reason, the fuel pump will quit running after oil pressure drops off (usually within a few seconds of engine shutdown). The smart installer also puts in an inertial cutoff switch that kills power to the fuel pump if the car is hit hard.
Properly putting in an E-pump also means looking at the charging system, which is pretty marginal and beleagured on many old cars. Line voltage already drops at idle; lights dim, heater fan slows, radio gets quieter and staticky, wipers slow down, and ignition quality gets poorer until the engine is revved up. Adding another steady load on the electrical system will aggravate all those symptoms as well as stressing the fuel pump—motors don’t like undervoltage; it makes them run hot. This is not incurable, either; there are perfectly good upgrades to be made to just about any charging system. But like proper control circuitry, it adds to the cost and complexity of “just put in an electric pump”.
Fair enough Daniel ;
I’ve worked many a fire job caused by e-pumps running after a collisions or the engine stopped .
But, you ignored my entire original post that specifically addressed this : use a momentary push button, that’s why they’re called “priming pumps” .
Agreed that the charging systems on many older vehicles are marginal, several of mine have 19 ampere 12 volt generators, none have any issues keeping the lights, radio, heater and wipers going all at once .
I didn’t ignore your suggestion; I said it would be pointless money and effort to add unnecessary failure points to solve the nonproblem of a cold start taking three seconds’ worth of cranking.
As to your oldies: okeh, but how many of those cars with 19-amp generators have electric wipers? 🤓
I’m sure not detecting anything that needs fixing or could be improved upon with the cold startup of this car. One thing I *have* found is that a carbureted vehicle that almost instantly starts, or starts without choke when cold, often has the float level set too high.
I’m living in the desert southwest, and am running mechanical pumps on all of my older vehicles. I’m just not seeing any issues that need solving with an electric pump, and in fact, binned the one the prior owner put on my Studebaker. I’ve had a tiny bit of stumbling at idle after a hot restart on triple digit days, but zero full on vapor lock.
A very enjoyable read this morning! I wouldn’t have the skills to do all those fixes, or make the diagnoses, so such a car is never in my future. But, it takes us right back about a half-century, when cars like this were everywhere.
The photos of the new owners’ driveaway was sweet–a nice way to wrap things up.
Thanks for all your time taken to tell this tale .
You’re welcome and thanks, George!
Lovely post, Daniel. I’ve enjoyed your whole series of many Darts and Valiants. This Dart has an especially nice interior/exterior color scheme, like a chocolate bar with caramel inside. Also like the emotional parting shots of the new owners driving it away.
My only experience in a Dart was when the shop repairing my family’s Aries gave us a 2-door hardtop as a loaner. I specifically remember my sister being mortified to be seen in it. Unfortunately in those days, Boulder was already becoming an affluent hotbed of BMWs and Audis, so for people who didn’t know what a fine car a Dart really was, it was a sign of being *gasp* “poor”.
Boulder description: shades of my high school down the highways (36, 25, 225) from there in Greenwood Village, except I preferred my D’Valiant to the new Audis and Bimmers given by money and daddy to the overprivileged kids.
Me, I was not crazy about the colours of this car. The interior was okeh, but metallic brown wasn’t and isn’t my favourite, even if it’s officially called “dark gold poly”, and I don’t like black inside or outside a car, and vinyl tops make me roll my eyes. But the nice condition of this dark gold poly brown car with a black vinyl top outweighed my pickiness about it.
The experience at the border reminded me of the time many years ago that I bought a suit over in Windsor. On the way home, I told the border guard what I had bought and he directed me inside to pay the duty. When I walked into the building, I heard my name being mentioned. Turned out the customs agent had worked for me several years earlier at another organization. After exchanging pleasantries, she asked me why I was there. Told her to declare the suit and pay the duty. She smiled and said “Good to see you. Take care. Good Bye.” No money was exchanged.
Yeah, eh? The rules are whatever’s decided they are by the officer you happen to get.
Another fun Saturday read, Daniel, and thank you for it. We really should get together for lunch sometime. Been ages since I was near Commercial Drive and there is some fine eats along there.
I also really admire your dedication to Valiant and their variants. I could never do it. Even though I had a fully equipped garage I have always hated wrenching on cars. I did some VW Rabbit swapping for a couple of years in university but I hated even that.
My car ownership model was always to find a cream-puffish car, not always at a low price, but a good value. I’d drive it for a year or so and then sell it on. I rarely lost money since the cars were pretty old to start with.
Living in Victoria in the 1980s made this easy. There have always been loads of grannywagons for sale in Victoria but I was blessed by timing. At this time, gasoline prices were high and people were ditching American cars as fast as they could buy a Cavalier (horrors) or Temp (more horrors). I ended up with some great cars for taxi use and some cool cars for me.
Totally agree we’ve gotta have lunch one of these days. Commercial Drive is an excellent destination for eating well and often seeing interesting cars.
I’ve got thoughts about wrenching on cars; those’ll be in a forthcoming COAL entry. And I wish I could think of a car I’d actually like to own; I don’t like my present transport module.
What a sweetie Daniel ;
I too am not fond of brown but this one is nice .
Those interesting sounding flashers were also used in many (? most ?) Japanese cars & trucks in the early 1970’s, like you they made me smile and I’d go out of my way to salvage them at Pick-A-Part and install them on my buddies Datsuns etc. in the 1990’s .
I found your cold start video exciting because the engine not only started but immediately went to a smooth fast idle with out any missing….
The Peterson book is nice too .
My grandsons were looking at the photograph of my Sweet standing next to me long gone 1967 MGB GT out in the country, they wanted to know why I had sold such a cool old car after rebuilding it and re painting it….
For me, I simply get bored and start over with another project .
There’s a very similar ’73 Dart Custom around where I live. I’d been aware of it for years parked in a driveway nearby (and usually covered), and then it disappeared. But last year, the same car showed up again. Evidentially, the long-time owners had sold it, and then the new buyer sold it again, and the third owner still lives around here.
I took a bunch of pictures of this Dart last year, and spoke to the owner – a young man who’s using it as his daily driver. It’s just one of many cars I haven’t gotten around to writing up. I still see this Dart regularly, parked in about the same location, so I assume it’s still serving its owner as his daily driver.
Black dashtop…? Odd.
Seeing that shot of the under dash reminds me of the heater hose I used to have to reach down to reconnect to the windshield defroster vent from time to time. For some reason a clamp would never take on that.
I learned to drive on a 73 Dart Swinger 4 door, and it was the car I used to take my driver’s test. Easiest car ever to parallel park. Use the rear most corner of the right rear window as the first marker, the B pillar for the second marker, and then the front corner of the right fender as the final marker, and in she goes!
Ooer, green on green! I’d’ve liked that better.
Daniel-you do realize that Seattle was the Dodge Dart capital of the western United States in the Seventies. The City of Seattle used Darts for fleet vehicles (and as patrol cars for the Seattle PD from 1974 to 1976). Before city regulations forced the cab companies to clean up their act and set a limit on the age of their vehicles, most of the cab companies used cast-off Darts (and Valiants) as taxi cabs well into the late eighties, especially Farwest and Grey Top cabs. It seemed like everybody’s grandparents who lived in Seattle owned a Dart.
S.L. Savidge Motors (in downtown Seattle, closed in 1981) sold a lot of ’em……
Your 1973 looked great-Chrysler always had a better looking shade of brown than Ford or GM.
When got your first car, the Canadian Valiant in Ontario, you took a bunch of spare parts with you, and when you sold this car, the buyers took a bunch of spare parts with them. A nice sense of a circle closing.
When I sold my ’87 Audi 4000 quattro 6 years ago, the buyer asked me if I wanted to get some shots of it driving away as you did with the Dart. I didn’t feel the need, but it was nice of him to ask.
I had a set of Vredestein Quatrac 2’s (IIRC) on the Audi. I never encountered enough snow to really put them and the AWD to the test, but they upped the subjective confidence factor.
I imagine your experience with your mother gave you practice at dealing with unreasonable authority figures, but that experience with customs can’t have done anything for your blood pressure. I imagine I would have had to bite my tongue in your place, but it wouldn’t have been easy.
Your “what if I go to the washroom after eating but before crossing the border” comment reminded me of this passage from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:
“… the fabulously beautiful planet of Bethselamin is now so worried about the cumulative erosion caused by over 10 billion visiting tourists a year that any net imbalance between the amount you eat and the amount you excrete whilst on the planet is surgically removed from your body weight when you leave. So every time you go to the lavatory there, it’s vitally important to get a receipt.”
When I visit Vancouver, I always have to get a salmon sandwich at Terra Breads in Kitsilano. If I rode the train from Seattle, Terra Breads is the last stop before the train station, and the sandwich is down the hatch before the train reaches the border. So I don’t know if there’d be any issue of bringing Canadian agricultural products into the States.
Great writeup. Loved the sound of that 225 engine starting right up. Eeep-Eeep-Eeep-Eeep-Vroom. Sounds of my youth.
That original spare tire – the Goodyear one. What size tire do you reckon that was. Possibly E80-14? Maybe a D? Trying to recall what my 74 Dart Sport had from the factory. Whatever they were, I changed them out to F78-15s as I vaguely recall.
In ’73, 6.95×14s on 14″ × 4½” wheels were standard equipment except on the 340 models, which got E70-14s on 14 × 5½” wheels.
In ’74, it was 6.95×14s on six-cylinder cars and D78-14s on 318 cars on 14″ × 4½” wheels; the 360 models got E70-14s on 14 × 5½” wheels.
Thanks, that rings a bell for me.
Crossing the border has become more and more difficult, coming and going. Airport security is bad enough, but customs became a whole new gauntlet as you experienced. I understand the need to make sure things are tightened up and all, but what they put you through is rather ridiculous. Did they think you paid ten or twenty grand for the Dart instead of $2600? I guess they see enough of these fraudsters to make them suspicious at the least little thing. However tossing out some bait, and trying to trap you with the wrong answer, is just bad. Seeing what they put folks through in that Border Control tv show is such a turn off.
To your usual standard, Dr S, meaning excellent. Nice line about AM radio, btw. Hehe!
These Darts are elegant good-lookers to my eyes, though I guess box-on-box was pretty much done with by the end of its run. I ponder what might have been if Australia had got these instead of the homegrown VH Valiant models in ’71, big old barges which I personally like but the public didn’t much. The Dart is a more honest use of the same underpinnings, the Val being an incredible 5 inches wider on the same front track! Same wheelbase, but you’d swear this car is a quarter size less all round. Who really knows: the Falc and Holden had got all bulky and curved by this point, and they sold their heads off, and folks may well have mistaken the Dart for a slightly reworked ’67-71 Oz Valiant. Anyway.
I can’t help but smile at the fact that the car you didn’t do much to you actually did heaps to, by the standards of most of us. Still, it’s true you didn’t try to re-engineer the old dear, so there’s progress. Folks who bought it got something of a bargain, I’m sure. In fact, given that was so sorted, they’ll likely be the type who swears they bought an old Dart and it always worked perfectly, like they all did, y’see, they don’t build ’em like they used to…
Your border experience could be worse. A world-famous (in kids books) Oz author who’d been to the US literally over 100 times had this happen in 2017. She hasn’t been back since.
Thanks again, JB!
I kind of glozed over the amount of tinkering and, yes, upgrading that went into this ’73 Dart. There was quite a bit of it, relatively more of which was successful because I set goals and framed projects more reasonably than with previous cars. The brakes really did get quite a lot better after my careful, selective upgrades using factory components, and the driveability improved dramatically over my ownership. Those fancy shock absorbers were well worthy, too. But I also went for a set of pivoting strut rods—Heim joint, maybe? Don’t recall—which seemed like a great idea in theory, and they might’ve improved the handling performance somewhat, which was generally not noticeable or noticed on the way to the grocery…!
That author’s experience doesn’t shock me, so all the more it saddens, infuriates, and humiliates me.
Not many Aussies liked the old Vals it was great it drove the price down for us Kiwis who always reguarded them well, the bulky 72- 76 were my favourites I owned several.
Yep, they were good for Aussies on a budget who needed cheap wheels too.
They always got me where I needed to go, and you got a lot of metal for the money, and the power of the hemi 6 was a bonus.
I have wondered though, if the kiwi cars were a bit better built than ours.
I never much liked the widow’s peak that Chrysler schmucked onto the front of the ’73 and up Dart hood and thought the Valiant/Duster hood/grille looked much better.
It would have been nice if Dodge had kept the cleaner look of the ’70-’72 Dart hood but maybe they were trying to get away from that whole, minor ‘Demon’ controversy as much as they could without spending a lot of money on a major redesign.
I do think the ’72 Dart front end was nicer than the ’73, which looks a little like change for its own sake. The ’72 Dart’s front turn signals were also better—bigger and more effective—than the ’70-’71 or ’73-’74 items.
But I also think the ’73 Dart front end was markedly better than the ’73 Valiant front end, a misshapen collection of random lines, curves, bloats and textures that looks a lot like change for its own sake. I’m not 100 per cent certain, but I think the right target for my dim view is Dick Macadam, believably described here as a better manager than stylist or designer. But against that I have to balance that Macadam was doing what his counterparts at all the other makers were doing. Fashion trends are fashion trends; you have to follow them or most people won’t buy your stuff. And there were some pretty unfortunate fashion trends in the ’70s, so all I can do fairly is turn up my nose at Macadam’s interpretations and expressions of those trends.
A direction more along the direction of the Australian ’69 VF and ’70 VG Valiant front end (and ’70 VG rear end, for that matter), even with American bumper and headlamp regulations factored in, might’ve made for a better-styled final few years of A-bodies in the States.
Dodge had no difficulty reacting to Christian offence at a car called the Demon; they renamed it the Dart Sport for ’73 and that was that, no restyle required. Am I missing what you have in mind?
The 5mph bumper law was the most likely reason for the restyle, not to get away from Demon reminders, but that the 70-72 bumper was pretty small and needed a restyle to integrate it, hence they recycled the 67-69 fenders already setup for a larger bumper to do it a little cheaper. That likely compromised a lot of stylistic creativity, the 73 Dart nose isn’t bad looking but it looks more like a Valiant/Duster with its larger bumper and rather indistinct grille
I don’t think the bumper reg drove the restyle; I think it was just the end of the Dart’s facelift-cycle. ’67-’69 had been one such cycle; three model years. ’70-’72 was another such cycle, three model years ’73-’76 was the final such cycle, three model years and halfish. I don’t see anything in the ’70-’72 design that would’ve precluded a compliant bumper, or made it more costly or difficult. It would’ve been shaped a little differently, is all.
’73-’76 Dart fenders are similar to ’67-’69 items, and can be modified to swap on, but they are not the same.
I have read they reused the 1969 Barracuda hood for the 1973 Darts, talk about cost cutting.
The ’69 Baccaruda and ’73-’76 Dart hoods do interchange, that’s true. I don’t see a problem with that. Cost cutting is the primary main name of the primary main game in the carbuilding business, and getting the most use out of existing tooling only makes sense. The hood looked just as much at home on the Darts as on the Baccarudas; nobody who didn’t actually know this bit of trivia would point and go “Ugh, they crammed a ’69 Plymouth hood on this year’s new Dodge just to save a few pennies”.
Never had a Dart (my Dad started with a new ’56 Plymouth Plaza with no options) he also had a ’73 Ford Country Sedan with the trailer towing package, which had really distinct (loud) turn signals, probably due to the relays used, but more in the rear of the car, which I think contained the relays…you could really hear them click, didn’t need any other notice that they were on (in his later years my Dad was losing his hearing, mostly due I think to having been on a Howitzer firing crew in the Army…so he’d habitually leave his turn signals on, the visual indicator on the dash not being noticeable enough without the additional audible clue. Other than that, of course remember the normal clicking of relay under dash for other cars, very fast when the bulb burned out.
I used to be a transporter for Hertz (’77 and ’78) while in College, and since the closest big city to our home location in South Burlington, Vt. was in Montreal, we made more than a few trips mostly to Dorval airport to pick up cars. Back then Hertz seemed to specialize in Fords, and the Thunderbird was a pretty common rental (maybe second to an LTDII, which it basically was). I’d stop at the US/Quebec border, driving a late model Thunderbird, being 18/19 years old, they’d always want me to open the trunk, fitting a profile for someone suspicious. Only other time it happened to me was on the Hungary/Slovak border in 1996, we went past the border first time OK, only to be flagged back about 20km inside by the officials. Fortunately, my mother (whole family) was with us, though she was born in the US, her first language is Slovak (we were of course going to visit her relatives there) so we knew what the problem was. We were slightly suspicious, driving a full size Ford Scorpio wagon with Swiss plates, loaded to the gills with luggage (and other things, like gifts including alcohol for some of the relatives) but on the top of the luggage was my Dad’s daybag, which contained packets of instant oatmeal…the border official shrugged his shoulders (after getting a better look at our passports the 2nd time) and flagged us through…no more problems after that).