At the risk of sounding like a snob, I’ll admit that a title reference to a Glenn Frey song chafes at my pop music sensibilities. Nothing against the Detroit-born late Eagle, it’s simply that I like my country rock paragons a little less polished, more “Sin City” than “You Belong to the City.” Moving past my jaded musical inclinations, however, I will say that Mr. Frey well encapsulates a week of my summer with the world famous Dirty Dart.
The Dirty Dart is more or less my winter beater, insofar that I don’t often see it during the summer. Of course, I never drive my charismatic junkyard find in inclement weather, but on dry days between November and April, it’s my old car fix, to the tune of about 1000 miles a season. I do, however, bring it home for a week or two during the summer to repair anything that would render the Dart out of order during those long winter months, when smelling the choke-rich exhaust is a wished-for treat to the olfactory senses.
This year, lukewarm heat was my summer Dart project. I had grown accustomed to dressing in layers when driving the Dart, but I finally took the next step and rebuilt the heater. The problem, pictured above, was immediately apparent. I installed new seals and had the heater core pressure checked and flushed at my local radiator shop.
Last winter, I also replaced the electrovacuum switch that opens and closes the appropriate heater doors and operates the heater fan, as it had overstayed its welcome by failing to work. Luckily, that switch is reproduced, although I disassembled it out of pure curiosity. Like a wind-up watch or a Bendix Automatic bicycle hub, it’s intriguing to think that someone had to design it. There have certainly been unheralded geniuses in our midst.
Another summer project (in 2017) was replacing all front suspension bushings; you may see one of them underneath the Dart’s coating of mud and animal feces. Born in St. Louis and sold in Little Rock, many of the Dart’s miles must have been spent covering an Arkansas field.
The job was one I needed to do, as evidenced by the remains of the lower control arm bushings pictured above. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of replacing Mopar LCA bushings, you may already know that they require both patience and profanity. I used a welder, a couple of large washers, a press, some chisels, and some sockets, not necessarily in that order. Fortunately for me, there are several good writeups on the internet that helped me complete that onerous task. The second bushing, as usual, was far easier than the first.
Just for fun, I temporarily cranked down the torsion bars to give the Dirty Dart an old-fashioned rake. Neat, but too low.
This past winter, I finally decided to get serious about my non-working fuel and temperature gauges. With the help of a spare cluster, an electrical system deep dive, and a kind gentleman from a Chrysler A-Body forum, I was able to get to the bottom of things. First, the electrical stud at the top of the picture above should have a nut on it. It did not. Second, the gas gauge was burned out, probably due to a sticking IVR. Third, someone in the past had incorrectly routed two wires to the back of the printed circuit. Diligently studying my factory wiring schematic led me to the root of that debacle.
I also cleaned the contacts (after I took this picture) on the back of the gas gauge to ensure a good ground. This and the missing nut are where my online forum friend was invaluable. The internet can be the best and the worst thing in the world, but in the car repair world, it can be a true time saver. Since I’m not really a “Mopar guy,” some of the little quirks of the brand can take some getting used to.
In reality, the system is fairly straightforward. There are posts for incoming voltage, adjusted voltage, and sender input. The gauge is still inaccurate (a full tank reads 5/8 full on the gauge), and other tests have led me to believe I have a faulty sender in the tank. In spite of that, reproduction parts such as senders are often inaccurate or short-lived out of the box, so I have decided to live with the inaccuracy for now. It’s not as uncommon as you may think in an old car; my Mustang’s gauge has registered 5/8 full on a full tank for the entire 25 years I’ve been driving it (wow, time flies!).
My most recent repair involved the clutch linkage, which has been a twisted fiasco since I bought the Dart from Wildcat Auto Wrecking in Sandy, Oregon, back in 2013. It’s hard to see in this picture, but I had to twist the adjustable clutch rod into an s-shape to line it up to the clutch release arm. On top of that, when I installed the ’74 225, I used that engine’s diaphragm pressure plate; therefore, the clutch overcenter spring under the dash became superfluous.
By applying a little heat to the clutch z-bar, I was able to bend it to roughly line up with the clutch release arm. By doing so, I was able to replace the adjustment rod, and after also removing the overcenter spring and replacing the z-bar bushings, I now have smooth clutch operation.
Naturally, there have been many other minor jobs over the last couple of years, jobs I didn’t bother photographing: valve adjustments, trying out different spark plugs, new valve seals to replace the 45-year-old hardened originals, and converting the driveshaft from a ball and trunnion joint to a slip-joint style with a modern universal joint. The last was in response to the total destruction of a five-year-old trunnion boot that ripped while I was driving on the freeway; rubber slapping the bottom of the car at driveshaft speed sounds far more serious than it is, so I decided to ensure that it would never happen again.
If anybody is truly interested in the mechanics of the conversion, this is a good online tutorial: http://www.earlycuda.org/tech/ujoint.htm
After all that work, the Dart is now ready for a nice, warm, dry winter’s drive. People love seeing old cars out and about when they’re least expected, and the Dirty Dart’s shabby persona and friendly smile give people a reason to smile back when they see it drive by.
Having a beater old car is something I recommend to any old car aficionado. The hobby is meant to be fun, and too many people take it too seriously. It’s great to have a nice car that you can show off during the summer, but if you’re afraid to enjoy it because it’s too nice or it’s worth too much, it can become an anxiety causing burden. In the meantime, when the weather permits, I’ll be sliding into a sea of turquoise vinyl, cranking up the Hamtramck Hummingbird, turning up the heat, and listening to the gentle clatter of Slant Six solid lifters.
Some of my previous entries:
Aaron65’s Continuing COAL Series
Love both your car and your attitude!
Ditto! Best part of the hobby is the smiles you generate. I’d add a shoulder harness though. Did so on my 65 Corvair convertible. Hitting the B pillar with my head would have been bad..
Nice to see an update on my favorite internet-wagon, the Dirty Dart! Under your tutelage it’ll remain running well forever, and improving every single year. Good work!
If I wasn’t so busy with houses and kids, I’d get one of my own…
…Although, perhaps my ‘94 Fleetwood is a beater now. Since I moved away from New Orleans, it has been downgraded from daily driver to “occasional-use spare car”. I still drive it when I fly down for a week here and there, but for now it needs too much to be a road car. The old girl needs tires, front end work, body work, an OptiSpark…I suppose that makes it a beater.
A beater? That car is far too classy to be called a beater or to be treated like a true beater. At least not the beaters I have seen. Now a later 90s Nissan Altima could be called a beater for true beater purposes.
The heater core in my ’66 F100 became incontinent well over a year ago, and I haven’t gotten around to it, other than disconnecting the hoses to it. Fortunately, our winters aren’t very cold. And I make the dog sit right next to me. 🙂
You will have to report back after a good cold day. My 71 Scamp did not have the best heater of anything I ever drove. A 195 degree thermostat helped a little, but to make the car really habitable during the coldest weather I drove around with cardboard covering the top half of the radiator. It was a high mile car, so perhaps the heater core was sludged up. Still, the slant sixes of my experience do not run hot easily.
I still love that Dart. A dry weather winter car sounds like a great idea. A/C was a rarity in that era and price class, but they almost all had heat!
I solved the “weak heater” complaint in several Mopar A-bodies by reverse flushing the heater core with a garden hose.
Is that really a junkyard refugee? What was wrong with it to end up in a boneyard and do you have any ‘before’ photos you can share? Normally, A-bodies rust away long before the drivetrain gives up, and the Dart’s body looks to be in remarkably good shape (particularly for the upper midwest).
The back story on the dirty Dart
Thanks for linking the article! 🙂
I’d forgotten all about the Dart wagons … not many (any?) to be seen on the roads here. A friend drove his parents’ ‘64 Dart in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s and I spent quite a few hours in the passenger seat as well as some time behind the wheel. I didn’t like it then as much as I might now; but I always liked the slant-six.
I have an irrational love for these 60’s Darts, especially wagons like these; add a 225 slant six and you have my nominee for the “Car I could most likely live with for 50 years”.
Dart wagons are cool, although one from the year earlier would be cooler with the pushbutton Torqueflite. Anyway, I can relate to the no-heat problem having suffered with the same thing in my first car, which turned out to be a broken coupler that moved the door that determined the mix of cool and warmed air. I had to fabricate a new part out of wood to fix it.
I love that first Flying Burrito Brothers album too (Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman are gods). As for the Eagles, they stole their basic country-rock style (and two of their band members) from Poco, which got there first and did it better even if they were never as popular.
“I love that first Flying Burrito Brothers album too (Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman are gods). As for the Eagles, they stole their basic country-rock style (and two of their band members) from Poco, which got there first and did it better even if they were never as popular.”
A huge +1 to this entire paragraph.
Aaron, is first gear synchronized on the DD’s “3 on the tree” manual transmission?
All of my 6 cylinder Falcon’s from this time period were not.
Given the meager power of the gutless 144 Falcon six, downshifting happened a lot. The sloppy column shift linkage didn’t help matters much. Downshifting/engaging first gear above 5 miles an hour took some fancy footwork on the gas and clutch pedals!
I can answer that: No. My dad’s ’68 Dart was still non-syncro in first. I think that transmission lasted well into the early 70s. The Falcon finally got the all-syncro 3 speed in 1968. Shame on the Big Three for offering these antiquated transmissions while the imports had butter-smooth shifting all-syncro 4 speeds.
That issue alone would had made me pay the extra money for Mopar’s excellent Torqueflite automatic transmission.
No Gear Grinding for me!
I’ve tried double clutching into first at low speeds, but I still always get a grind. It’s best just to let it come to a stop, although I’ve also gotten adept at dragging the clutch in 2nd at low speeds. A synchro would be nice.
Thanks for the update. The wagon is looking great. Nice work on the clutch fix as well – I bet that improves the drivability of the wagon.
I’m really happy with how the pedal feels now; who knows why it took me so long to get to it.
Great writing on a great car. I’m in awe of the knowledge, skill, and patience it takes to tackle a project like this. But I love reading about it, and the car is definitely worth the work. I imagine turquoise Dart wagons rarely fully satisfied their owners’ 1960’s automotive fantasies, but the underlying honesty in the machine itself really shines through 50 years on.
What happend to the original 170 engine? I didn’t see anything in the older article that explained why it got replaced with a newer vintage 225. From what I understand, of the displacements the slant-six came, the 170 was the best of the three.
Overall, while I personally prefer a Valiant for an A-body, it’s still a really superb daily-driver that, so long as the tin worm doesn’t eventually kill it, should go for many hundreds of thousands of miles.
A link to some of my COALs is at the bottom of my article today; I think the engine swap was in Part II. The original 170 had so little compression that it would roll down a driveway while it was in gear, so I picked up a used 225 from my machine shop. The 170 has some design advantages, but for a car that’s stock, more displacement, in my opinion, has all the advantages.
I don’t think the tinworm will get the Dart. I have a 2012 Focus as a daily driver; the Dart only comes out when it’s dry.
Yeah, I wouldn’t think anyone taking that kind of maintenance care would subject a very nice, old A-body to foul weather. A couple of Michigan winters would make short work of the body and floor pan.
Likewise, sorry if it was implied that the 170 was significantly better than the 225 (or 198, for that matter). All of the slant-six engines were okay. I think the 225 had some early teething problems, and the 170 would rev higher for performance driving, but that’s about it. I can see where, in day-to-day driving, a 225 might be a better driver.
While it would have been nice to keep the Dart completely original, if a later 225 swap makes it a solid, reliable daily-driver, it’s A-OK by me.
Where did the blue rims go?
They were 13″ inch rims, for which the tire selection is slim. I upgraded to 15s and threw the old rims in the basement.
These cars use the old 73-10 ohm sender with a CVR so it is highly likely that your full tank reading 5/8 is not due to a bad sender but instead due to poor connections in the circuit between the gauge and the sender and/or a fatigued bi-metal strip in the CVR that doesn’t provide the proper average voltage.
A trip to the electronics store for a 5 pack of 10 and 33 ohm resistors will allow you to determine if it is the sender, wiring or CVR.
The internet can be the best and the worst thing in the world, but in the car repair world, it can be a true time saver.
So true, especially when my late father’s Mercedes-Benz E320 (W210) started having one technical issues after other. His favourite saying after visiting the official Mercedes-Benz service centre was, “they couldn’t find exactly what’s wrong.” That’s his code word for “ridiculously expensive”.
I perused the owners forums and YouTube videos a lot and was able to fix everything in his car on the cheap. We searched through ebay and junkyards for parts. It sort of changed father-son relationship for better.
“Having a beater old car is something I recommend to any old car aficionado. The hobby is meant to be fun, and too many people take it too seriously. ”
Preach brother. Too bad youre not closer, I’d love to help out.
Does it have the OE 9″ drum brakes and single reservoir MC? Id consider ditching those if you can
Yes, it still has the original brakes. Only once (so far) was it an issue: Some lady on the freeway decided to merge into the passing lane doing 40 when I was doing 70. That took a lot of leg muscle and resulted in what seemed like a lot of brake fade. Other than that extreme moment, they’ve been fine.
Doing a restomod on one of these old dart wagons would be way cool. Mine would be tripple black on 17 inch black rims 392 hemi 7 speed adjustable suspension mods trick lighting a audiophile grade sound system I just dream on
I’m sure it’s been done, but I think a late model Hemi would be a tight fit in an early Dart. That’s the first thing my neighbor across the street asked when I picked it up though…wouldn’t that be fun with a Hemi?
I love your Dart. If only I could find one here on the East Coast that wasn’t just a pile of rust.