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: