(first posted 4/9/2011) Chrysler Week has barreled by as fast as a hemi Ramcharger; so many cars still left for another day. But let’s wrap it up with what I consider to be a fine example of the most elemental of Chryslers: the Dodge Dart. I have a few in my files, but this is not only one of my favorite Darts, but a real CC gem. This is how I like them.
There can’t be a better choice for a vintage daily driver than an A-Body. And the Darts from 1963 through 1966 were a bit more distinctive than the Valiants, with their Chrysler Turbine Car front end styling and otherwise unique sheet metal. After the restyle of 1967, Darts and Valiants became much more similar; almost generic.
The styling of the new 1963 Dart poses a bit of a question to unravel. It’s well known that Virgil Exner left Chrysler in 1961, but not before a much more toned down 1963 line of cars were prepared. Elwood Engel’s influence really began in 1964, and reached its full implementation in 1965, with the new slab-sided big cars.
But the 1963 Dart clearly shows influences from both of them. The front end with its big headlights is almost straight from the Turbine car. But One sees touches of the Exner school in the rear end and a mixture in the middle. The Dart looks like a genuine hybrid, and Engner-mobile.
I have to admit that the ’63 Dart was a bit of an acquired taste, at least for me. When it was new, I was a bit wary of Chryslers of the Exner vintage, not quite knowing what to make of them. Part of me wanted to embrace their eccentricities, but I was pretty stuck in the tasteful but safer GM camp at the time. The Dart looked a bit goofy, even if not as out there as the pre-’63 Mopars had been.
The 1963 Dart was trying hard to be a step up from the Valiant, with a wheelbase stretched a full five inches to 111, except the wagon, which shared its body with the Valiant except for the nose. The Dart had the Comet and the GM compacts in its visor, especially the sporty GT.
That’s not to say it had an engine to back up its GT name, in its 1963 incarnation. The venerable slant sixes, in 170 and 225 CID versions were the only choices. Excellent ones indeed, and they had potential to be turned into very powerful mills indeed. But that’s not what sits under this Dart, so let’s talks V8s.
The smallest Chrysler V8 then, the polyspheric A 318 was a very wide thing indeed, and wouldn’t fit in the A-Bodies. That’s probably the biggest reason Chrysler redesigned the L-Block to come up with the LA: new heads that were conventional wedge shaped and much narrower as a consequence.
It appeared in 1964 in 273 CID (4.5 L) form, initially in only a two-barrel 180 hp version. Hardly a rip-snorter, but the 273 was the starting point for one of the finest engine families ever. The LA version of the 318 did yeoman duty in gazillions of Mopars, and the 340 and 360 distinguished themselves in everything from Trans Am racing to motorhome duty (as in my ’77 Chinook). Maybe I’m a bit biased, but I happen to think (and I’m not the only one) that the LA was just a wee bit all-round better than what the other two’s small blocks.
Without starting a pissing match, I mean that in the sense of the LA’s consistency; it just doesn’t seem to have any really substantial weaknesses, throughout its long life. Maybe I’m just trying to buy brownie points with the LA gods, hoping my very original 360 keeps burbling for a decade or two longer.
I don’t actually know what sits under the hood of this Dart; it could well be the original 273 or a snorting 340 or 360. Either way, its backed up by the almost ubiquitous TorqueFlite. I would bet that Chrysler sold a higher percentage of automatics that the other two, on the basis of its superb unit. Certainly, that was the case with the hard core performance crowd, but then the high-winding small block Chevy just begged to be unleashed from its two-speed Powerglide with a four speed stick.
This car just has it all: mostly original except for that blissfully crude hand-wrought hood scoop. That looks like what something I would come up with: “I know I have some old heater ducting here somewhere that’ll do the trick…”
This Dart has it all: attitude yet so practical at the same time. There’s a certain type of personality that’s just naturally attracted to A-Bodies; count me among them. Not too big, long-lived, simple to fix, a bit of stylistic flair, some get-up and go. I prefer the bolder ’63 – ’64 front end, but other than that, this Dart is a major CC winner. Now it does have another Dart competitor for my affections, but we’ll leave that for another day. One Dart at a time.
This is a great looking car to me. It is the right size and the stance is great. I love the short front overhang and long rear overhang.
That profile (short, front overhang) is the one thing I disliked about these cars that otherwise were a pleasure to drive daily.
It appeared slack-jawed…like a weak chin and a mustache.
My heart belongs to the slant six. Ask any fleet owner what he would like to see revived.
“Maybe I’m a bit biased, but I happen to think (and I’m not the only one) that the LA was just a wee bit all-round better than what the other two’s small blocks.”
But the small block Chebbie is the end all be all of all time ever! 😀
She is a good looking bird but there is an awkward kink to it I can’t put my finger on.
I’m thinking that the smaller front wheel with less offset than the rear one contributes to that.
That crease near the top of the door, shared with Valiants, is handled better on the Dart front fender than on the Valiant.
The 350 is king. But, I have a 4bbl 360 in a Dodge D250- it’s definitely a sound engine. The power is plenty, but the low end torque seems better on the Dodge.
I personally think the best Dodge engine was the 318 (I’m not counting in the 4.0 I6, since it was an American Motors engine)
I had a ’65 Dart 270 2-door sedan for a while; 273 V8, Torqueflite, radio, dark metallic turquoise. A nice car but thoroughly unremarkable. This was long after my new 65 V8 4-speed Barracuda.
We didn’t get the Dart in Canada until the restyled ’67 models (From ’60 to ’66 we had the Valiant only; not the Lancer or Dart). My grandfather, who had graduated from Austins to Dodges after coming to Canada in 1956, bought one of the first ’67 Darts, a light metallic blue 2-door hardtop with the 225ci slant-6. That car stayed in the family for at least a decade, during which I lusted after it, hoping it would be passed on to me. Didn’t happen, though.
i had a 65 Dart GT that verry same color with the slant 6 170 and that half vinal top.I usto out run V8s with it because it was so light and torquy.
The Exner/Engel debate on authorship of the ’63 A-Bodies seems to have shifted firmly to the Exner camp in recent years, and it makes sense. Engel definitely had a hand in the ’64s, but you can see echos of Exner’s butchered (by Newberg) ’62 line-up all through the ’63 Darts: prominent, round headlights and broad C-pillars tapering along the trunk – both like the ’63 Chryslers, which were really a re-working of Ex’s planned (smaller) ’62 Imperial. Powerboat styling cues, too, like the raked rear ends – powerboats were another Ex passion. If Engel put an angle on a tail, it flared out at the bottom, like his ’64 Imperial. And he liked to fill the box, before he rounded it with the fuselage look starting in ’69.
The changes to the ’63/’64 Darts were limited to the grille, the tailights, the firewall, the location of the heater controls and the door strikes. Everything else was pretty much the same. So maybe the ’65 is the first Elwoodification of the Dart?
Interestingly, the ’63 Valiant was a one-year hood and fender design, the ’64/’65 Valiants were a paired change with only grille and tailights changed, but then the hood and fender and tailights further changed for ’66 (tho’ I think Paul has earlier shown the rear fenders were pretty much the same through all years).
Both packages seem to me to be a pretty strong turn to Engle slabs over the Exner fuselage. But I’ve never done any research into this, and I don’t know how he would have influenced the cars’ designs given that they would have been designed and in production before he came on board.
My 66 dart GT, ordered in the summer of 65 had 65 fenders as they were formed for the 65 bumpers and not the 66 bumpers.
The character line that runs from the Dart’s taillights, and around the rear window, was lifted from a 1961 Dodge concept car called the Flight Wing. The rest of the design was also Exner’s work.
The 1963 Plymouth Valiant was also designed by Exner, with one major change by Engel. As designed by Exner, the outer edges of the quarter panels sloped downward at the same angle as the deck lid. Engel raised the outer edges so that, when viewed from the side, the “slope effect” was essentially gone.
Here is a description of my 1st car… A 1965 65 dart GT. I had it since I was 15. I am 39 now. I named it “Eye Candy”- ” Candy” for short. Originally a 273/auto, now upgraded to a 340/4-speed. 8-3/4, with 3:55 gears. My dad traded a 71 roadrunner with a 383/auto for it. Dad wasnt about to let a 15 year old loose in this as his first car! There was an add in the paper for the dart for sale. When we called on the add, the guy said: “you should have called about two hours ago”: “Why, you sell it we asked?” he said “no”, “since nobody wanted it, I was gonna “roundy-pound” it”. When we went to look at it, it was quite a sight! He had taken a hammer and broken all the glass, it was scattered everywhere! He took a screwdriver and pryed off all the chrome and flung it about, shredded the interior: seats, head liner, door panels, carpet…you name it! His garage was a mess!… About two weeks after trading, we drove by the guys place only to find the roadrunner gutted and totaled! Dad was so upset! Since we recieved 2 65 dart GTs for the trade, we took two to make one. So I have a great respect for this car, piecing it together- screw by screw… I love the body lines. The reason I love this car is because of the character and personality it has. It is diffrerent. I love them as much as the 70 challenger and the 69 charger. My dad taught me well: mopar to the core. It’s kinda funny, because people are always asking me what it is… 🙂
It sounds like “Roundy-Poundy” Guy had more than a few screws loose. That kind of senseless destruction (of *two* cars) is disgusting.
Your car sounds sweet, BTW.
I guess we are brothers of different mothers. I have a 64 Dart GT 4spd which I swapped out the original 273-2bbl, for a 70 340 engine. It has a 4.30 rear axle currently.
When I was a kid in the mid-’70’s there was a similar-vintage jacked up brown Valiant cruising around our town. It had a nice set of mags and a giant Playboy bunny logo decal on the hood. My mom HATED that car…I just shrugged.
Just a minor quibble Paul. It should read “polyspheric A 318” and “redesigned the A engine” (the block is basically the same between A and LA). Glad you didn’t refer to it as the “wideblock”. The A engine was the first corporate engine to begin the task of reducing the number of different engine lines with few common parts. There were 5 early Hemi/poly blocks with differing deck heights, bore spacings, bearing sizes etc.
“There were 5 early Hemi/poly blocks with differing deck heights, bore spacings, bearing sizes etc.”
It was worse than that.
Chrysler: Hemi low block, Hemi raised-block, Chrysler Poly
De Soto: Hemi low block, Hemi raised-block (There was no DeSoto Poly)
Dodge: Hemi low block, Hemi raised-block, Dodge Poly
Plymouth: “A” Poly
…and the Dodge Poly apparently came in low-block and raised-block versions.
tengo un dodge dart 65 falta hood emblem central ,por favor alguien tiene esta parte en veta? dar precio y forma de pago puedo recibir en eagle pass texas ,
necesito hood emblem centro de dodge dart 65, tengo doreccion en eagle pass texas.
Beautiful looking car. I’ve always found both the 1965 Dodge Dart, and the 65 Plymouth Valiant to be attractive cars. Even with patina, it still looks good. I don’t mind patina, as long as it doesn’t penetrate the metal of the car into the rest of the car.
The extra wheel-base length improves the ride of the early Dart over the Valiant a good deal, and the extra rear overhang with the flat/squared off trunk lid lets the Dart owner pack in so much more.
The 273/318 is good for only 16mpg, alas. Us thrifty folk stick with the 225 six (gets over 20mpg, and only 18+ with the 170). Wish I could have the aluminum slant six in a Dart-GT coupe or Wagon. Anyone want to trade one on a Valiant Convertible?
True enough with the automatic, but with the 4 speed stick, it was easy to get 19.3 mpg on the highways. I had a new 64 GT hardtop with 273/4 speed when I was in the Marine Corps. I use to make the run from NC to NJ on weekends with a car full of fellow Marines. 19.3 was my average. I made only one fuel stop along the way from Cherry Point to northern NJ with a drop-off of my riders at Broadway & 42nd Street in NY. I gassed up after getting home at 02:00 in the morning and getting a little sleep. That was the BEST car I have ever owned.
If they built them today, I think a lot more people would buy Dodge Darts.
Agree that the 63-64 is the sweetie of the generation, and (as with everything Mopar) has more personality than the cars of the Engle era. I like both the Valiant and Dart of this generation, but prefer the 64 to the 63 in both.
When I was about 12 or so (about 1971), my scoutmaster’s wife drove a 66 Dart 2 door sedan. The Scoutmaster had a 69 Ford Cortina wagon that was thoroughly beat to hell. Even when it was 2 years old, when it came time to go on a drive to Chicago for a field trip, the Cortina stayed home and we took the Dart.
Looks rough but ready…..
While I will agree these Darts had/have “personality”, I think they are a tad bit “overdone”. They had that “halo” or partial roof treatment before other lower-priced cars, but with that….. in addition you got those slots in the side, but most importantly you got those almost “bug-eyed” headlights.
I like the concept of a Dart GT, but the 63+64 editions? Not so much. In 1963 I’d rather have had a Falcon Sprint.
I had a 66 Dart GT, 273 2bbl, 4 speed. When the 7″ rear went at 55,000, in went an 8 3/4 posi. 3.55 That is what my brother gave me. When the 273 started using more oil than gas, out went the 273 and in went a 360 4bbl. The 3.55 was to low so in went a 2.76 and it got 24 mpg (orig 273 only got 17) that was at 250000 miles. The 360 went to 498,000 miles when I sold it off as I didn’t want to re-do the body again. The conversion to disc brakes and rack and pinion along with Macpherson struts really improved the handling and stopping at 300,000 miles. the last 198,000 miles were really fun.
I would expect a guy in a mullet to be driving this Dart.
Good looking cars, sadly never seen in Canada except when American tourists came up for vacation or immigrated here.
That is odd because my 66 Dart GT was made in Canada per the vin plate
Huh, interesting but don’t recall seeing any. Lots of of Valiants of course which makes me wonder if they were only shipped down south.
A good question for Chrysler Canada’s old PR guru Walt McCall. He was at Chrysler Canada for decades. I used to have his home telephone number. Can anybody out there confirm when Darts became available in Canada?
IIRC the Canadian Valiant was the 111″ Dart body with a Valiant nose.
Who really does make the best small block? I have had my 302 Ford (actually 306, its .030 over) in my ’83 Ranger. Ported early 351W heads, Edelbrock Performer-Plus cam. Edelbrock Performer 289 intake manifold, topped by a factory 4180 Holley carb. from a ’85 351W truck. Well over 120k. Still 80psi cold oil pressure. Manifold vacuum does not vary by an inch. And it will throw my longbed, dual fuel tank 4X4 Ranger around like a sack of potatoes. Ride with me, hang on to your hat.
That looks like my 65 Dart GT but it’s not I’m in Oregon also. 273 8.75 3:23
My 65 GT Dart with Charger Package has a factory 4bbl on a 273 w/10 to 1 compression and after I added duel exhaust and Magnaflows she puts out just under 300 horses. Anybody out there got a line on a left front fender?
Most people see it from behind
That’s lovely .