Curbside Classic: 1968 Dodge Dart – “Which Old Folks Remember As A POS”

After all, Dodge is bringing back the Dart, which old folks remember as a POS. Those were Michael Karesh’s thoughts at TTAC on Dodge’s decision to revive the the Dart name for its attractive new compact. I have a lot of respect for Michael, and don’t want this at all to be some sort of pissing match with him, but I was more than a wee bit surprised to read that. If ever a car developed a reputation for being a stalwart appliance during a time when all-too many American cars were going in the crapper, the Dart, and its slightly shorter stablemate Valiant were it. POS?

My Dad certainly wouldn’t agree with that label. Me neither. And I guess we both qualify as old folks.

He drove a ’68 baby-shit brown stripper two-door sedan for almost ten years, on his commute from Towson to Johns Hopkins hospital (what else would a neurologist drive?). His had the 170 inch six and three-on-the-three, manual steering and manual everything else. The only upgrade was the rear seat upholstery: it was the nice pleated vinyl from a Dart 270, unlike the thin, flat front upholstery. I guess that’s all that was handy on the assembly line that day. Can you imagine that happening nowadays? Two different upholstery treatments in the same car?

Anyway, it served him flawlessly, and still ran like a top when he traded it in. It was actually pretty fun to drive, except for two flaws: obviously, the steering was too slow, but at least it wasn’t numb like the Chrysler one-finger power-steering of the times. And it desperately needed a four-speed stick. The 115 hp 170 six was a surprisingly strong runner, and revved much more happily than might be expected. But the hole between second and third was way too big, especially if one was really pushing it in the hilly curvaceous roads of Northern Baltimore County.

The Dart was remarkably neutral in its handling, unlike almost any other Detroit car of the times. Nothing like a stripper with the least amount of weight on the front wheels to accentuate the generally good handling qualities of the MoPar A-Bodies, despite the tiny 13″ tires. At least they all howled in protest together, instead of the fronts threatening to pop off the rims in typical Detroit understeer fashion.

I winced when my Dad bought it, but I learned to respect and appreciate its ways: the most tossable American plain-Jane car of its times, not to mention the most rugged and reliable.

I used to recommend these cars as cheap used wheels for friends, and I helped one, a single mom, buy a white one just like this one for a few hundred bucks. I dubbed it “The Kelvinator”, and it went on to live up to its namesake’s reputation as a reliable appliance box, if not a (literally) cool one, given that it lacked AC. She drove it for some ten years too.

So how about you “old folks”; what say you about the Dart?