(first posted 1/24/2013) My friends tell me that I like cars that “last forever”–last forever in my possession, that is. This is the story of my mother’s 1972 Dodge Dart two-door hardtop, Mexican-made and family-owned since October 1971. Nobody in my family ever thought an automobile would endure so many years and different drivers and still keep on going. The Dart was a present given from my father to my mother on the day my younger (and last) brother was born. Now it’s ended up with me, hopefully to last forever.
My father always wanted a males-only family, but after three daughters I was born. Although he tried to do his homework, he got another girl. Finally he fired his last bullet, and bingo! A boy came into the world on September 23, 1971. Father was so happy that he immediately went to look for a car to present to my mother for fulfilling his ultimate goal.
From the hospital in downtown Chihuahua, he made a fast trip to Avenida Universidad, which then was the hub for car showrooms and parts shops. He visited the Rambler dealer, where no car was available. He moved on to Renault, and then to Volkswagen and Datsun, still with no luck. He kept up his search and drove up to the Chevrolet and Ford dealers. At the Ford dealership he was told that over at the next corner, Automotriz Touché (a Dodge and Plymouth dealer) had in stock two or three new 1972 models, while other dealers were still waiting for new ’72s to fill their empty showrooms.
According to my father, there were three cars, two of which were sold: a 1972 Monaco 4-door sedan (the hardtop version never was available in México), and a Valiant Super Bee (pictured above, it is no longer marketed in México as a Plymouth, but as a Valiant). The remaining car was the Dodge Dart two-door hardtop. My father grabbed it immediately, signing the paperwork to buy it for the incredible sum of 38,000 pesos (roughly $3,040, at the then-current rate 12.50 pesos /dollar). My father, who wanted to mark a milestone, actually wanted a 1971 model car, but he reluctantly accepted that there were no other cars in the city to be had, and took whatever he found to thank my mother for her efforts.
Three days later my mother was discharged from the hospital. My father already had the car in his hands, and went to meet her and my little brother and drive them home in the new Dart. My mother was so impressed by the color and brightness of the car that she fell in love with it right away, but (always there must be a “but”, so we say in Spanish) when she sat for the first time behind the steering wheel she realized that the car lacked power brakes, power steering and a heater. The only luxury feature was the automatic transmission, which was proudly announced by a small plaque on the right side of the trunk: in short, it was a Mexican Plain-Jane.
Not wanting to bother my father with foolish things, she remained silent for 10 years. After my father passed away, in 1983, she told us that although she was flattered with the car when it was new, she found it unbearable to fight the unassisted steering and come up with sufficient stamina when pressing the brake pedal. Also, she said that she hated the “poor man windows” (manual instead of power-operated).
The lack of a heater was of no importance to her: She still had her (also) beautiful, old 1965 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 four-door hardtop to use in freezing temperatures. Believe it or not, in the North of México we have freezing winters, often with snow storms and very low temperatures.
Well, after such a confession, her offspring wondered what was going to happen to the car, since it was relatively old, but not excessively so. Ultimately she decided to hold a raffle among her kids, and I got the prize: A low mileage 1972 Dodge Dart, then 11 years old. I kept the car as a fond memory of a time when I was younger, a time when my mother showed me how to drive, as well as of first dates and parties, “Quinceañeras” and girlfriends.
I have kept the car 30 years, and it is a wonderful daily driver. The odometer shows a little bit more than 122,000 kilometers traveled in 41 years. This car took us on trips to Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta; later, when it was fashionable, we spent vacations in Cancún and the Mayan Riviera, and made a lot of shopping trips to El Paso, Texas (only 225 miles north of here) every other weekend.
As such a low mileage (by Mexican standards) car, this vehicle has, of course, spent several years off the road and in a warehouse, getting older. In 2000, my mother got herself a new Chevrolet Malibú, and sold me her old 1991 Sedan deVille–which I treasure as a memory of the first time I became the proud owner of a C-A-D-I-L-L-A-C, and which I still own.
The Dart has a 170 cu in (2.8-liter) Slant Six with a one-barrel carburetor, TorqueFlite automatic transmission, torsion-bar front suspension and leaf springs in the rear. Wheelbase is 110 inches, length 192.5 inches, width 68.7 inches, and height 55 inches.
The shape of the buttresses that ran from the upper C-pillar is slightly different than that of U.S. models and a Mexico-only design. I was told that this the costliest version, with a vinyl padded roof. It reminds me of the Charger Daytona of the time.
This humble Dodge still attracts lots of attention, turns heads, and is a conversation piece whether I’m waiting for the green light at an intersection or out elsewhere. Now that I’m getting older every day, I understand my mother: I have to park it at a corner or next to a driveway, or far from other vehicles. I’ve been stuck between two cars, bumper-to-bumper, and it’s hard and tiresome to maneuver the steering wheel; in such cases I simply left the car and came back for it later. Also, in a heavy rain I have to stop and park at the curb to wait until the water level recedes, so as not to get those old drum brakes wet–at least, if I don’t want to have an accident. I don’t care about the lack of air conditioning or a heater because I don’t use them. What’s more, the suspension works wonderfully–recently I drove a neighbor’s PT Cruiser, and its ride made me feel like I was driving a go kart!
I hope to keep the car for more years. My only son, who is 33 and lives in Calgary, Canadá, told me that he wants the car as an heirloom. I told him that if he comes all the way here for it, it’ll be his. That is the reason my cars last forever…in my hands!