COAL: Dirty Dart Update One: Ugh.

Dart 3

I’ve finally had a chance to mess around with project Dirty Dart, and it’s softly whispering to me: cut bait! cut bait! To put things in perspective, it only stalled in traffic three times on the five-mile trip home from the off-site storage barn (less than once per mile!), and it shows signs that it has never had any significant mechanical service.  After 49 years and who knows how many miles, that’s not good.

Dart 1

The first thing I did was get new tires to replace the old ones that were coming apart…literally.  It looked and rode a lot better with a new set of shoes, but my problems were just beginning.

Dart 5

The only two items on the dashboard that worked were the ammeter and the temperature gauge.  The speedometer was hooked up but didn’t work.  The fuel gauge didn’t work.  Most troubling, the oil pressure warning light didn’t work.  There were no blown fuses.


Therefore, I removed the instrument cluster.  I tested several of the circuits, and they looked good.  The speedometer cable was broken near the transmission, but the speedometer head was free.


The printed circuit had continuity, but the oil pressure light was missing a bulb and socket.  Upon replacing it, the light works, as do the blinker indicators.  I think I may have discovered the reason for the missing bulb–the oil light stays on at all times.  Since I’ve driven the car at least 20 miles since I’ve gotten it, I’m betting on a bad sender.

The ignition switch seems to not be from a Dart, but I was able to modify it to work, at least for the short run, by using a spacer I cut from a PVC pipe.  I’m guessing the sending unit in the tank is bad, because I’m not getting anything at the gas gauge.  There could be a bad ground in the system, too, but I haven’t checked it yet.

Dart 4

Yep.  That’s a bungee cord holding the battery in.  Don’t judge.

I replaced two of the most rotten looking motor mounts you’ve ever seen, and now, with the engine and transmission where they should be, the exhaust hits the frame.  The front end is tight, but original, and all the rubber boots are shot.  There’s enough dirt road under this thing that I should call it Pigpen.  The gear oil was low in the transmission and axle.  Someone had replaced the steering box (there’s something at least!), and connected the steering column with two loose bolts.  Now that I’ve tightened it, it grinds going into second.

On another drive, it died 10 blocks away from my house as I pulled into my parents’ driveway.  I could get it started again, but it wouldn’t stay idling.  After checking the spark and running the engine from an auxiliary fuel tank with no change, Dad and I flat towed it home; and after checking all vital systems, including fuel pressure (fine), filter (fine), and the carburetor idle circuit (fine), it miraculously idled down normally.  There must have been a floating demon in the carb somewhere.

It has about 18″ of vacuum, a bit low, but OK.  It’s back to smoking pretty heinously from the tailpipe after an oil change, leading me to believe the oil drains in the cylinder head are plugged.  It obviously has low compression, judging by the fact that it sounds like the spark plugs are out when I crank it, and it will roll down a semi-steep driveway with the shifter in first gear.

Dart 6

The lesson: it’s pretty clear that I just don’t learn.  I bought another under-maintained vehicle and now I’m complaining that it’s a piece of junk.  This past Monday, I bought a low mileage 225 from a ’74 Charger from my machine shop to replace the obviously tired 170.  It’s just a gut feeling, but I think it’ll be a good choice, and it’s a direct swap other than the oil pan, pickup, and a little exhaust matching.

Over the last few days, I was really at a tipping point, but I’m terrible at selling things, and I’m probably just struggling under the weight of what seems like a Sisyphean task, even though this is my hobby and I enjoy it.  The money aspect is also bugging me: stuffing a bunch of money into a Dart wagon is somewhat stupid from a purely financial perspective.

1975 Ford Elite-08

On the other hand, a guy in a mid-’70s Elite pulled up when I was hooking up the tow strap, and he told me to take care of the Dirty Dart, because he’s never seen one before.  I had to return the comment, because Elites basically don’t exist in Michigan anymore (my Dad even had one, and it rusted out as we watched).  Maybe I’ll heed his advice and keep chipping away at the old wagon.  Stay tuned for what promises to be an exciting engine swap story!