Oh, admit it. You can’t resist this quirky, dorky, adorable little wagon. Can you? Anyone? OK, so I’m still trying to justify shipping this thing from Sandy, OR, to my Michigan home back in November. It’s the first car I’ve ever bought sight unseen, because I’m normally smarter than that. However, the Dart showed up looking pretty much how the seller (a salvage yard, by the way) described it, so maybe there’s some hope yet, I hope.
Unfortunately, I haven’t had much of a chance to drive my new ’65 Dart 170 wagon. Winter is upon us in Michigan, and it’s been a bad one, so before the snows came, I strengthened the antifreeze, started her up and drove up and down the block a few times. The clutch chattered; the exhaust was a little steamy, even for an ambient temperature of 35 degrees and undoubtedly a copious amount of time sitting; and I thought I noticed the unmistakable aroma of 15W-40 in the cloud that intermittently wafted from the tailpipe.
It needed a new positive battery cable before I could even get it cranking without a jump box, and the steady 13.0 volts I measured at the battery with the engine idling doesn’t exactly fill me with high hopes for a healthy alternator.
On the plus side, the old 170 slant six has a pretty good reputation for toughness, so a few miles under her belt might be all it takes; that’s what I’m telling myself until the other foot comes down, anyway. The good news is that, unlike Michigan cars, the Dart seems to have minimal rust. The “trunk” floor is like new, the subframes are perfectly solid, and other than two spots around the rear drains, so are the floors. The quarters have been poorly patched, but I plan to get this thing operational before I make it pretty.
Well, I don’t know if it will ever be “pretty,” but I like it. The week I bought it, my tastes ran along the lines of a mid-60s compact wagon. I’d have taken another Corvair, maybe a Nova, and I love Comets. A Rambler would have made my year. However, this Dart popped up on Ebay one Sunday morning, and I decided to keep an eye on it. As the sale date grew nearer, and the price wasn’t climbing, I took a step I rarely take–I decided to bid on something I’d never seen in person.
After I emailed the salvage yard that was offering it for sale, they sent me some undercarriage pictures and assured me they’d been driving it around and it ran well. I figured that at my max price, I wouldn’t be out much if it wasn’t what I hoped it would be, whatever that was.
When the auction ended with “You won this item,” I was a little shocked, assuming someone would outbid me at the last minute, which is what often happens on Ebay. Apparently, people aren’t as excited about Dart wagons as I am. The final sale price was $1525, which was probably about right, but the $850 shipping fee is what turned this into an underwater venture immediately. Man, I’m stupid sometimes.
Oh well, I’ve done dumb things before. A ’65 Dart wagon may not be traditionally cool, but it’s genuinely weird, so I dig it. There’s a touch of buyer’s remorse in my talk, but deep down, I’m pretty excited about my new adventure. I just love buying beaters and fixing them up over time. It spreads out my investment, and I have lots of fun.
Oh, I know there will be some heartbreak involved, too; there always is. There is already a list of things the Dart needs just to be driveable sitting on my kitchen counter right now, so I know this will be a $5000/$12,000 car someday soon. In other words, it’ll be worth $5000, but I’ll have $12,000 in it.
So, without further adieu, there it is: Chapter One of a hopefully happy tale about a man and his Dart wagon. After getting a few bugs worked out, my first step is to install new carpet and seatbelts, and have my bodyshop friends paint the interior metal so my better half doesn’t feel like she has to take a shower when we emerge from a cocoon of filth. She’s taking it pretty well, actually. In fact, when the Dart arrived on the trailer, she gave me a present, the brochure for ’65 Dodge Wagons.
Now that I have the brochure, I’m going to HAVE to keep it, aren’t I? Life’s conundrums…