Vintage Car Life Road Test: 1963 Dodge Dart – “An Entirely New Dart”

When we think “Dodge Dart” this one comes to mind, but the name had previously been used on full-size Dodges. In 1963, the rather modest-selling Lancer—a pretty thinly disguised Valiant—was replaced by a stretched version of the new 1963 A Body. The Dart was now almost ten inches longer than the Valiant, and had an additional five inches of wheelbase. This was clearly a response to the successful Comet, itself a stretched and restyled Falcon, as well as the 1961 Buick-Olds-Pontiac Y-Bodies. The category was dubbed “senior compacts”. Car Life tested the new Dart, equipped with the optional 225 CID slant six and the three-speed manual transmission.

The seats were both firm and higher off the floor than typical for the time; a good thing, in case you were wondering. The new A-Body unibody was improved in terms of its solidity and torsional stiffness, thanks new larger one-piece pressings, a more massive center pillar and straighter windshield, among other things. The result was a very solid-feeling car, and well-assembled. The Chrysler quality pendulum was at a relative high point here.

Handling characteristics were deemed “excellent”, with a firm ride. Rough surfaces were taken a bit “stiffly, but cornering is precise and comfortable”. The 10″ drum brakes were better than average. (Update: This was a pre-production car as these 10″ brakes were not available on production Darts and Valiants).

The optional 225 six was considered a wise choice, given that the Dart does weigh 215 lbs more than a comparable Valiant. Performance was “very respectable” (0-60 in 13.3 sec.; 1/4 mile in 19.3 sec. @72 mph). But the column mounted shift lever was balky, a very common complaint. “After wrestling with the lever between gears for a couple of days, we finally decided to leave it in 2nd for all about-town driving” (from a standing start up to 45 mph). The automatic was obviously a better choice.