A Much Deeper History
Millennial-aged enthusiasts probably recognize the Dodge Dart name from Fiat compact platform-based 2013-2016 models. But classic car gearheads likely remember the Dart moniker from as far back as 1960, when it first debuted. The best known of all the Darts, though, are the “muscle era” ones built between 1967 and 1976. While they weren’t as popular or lusted after as much as the larger and sportier Dodge Chargers and Challengers of that time, they were very respectable performers. Today, they are more affordable machines for those who want a classic V8-powered car but don’t have a big budget.
Muscle-era Darts have two especially memorable configurations: the frugal slant-six versions and the fearsome small- and big-block V8 iterations. The former typically sold in higher volumes as daily drivers, while the latter were vehicles that many enthusiasts took to drag strips (and even road courses) on weekends. Since they carried less weight over the front wheels, Darts with lighter small-block 340 and 360 cubic inch engines generally sold better to drivers who wanted to take a run at the backroads in their muscle machines. Buyers who chose a 383 or 440 cubic inch big block were after low elapsed times and big speed at the quarter-mile. And the rare Hemi Darts—which packed Dodge’s now legendary 426 Hemi engine—were for serious drag racers.
Fun for Everyone
By 1972, engine outputs were declining due to stricter emissions regulations. This occurrence didn’t mean that Dodge ceased making fun Darts, though. The company started a trend of fun and odd special editions like the Dodge Dart Swinger in the late ’60s. The 1970s saw the production of interesting limited editions like the Dart Hang 10. This beauty had a fold-down rear seat and was marketed to surfers, and the Dart Spirit of ’76, which was a tribute to the United States Bicentennial.
Today, Darts are still relatively plentiful and can be found for reasonable asking prices. The most encouraging thing about Darts is the large supply of performance parts available for them in the aftermarket. So, while not everyone can afford an original classic Hemi Challenger, many folks can manage to buy a V8-powered Dart. Even in stock form, they’re fun, and when modified with the right go-fast parts, they can be genuinely fast.