Colombian Dodge Darts

Contributed by Orlando Parra Jimenez

[Editor's note: A significant language barrier exists between Mr. Jimenez and me, and a friend of his has translated his message for me into fractured English. I have therefore had to make some guesses about the intended meaning of phrases in order to render this more easily understandable. Where the meaning was reasonably clear, I have left the style of the writing alone. Nevertheless, some things have been lost in the translation, I am sure.]

I comment to you about the Dart in Colombia:

This car was produced from 1963 until 1977, since Chrysler had an assembly plant here, located in Santafé de Bogotá; but Chrysler stopped selling cars here in the 1980's because of the economic problems that it had. The Dart was not the only car assembled here; the company during 20 years assembled all the Dodge line, like Darts, Coronets, pickup trucks, trucks and vehicles of public transportation, some Plymouths, Jeeps, and the European brand Simca. Dodge has a great reputation and prestige because it was a good brand by its longevity, strength and reliability. In the hard geographical conditions of our country, truly we needed cars with very reliable motors and of great power.

The Dart had two versions. The cars assembled in America were the sports car (like GTO 69), coupe (two doors), and sedan with automatic transmission and V8 motor like 318, 324, etc. The cars assembled here were the sedans with 6-cylinder and V8 engines, but with manual transmissions, which were sold as family cars and as taxis. To this day, these are still operating as public transportation; if you arrive as a tourist to Bogotá, you can get in a Dart taxi.

At present, the Darts produced in the 1970's are still travelling the country, for they are cars that have not lost their power or force, and after twenty years, they cope with the strain of travelling our country on a par with the newest cars. (There are three mountain chains that rise from sea level to 4,000 meters above sea level. [Editor's note: This translates in English units to an altitude of more than 12,000 feet.]) In some cities and regions, like in the department (state) of Boyaca to the northeast of the capital, these cars are more common and more used currently for projects than 1997-98 models produced or imported. They are craved for their great space, not only in their cabins, but in the trunk; moreover, they are very reliable cars. There also exist certain cars that are used daily as if they were 1990 models, in very good condition, and with good care taken, like in our case, to maintain their originality. I believe (but I'd check when they were produced) that about 500 Darts per year were sold here.

In our case, my father bought a Dart in 1985, which we have kept since then. It is an American Dart, since it is a four-door sedan with automatic transmission. When my father bought it, it had 52,000 km, and if you can believe it, we have traveled so much that the meter of 0 km. has begun again and today it has 61,231 km. Three years ago, the motor was repaired (with original and new parts), and already the odometer had begun demonstrating to me the quality and longevity of this car.

We have traveled the length and breadth of our country, and what especially surprises me is the car's power, since our country is so harsh. Bogotá is found at 2,600 meters above sea level, and some cities 150 km away are only 300 or 400 meters above sea level. [Ed: This translates to a 7000-foot drop in altitude in 100 miles or so.] This causes the highways to be steep and very demanding for a motor, but with our Dart, these slopes can be traveled at 80 and 100 km/h for hours without any problem.

The Dart and Coronet are, like the Ford Granada, the last "muscular" cars of Colombia with V8 motors. However, they are not the only ones; here we can still find cars in good condition from the 1940's until the 1970's, like the Chevy Bel Air, Ford Victoria, Dodge Plaza and Plymouth, Impala, Mustang, Buick, Oldsmobile, and Camaro. At the present, Chrysler has assembly plants in Venezuela and Mexico, where also I know that they assembled the Dart. Recently, Chrysler has sent us versions of the Dodge Ram, Neon, and Caravan, along with a few of the Durango, Viper, and Jeep Cherokee in all their versions.

I hope that gives you a fuller idea of the Dart and Chrysler in my country.

Written by Fernando Larzabal

I have a 1980 Dodge Aspen station wagon with a slant six 225 engine which was imported into the country. All along I have used the parts that very inexpensively are found here due to the fact that there are still thousands of Darts running. Most of them are used commercially for medium length trips between cities.

My car, in contrast with those locally made, has always had very little power. In 1993 I overhauled the engine and installed a high performance Mopar camshaft but the engine performance was not improved. In 1997 I changed the original one-barrel carburetor for the Colombian-made two-barrel. There was improvement this time but by then the engine was too tired.

Three weeks ago we pulled the engine out. The mechanic (a Greek guy who studied aviation mechanics in England) was surprised at the fact that the pistons did not come all the way up to the top edge of the block. We asked around and verified that both pistons and rods were the right ones. I bumped into another mechanic who only works on these cars. When he saw my station wagon, he said, "I didn't make this one!" He had worked at the Dodge factory all the way until they stopped production. He verified that the difference was in the crankshaft!

The throw of the Colombian-made crank is about 5 mm longer than my US-built model. Could we then go ahead and simply change the crank? No, because the other thing that it is different is the combustion chamber of the cylinder heads--mine being much smaller. If I made my pistons go all the way up the block without also changing the head, I'd be hitting the valves.

OK, by now we had noticed the difference between the native and imported models, but we still had not resolved the low-performance issue, although we were getting close.

The problem was in the internal timing. We had a chain and sprocket made in Colombia which perfectly fitted my engine but the markings did not belong to my crankshaft. In fact, following the markings, we were two teeth away from where they should have been. We had found the problem! We put the engine together (last Tuesday, June 22, 1999) and it now runs as never before. I imagine the Colombian crank has more torque , but I am so happy with the way mine works, I'll leave it just as it is and keep running it for many more years.

Colombian Dodge Dart Pictures

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