Written by Bill Pritchard

My "Dart experience" took place from December 1970 through June 1972, when I owned a 1969 Swinger 340. The Dart was actually the third car that I owned. My first car was a new 1970 Chevy Nova with a 307 V-8 and a 3-speed manual transmission with floor mounted shifter. I kept it only five months, and bought a 1963 Chevy Nova SS with a 6-cylinder automatic. Needless to say, these did not cut it; I longed for something with a little more power. At the time, I was still living with my mother at home, and the man who lived across the street from us owned the local Volkswagen dealership. While driving past the dealership one day, I spotted this Dart sitting on the front line of their used car lot. It caught my eye with its deep red paint, black vinyl roof covering, and mag-style wheel covers. I was very familiar with the power and capabilities of these cars since a good friend of mine already owned one. I stopped for a closer examination. It had the 340 4-barrel engine, 4-speed manual transmission with Hurst shifter, 3.55:1 Sure-Grip rear axle, carpeting, AM radio, rear window defogger, as well as the aforementioned vinyl roof and mag-style wheel covers. I talked with the dealership owner, our neighbor, who told me that a young man had just traded it in on a new Volkswagen. He consulted with his sales manager, who told him that they had $1,700 in the car, and he would sell it to me for that amount. I went for a test drive, and I was sold.

The car had Firestone D70-14 red stripe Wide Oval tires, which I quickly found out were just about worthless as far as getting the power to the ground. Shortly after purchasing it, I bought a set of chrome wheels and installed them, with H70-14 tires, on the rear. This helped immensely, but still required some judicious use of the throttle and clutch when taking off from a dead stop. After much practice at street racing and stoplight duels, I felt I had a good handle on the car. In the summer of 1971, I took it to the local drag strip where my quarter mile times gradually improved from 14.40's to 14.0's at around 98 mph.

The real fun with the car, though, was on the streets. Since there were few of them around, not too many people were aware of their performance capabilities. Your standard issue 396 Chevelles, 383 Road Runners, Olds 442's, Torino GT's, and so on, were easy prey. The lightweight body of the Dart and the quick-revving 340 engine were a potent combination. Another friend bought a new 1970 Challenger T/A with the factory-blueprinted 340 six pack engine, Torqueflite automatic, and 3.91:1 gearing. The heavier Challenger body needed the extra horsepower and steeper gearing, as he was barely able to beat me in the quarter mile.

Along in the fall of 1971, I decided I wanted to up the ante a little bit, so I went shopping for some performance modifications. I found a 4.56:1 differential setup for the rear axle, and a radical camshaft for the engine. In retrospect, I think the cam was too much for the engine and did little or nothing to improve its performance. It also wouldn't idle below 1200 rpm, but boy did it sound healthy! The gear, on the other hand, really did wonders for the acceleration-- provided you could get the car to hook up. Slicks became a necessity for any serious racing. Luckily, my friend with the other Dart had a pair which I was able to borrow for such occasions. (He needed them as much or more than I did because he had now shoehorned a 440 Magnum into his Dart, but that's another story.) I only made one trip to the drag strip with this combination, but it was for naught. It was a very hot day and the car was vapor locking at the top end. Despite several attempts, a full pass was never made. At this time, my Dart was my only means of transportation. I began dating a girl who lived about 25 miles away. With the cam, the gear, and certainly not helped by my heavy right foot, an evening date to the drive-in movie used a full tank of gas! The rear window defogger was much appreciated when we were leaving the drive-in, though.

With the miserable winter weather of northern Illinois, this car was a real handful to manage on snow and ice. I remember several times being stuck in snow. Idling at 1200 rpm, I could just put it in gear, let the clutch out, and get out and push the car while the rear tires spun around. In the winter of 1971, I worked a trade with a friend of mine who wanted the now-unused mag-style hubcaps for his 318 Dart. The trade? He had a beater 1963 Chrysler Newport with over 200,000 miles on it. We traded even-up, my hubcaps for his Chrysler. My Dart went into storage for the rest of the winter.

In the early summer of 1972, I decided there were other cars that I just could not live without. I traded the Dart to another friend of mine for his 1968 Olds 442.(I did not want the 442, but I knew someone else who did, so I had it for only three weeks before selling it and purchasing what I did want, a 1970 Camaro Z-28.) My friend kept the Dart for another year or so, and he would occasionally let me take it out for a drive. I maintained the car well while I owned it, but I also beat that thing mercilessly, and it just ran and ran and ran. It was indeed a testimonial to Chrysler Corporation's engineering expertise, as far as I was concerned. I have owned many cars since, including a 1970 Hemi Challenger which I had for 15 years, but there will always be a special place in my heart for that Dart.

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