My grandfather bought the car in the spring of 1975 from Englewood Dodge in Englewood, NJ. I am guessing it cost around $4000-$4500. It was built at the Chrysler plant in Windsor, Ontario. My grandfather bought the car off the lot. It was his car in his retirement years. He had run a wholesale meat business in Jersey City until around 1973. He drove a mid-1960's Dodge station wagon before the Dart and had owned mainly Chrysler products through the years. In the 8 years he drove the car, he put only 36,000 miles on it. The car then sat for 5 years in my grandmother's garage because she didn't drive. The car was important to my grandfather, even though he wasn't into cars or anything.
My father later bought the car from my grandmother after she had tried selling it for a time. The offers she got were too low for a car in this nice condition with such low miles. I remember noticing on the day we drove the car home what unbelievably like-new shape it was in for 13 years of age. We had always owned GM vehicles, mainly Buicks, before this. I kept finding little differences between them and the Dart (e.g. the little vent doors under each end of the dash). I thought the car was so cool because of these differences.
My dad drove the car on long commutes to work for a few years. He put around 59,000 more miles on it in that time. I remember getting taken to and picked up from high school in it a lot. The car was pretty reliable for Dad. I know he had a number of problems with it for a while, which were greatly compounded by the incompetent mechanics which we went to at the time. Half the time we'd pick the car up and more things would be messed up on it then when we had left it. Dad's main problem with it was that in the summer it tended to overheat while driving on the highway on the way home from work. This necessitated him putting the heat on on 95-degree days, while wearing a suit and tie, while sitting on a black vinyl seat. My grandfather had never had this problem with the car. The mechanics never could figure out how to fix the overheating problem, despite putting on a new radiator, water pump, hoses, thermostat, and even adding a fan shroud (some cars have these but this Dart didn't come with one).
Soon I was learning to drive, and I was to practice using the Dart at home. It was destined to be my car when I went away to college. However, right around that time, Dad started having problems with it stalling a lot, backfiring, and having no power going up hills. He found out it needed valve work and stopped driving it. At that time I knew nothing about how cars worked, so he tried to trade it in for an Olds Cutlass Ciera. The Olds dealer offered him only $50, so my Dad said, "No way!" and just parked it in the family garage.
The car sat in the garage for about 6 years, while I got another ex-family car, a 1981 Buick Skylark, to use in college. After college, in the summer of '96, I decided to fix the Dart and found that it would barely run. It also stalled whenever it was put in gear. I did a compression test and found that the number 5 cylinder had zero compression, and number 3 had like 20 psi. The others were OK. In the fall, a friend of mine and I pulled the head, had new valve seats installed, and put in two new exhaust valves. It ran well for three months, and then I took it in for emissions testing. When I picked the car up, it was running horribly, so I drove it home and removed the valve cover to find that two pushrods had been bent.
Now, at this point, I was already working, and had to return to my job in NC (the car was still up in NJ), so it sat another 8 months. I pulled the head again to find that the two valves where the pushrods were bent were seized in the head. Also inside the intake manifold was this shiny, sticky, yet hard, glue-like substance. Apparently the now-7-year-old gas had turned to varnish and caked on the inside of the manifold and the valve stems, causing them to seize in the head.
Luckily it only cost $25 for a machine shop to push out the valves and clean up the head. I put the head back on, put new pushrods in, siphoned out the old gas, and put new gas in it. I then went ahead and put a new timing chain on it for good measure. Now it ran great, but I again had to return to NC.
The next time I was up in NJ, I got insurance, registration, and took it in for emissions inspection which it passed easily. It needed an alignment, and I put new brake pads and rotors on the front, tightened up the way-too-loose steering, and rebuilt the carburetor, because it still tended to idle rough.
I now have used the Dart quite a bit and have eliminated most other problems with it, though the temperature gauge tends to shoot all the way up to 250 when I shut it off, (though it no longer seems to overheat on the highway). I haven't figured out this problem but for the most part it is running really well and actually has really good off-the-line acceleration even with a 225, a 1 bbl. carb, and 2.76 gears (compared to my aforementioned 4 cylinder 1981 Skylark, which I still drive). Also, once in a while the accelerator pump tends to get stuck down in the carb and cause a rough idle until it unsticks itself. Besides that, though, I am really pleased with the results of all the work I've done to it. I've learned a lot, too. If anyone knows why it gets so hot when I shut it off I'd like to know--please e-mail me. Do other people's Slant 6's do this?
Overall, I'm really impressed with this car--its styling is much cooler than any new car on the road. I'm glad it has stayed in the family for so long and has survived to this day. Hopefully it will be my daily driver soon. I am a Slant 6 Club member and hope to take it to a meet this year also.
I want to keep the car looking original, but I may do some non-visible modifications, such as adding a Super Six 2 barrel carb/intake manifold setup from an Aspen/Volare, an original AM/FM radio (if I can find one), new shocks, and a new heater core (which has just begun to leak). Some features I really like about the Dart: the strong metal body, lots of chrome, thick doors which even have metal on the inside, vent windows on the front doors, and fender mounted turn signals. I also like the fuel pacer system (fender monuted warning lamp- I find it more useful for knowing that engine vacuum is low enough that the car may stall at idle, rather than for saving gas). It also is very roomy, comfortable, and has a good ride, decent off the line pickup, and a smooth shifting automatic transmission. I also like the stitched headliner that will never fall down, and generally the extremely good fit and finish of the car when it was built. I am really impressed with this--the spaces between the doors/hood/trunk panels and the body are straight and even. The vinyl top fits perfectly. The interior seat stitching, the way the carpeting was put in, the headliner, the interior door moldings and dash- all were perfectly put together at the factory. I cannot find any mistakes. Even after all this time you can tell how well built the car is. Also, while I hear many A bodies suffer from rust and water or air leaks into the interior, my car has none of these problems except for a little rust on the right rear quarter panel.
The only things I really wish the car had are air conditioning and an AM/FM radio with a rear speaker. These are features in my Buick I've enjoyed and wished the Dart had also. The a/c I can deal without, though the black vinyl interior is very hot. I really like listening to tunes in the car though- this I'll need to take care of. I really would like to preserve the original look of the dash, so I'm trying to find a junkyard Dart with AM/FM. I don't know if these cars had a cassette as an option or not, but if I could find an original one I'd put it in. I also really don't want to chop up the panel by the rear window to put in a speaker.
Check out the photo of my car. I may try and create a web site for it if I get the time to do it.
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