Back in 1971 you could not order a Dodge Dart performance convertible. What you could do if you had to have one is wait 20 years, buy a really messed up 1969 Dodge Dart GT convertible, scavenge 1967 to 1976 Dart parts (including a relatively clean 1971 Dart Swinger to donate its rear clip), get out the drill and reciprocating saw, and get busy.
Taking on a project like this takes a lot of guts and a solid belief that once you start, you will go all the way. It's hard to take a saw and drill to a car that is still driveable, even though it looks terrible. I never drove the car when I purchased it. (The rear end gears were in the trunk). I towed it home with my rusty 1971 Demon and had a towing accident. Thus began four of the toughest years a car ever gave an owner. Anything that could go wrong, did. Even the personalized plates came back "FERSHAIR" instead of "FRESHAIR".
As I tore into the car, I discovered it may have been in a bad accident back in 1969. The convertible dash VIN didn't match the hardtop fender tag or the third different engine serial number even though all were of 1969 vintage. Also, under the maroon exterior paint was light yellow from the driver's seat to the back, and B5 Blue from the seats to the front. The collectibility was nonexistent, so I decided to build the high performance 1971 Dart convertible Dodge never did.
My car had an 8 3/4 rear, but the 273 V-8 and a console shifted A904 automatic had to give way to a vintage 1971 340 coupled to a console shifted A-727. This required a different drive shaft. The '73 saddle mount K-frame made motor mount destruction a thing of the past. The less troublesome '74 power disc brakes up front are cheaper on the wallet and came out of a 6 cylinder donor car. This change required that the rear axles be changed for cut down C-body axles a la Moser Engineering. I finished them off with large bolt rallyes and '72 "nut" centers because I prefer their look to the cone center caps. The rear now has those big 11" Chrysler drums and a 3:55 Sure Grip axle for that quick hook-up and stopping.
Moving to the body, I drilled all the trunk pan spot welds and strategically sawed away the quarter panels, leaving only the rim surrounding the boot trim, and removed all the '69 rotted metal. Using the same procedure, I removed a '71 rear clip and transplanted it onto the remaining unibody rails. The front clip is a bolt-on installation except for two tabs that had to be welded to the front lower radiator support to attach the front valance pan.
1971 Demon slant 6 engine & 1971 Demon & Dart convertible
That troublesome lower windshield plastic trim had been replaced with the stainless steel hardtop piece by installing the clips before I bought the car. The '71 hood sports those fresh air twin scoops with re-chromed bezels and 340 emblems. Rounding out the exterior of the car are the side view racing mirrors and the relocated quarter panel emblems.
The interior also has major conversion work. 1971 high back buckets and a rear bench--with the '71 pattern shrunk onto the smaller convertible rear bench frame--replaced the '69 low back bucket seats and the all-black '69 pattern rear bench. The seat belts were also changed to the 1971 units. The doors inside still carry the GT emblems, but the panels are 1971 Swinger units.
The dash was changed twice. After removing the '69 steel dash frame, I installed the stock 1971 unit from the Swinger donor car. After much consideration and some prodding from Joel Cooper of D.A.R.T.S., I decided to go all the way in this area too, and put together a 1971 rallye dash complete with factory tach and A/C. It took three dashes to make this one unit. The AC section from a damaged dash was grafted onto a dash whose radio section ( a round knob unit, 1971 only ) was intact. The wood grain covers over the area where the grafting took place. 1969's had the ignitions in the dash, so changing the dash required changing the column to one with a key switch. Because of the console shifter, the column also had to be "selectorless."
Other special features include:
It's hard to believe the difficulty involved in creating a "correct-looking" A-body 340, auto, A/C, P/S, P/B conversion. There are so many little brackets, different pumps, hoses, etc.
Not to take anything away from the Dart convertibles built by Mother Mopar-they are truly outrageous. But I believe if the boys over at Dodge had waited a few more years before axing the convertible from the Dart line-up, this machine is pretty close to what they could have done from the factory. I think it's the best packaging of the '67 - '76 Dart parts mixed into one vehicle.
I would sincerely like to thank:
I especially want to thank my brother Kurt and my Dad Ron for their help in fixing my problems as they occurred.
Lastly, I wish to thank my wife JoAnne. The car didn't get finished before we were married, as planned, and it took many hours away from our time together and certainly a ton of money to finish. JoAnne, you're the best.
Back in 1995, Mike Toot from Florida told me while he was admiring my recently finished Dart that he was also converting a late 1960's Dart convertible into a 1970 model. He requested copies of the pictures depicting the conversion and a description of how I did the rear 1/4 panel and trunk work.
Last summer he sent me pictures of his 1970 Dart convertible. He chose red paint and a white interior and top. He also installed a Bumblebee stripe, also white. As of last summer, he had not changed the dash and interior styling from its original format because the interior had been recently restored to its proper vintage.
We both hope to attend a show together so that we may photograph the two cars together and show Mopar hobbyists 2 of none built 1970's Dart convertibles. The cars Dodge should have built!
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