The Dodge Dart was first introduced as a show-car in 1956 and became a production model in 1960. Sitting atop a 118-inch wheelbase the Dart was not the largest in the fleet but was considered by many as a small, full-size vehicle. When production began the Dart was available in three body styles, the Seneca, Pioneer, and Phoenix. The Seneca was the base model, the Phoenix was the premium and the Pioneer was the intermediate. Multiple engine choices were available including the 318 and 361 cubic-inches which could be modified with various carburetors to increase the overall horsepower rating. A 225 slant six was available adding to the versatility of the vehicle. The 318 cubic-inch V8 engine was capable of producing 230 horsepower while the 361 cubic-inch V8 produced 310 horsepower. The top of the line performance option was the D500, a package that included the 361 cubic-inch horsepower engine with ram-induction featuring twin four-barrels. Going from zero to sixty mph took only 8 seconds. The D500 performance option was available the following year, in 1961, but this would be the last year the package was offered. In comparison to the prior year, the D500 was detuned and now produced less horsepower. The 318 cubic-inch V8 engine was still producing 230 horsepower and there were multiple engines and options available all the way up to the newly introduced Ram and Police trim. Both of these trims came equipped with a new 383 cubic-inch V8 with the Police version producing an astonishing 325 horsepower while the Ram was slightly higher at 330. The torque was equally as impressive with the Police version producing 425 foot-pounds and the Ram producing 460 foot-pounds.
1962 was a great year for the Dart. With a new engine, the 413 cubic-inch Max Wedge, horsepower skyrocketed to 420. The name 'Max Wedge' referred to the 'Maximum Performance' label used in factory advertising while the 'Wedge' represented its wedged-shape combustion champers. With a zero-to-sixty time of just 5.8 seconds, the Max Wedge engine was not intended for every-day driving but rather for the racing circuit. The base engine was still the 2-barrel 318 cubic-inch V8 and produced the 230 horsepower. The Police and Ram options were still offered. The performance options available to the Dart may have been astounding for 1962 but the styling was a different story. The wheelbase was shortened by 2 inches, now at 116, making it smaller than most full-size vehicles and put it into the category of 'intermediate car'. Many people did not agree with the exterior design and styling, considering it to be rather ugly. Dodge retained the three-tier model line-up, except it replace the Dart Seneca with the Dart, the Dart Pioneer was replaced by the Dart 330, and the Dart 440 replaced the Dart Phoenix.
For 1963 the Dart name was no longer used on full-size vehicles but now adorned compact vehicles. The Dart name was used as a replacement for the Dodge Lancer, which had not lived up to sales and popularity expectations. The Lancer had been based and styled on the Valiant. Its lack of individuality may have been part of its demise. The Lancer GT was shoved aside to make room for the all-new sport-compact vehicle, the Dart GT. The wheelbase once again decreased to 111 inches but it was still five inches more than the Valiants. It was based on the Chrysler A-body and would be produced in compact form from 1963 through 1976. With 30.2 cubic feet of trunk volume and an overall length of 195.9, the Darts were capable of carrying lots of cargo while its longer length improved the overall driving comfort.
The GT was considered the top-of-the-line with respect to performance, however, the only available engines offered were six-cylinders. The base engine produced just over 100 horsepower while the 225 cubic-inch engine was capable of 145 horsepower. The glorious days of the Dart vehicles powered by monstrous V8 engines had come to an end, at least for a while. Where performance decreased, styling increased. The design was clean, with large, round front headlights and a sloped hood. The rear roof pillar was thick and appropriately angled, giving the Dart a very appealing roofline. The interior was comfortable and complimented the quality of the vehicle. A 50,000-mile warranty was offered by Dodge. An offering that showcased their confidence in the vehicle.
1964 brought with it a 273 cubic-inch V8 engine producing 180 horsepower. Not bad for a compact vehicle but it was no 400+ horsepower Max Wedge engine. The base engine was a 170 cubic-inch inline six-cylinder engine producing 101 horsepower and the 225 cubic-inch six-cylinder produced 145 horsepower. Production increased by around 15000 vehicles when compared with the prior year. The total production for GT's for 1964 was just under 50,000 units. The total production was around 193,035. The styling remained mostly the same with the exception of a new convex grille.
For 1965 production was slightly lower for the GT models, now around 45,000 units. There were four engine options, the two six-cylinder engines, the 273 cubic-inch V8, and a new version of the 273 power-plant. With the extra modification, the 273 cubic-inch V8 was capable of producing 235 horsepower and could propel the Dart GT from zero to sixty in 8.2 seconds. Part of the decrease in sales was due to the introduction of the Ford Mustang.
The vehicle became more 'square' in 1966. The headlight bezels and grille were now rectangular. All four engine options were offered. Sales continued to decline, this time dropping by around 10,000 units for the GT model. Total production was just over 176,000.
To stay competitive in an ever-changing market and to match such vehicles as the Chevrolet Nova SS, Dodge introduced the Dart GTS in 1968. In GTS trim the vehicle came equipped with a 340 cubic-inch V8 engine producing 275 horsepower or could be ordered with an optional 383 cubic-inch V8 that produced 300 horsepower. Other enhancements included a Rallye suspension, larger wheels and rims, and an exhaust system complete with chrome trim. Performance could be further increased with the optional four-speed Hurst floor shift manual or the Torque-Flite automatic. Standard was the three-speed manual transmission which proved to be the least favorite when the GTS package was ordered. Less than 9,000 examples of the GTS were sold.
The styling of the GTS version was aggressive. It was easily identifiable with the rear end 'bumble-bee' stripe, bodyside racing stripes, bulges in the hood, and air vents.
A 383 and 440 cubic-inch engine performance options, with help from the Hurst-Campbell after-market company, were available in limited numbers. These vehicles were void of most amenities including power steering and were purpose-built to go fast in a straight line. To add to the performance most came with aftermarket ignition kits, hoses, headers, and air cleaner. Less than 70 examples of the 440 cubic-inch engine options were available, making them highly sought-after and extremely rare by today's standards.
There were 80 vehicles assembled with a 426 cubic-inch V8 Hemi engine. Heavy modifications were made to the entire vehicle including a fiberglass hood and front fenders, one-layer Corning glass for the side windows, no side mirrors, and more. The purpose was to reduce the overall weight of the vehicle while still retaining strength and rigidity. The result was a car that could run the quarter-mile in the 10-second range.
In 1969 the exterior of the vehicle was slightly modified. The GTS 383 cubic-inch V8 optional engine received an increase in horsepower, now rated at 330. When this option was ordered, Dodge increased the front torsion and sway bars to strengthen the suspension.
Dodge introduced the Dart Swinger 340 in 1969. It came equipped with a 275 horsepower 340 cubic-inch V8 and four-speed manual gearbox with Hurst shifter. The suspension was Rallye and exterior displayed 'Swinger' bumble bee stripes and 14-inch wheels. Around 20,000 examples of the Swinger 400 were produced in 1969. Just over 6,700 of the GTS versions were sold.
Dodge updated the front and rear styling of the Darts in 1970. The hood featured long but narrow hood scoops, replacing the smaller vents. The GTS and Swinger 340 were still available; however the Swinger now came standard with a three-speed manual gearbox. The Swinger was still popular but sales dipped to 13,785. The 340 cubic-inch engine produced 275 horsepower while the 383 cubic-inch power plant produced 330 horsepower.
The Dodge Demon was added to the lineup in 1971. It sat atop a 108-inch wheelbase which was shorter than the other Darts. Available in two trims the standard version came equipped with a 198 cubic-inch inline six-cylinder engine. The optional Demon 340 package was fitted with Chrysler's 340 small-block engine that produced an astonishing 275 horsepower. Also standard was a three-speed fully synchronized floor shifter, sport suspension, dual exhausts, and Rallye instrument cluster. On the exterior of the vehicle sat controversial cartoon devil decals. A Demon Sizzler option soon followed that mimicked the standard options of the base Demon but added the trim pieces of the Demon 340. The following year things remained mostly unchanged except due to rising emissions and safety regulations, the 340 cubic-inch engine was detuned to produce 240 horsepower, a loss of 35 horsepower.
The Demon logo's proved to be too much for certain religious groups and pressured Dodge to remove it from the vehicles. In 1973, the decals were removed and the name was changed to the Dodge Dart Sport.
In 1974 Dodge responded to other pressure, this time being applied by rising government regulations, emissions, and safety concerns. The 340 cubic-inch engine was replaced with a 360 cubic-inch engine that was emissions friendly but still retained about the same horsepower rating as its predecessor. The following year the engine was detuned to comply with increasing emission standards and now produced 230 horsepower. The trend continued in 1976 and the horsepower was decreased even further, now at 220. This was the last year for the Dodge Dart Sport.
The Dart had lived a long production life span and had endured multiple aesthetic and mechanical changes throughout the years. It had gone from a 118-inch wheelbase to a low of 108 inches. It was a full-size, it was a compact; it was a daily driver, it was a high-performance racing machine. It could be had in two-door, four-door, convertible, hardtop, fastback, and even a station wagon. Produced for 16 years, Dodge had evolved and adapted the Dart to all the different trends, safety and emission concerns, and government regulations that the market had to offer. When individuals today envision Dodge's of the late 1960's, rarely does the Dart come to mind, rather it is often overshadowed by the Charger and the Super Bee. This is unfortunate, because the Darts had class, character, and were very durable, many still around today. Country-specific Darts were sold in countries such as Australia, Spain, Canada, Brazil, and Columbia. With approximately 3.7 million compact Darts sold, the vehicle had achieved an undeniable reputation for longevity, durability, and value.By Daniel Vaughan | Jul 2007