History/driving impressions originally published in AutoWeek February 9, 1989
Certainly “turbo” was the most overused automotive term of the 1980s, misapplied to everything from computers to washing machines. But at least when it came to automobiles, if it said “turbo” on the outside, there was probably a turbocharger on the inside.
Unfortunately there was no such restraint in the ‘60s. Everything was GT – if not, ahem, GTO – and automakers felt no compunction against putting the Grand Touring label on even their most humble offerings.
Consider the Dodge Dart.
Now, there was nothing wrong with the Dart. It was at least as good as the Ford Falcon and Chevrolet Corvair and/or Chevy II.
It was a solid piece of transportation, adequately and appropriately styled for its era and capable of running for just about forever with its Slant-Six motor.
Used as Dodge’s 1963 entry into the compact-car wars (replacing the Lancer), the name had been used in ‘62 on an intermediate with a wheelbase of 116 inches, and that down from 118-inch wheelbase model in 1960 and ‘61.
For the 1963 Dart (with a wheelbase of 111 inches), there were three trim levels, the 170, the 270, and the GT. Ordering a 270 meant your Dart got special upholstery and trim, and carpeting (the base 170 model had good ol’ rubber floor mats over steel).
Springing the extra bucks for the GT version gave your Dart bucket seats, wheel covers and a padded dashboard.
All Darts came with either a 170 CID or 225 cid Slant-Six under the hood, the transmissions being a column-shift three-speed manual or push-button three-speed Torqueflite automatic. Suspension was double A-arms with torsion bars up front, and a live axle on leaf springs in the rear.
Such was Grand Touring in 1963.
In 1964, though, the new Mopar 273 cid V8 could be installed across the Dart line, but surprisingly – despite the choice of 180-horse two-barrel or 235-horse four-barrel versions – GT buyers opted for the six by a greater than three-to-one margin, and in 1965 by 22,700 to 18,000.
That year, by the way, saw the introduction of the optional hood stripe and four-on-the-floor transmission, available with a six or V-8, and Dart GTs with automatics had a console-mounted shifter for the first time.
Face-lifted in 1966, the GT saw the V-8 engine ahead of the six-cylinder for the first time – 10,00 to 8,700 – though sales were down for the GT as well as lesser Darts, which meant it was time for…
A total restyle of the Dart came in 1967, though the chassis stayed the same, and the buyers came back.
The Dart continued with the same trim option differences from the base model as in ‘63, although the 170 designation had been dropped in ‘66 (the bottom model was simply the Dart) and a fancier two-spoke steering wheel with full cornering (wow!) was added at the Dart 270 trim level.
By this time, GT buyers were solidly in the V-8 camp, 21,600 to 16,600.
Of course, a convertible Dart had been available since the beginning, this being the ‘60s when even Ramblers came with drop tops. Before Detroit learned too much from the Japanese, one could pretty much pick and choose down the option list, with option combinations being mandatory only when they absolutely had to be. Thus it was easily possible to come up with some rather unusual configurations.
A case in point is the ‘67 Dart GT convertible owned by Rod Wolfe of Allentown, Pa. Originally ordered by a local Dodge dealer for his personal use, the car has a 225 cid six-cylinder engine with an automatic transmission (note that of 38,200 Dart GTs, 16,600 had the six-cylinder, and 21,600 the V-8). But at the rear is a limited-slip Sure-grip differential.
Just the thing, a convertible snow car. That limited-slip diff certainly wasn’t there to handle those whopping 145 forces, especially in a 3000-pound-plus car.
Of course, a convertible – while certainly special back in 1967 – wasn’t as rare as one would be today, and a convertible would still be driven year ‘round. The truth is, most new convertibles today are driven through the winter. They’re just cars, for goodness sake!
Anyway, the Dart convertible top – which came only on GT models by this time – lowers with the flip of two latches and the push of a toggle. Before you can say “headroom’s Unlimited,” the motorized top is in a well behind a back seat (which loses some room as a result, but who cares?) and an attached boot can be neatly and easily snapped into place.
One doesn’t even notice the numb power steering and the relative lack of urge of the six-cylinder. Convertibles have always been better at impressing the girls at the Dairy Queen than the guys at the speed shop, and contrary to what we guys may have believed back then, most girls really didn’t care what was under the hood. After all, in Bikini Beach Party, didn’t Annette rhetorically ask, “Would you trade that beautiful ocean for a dirty old rail?”
The more serious performance was yet to come in the Dart anyway, and for that Dodge would trot out that hoary list of automotive naming devices, the letter “S” – which everyone knows stands for “Sport.”
In 1968, Dodge introduced the Dart GTS, available with either a 275-horsepower 340 CID V8, or 300-horse 383.
As it was, the Dart GT – especially in convertible form – typified American Grand Touring, 1967 style.
Having owned many Darts over the years, I have my favorites. Those being the 1963 and 1964. The styling and handling were good, brakes adequate and the Slant Six provided plenty of power. I prefer a stick shift, but the push button Torqueflite was very strong and durable. I currently drive a 1960, inherited from my Dad with the SL6 and 3 on the tree.