What's In A Name: The History Behind The Dodge Dart Nameplate

1963-dodge-dart-gt-side-view

Though it may not mean much to those who grew up in Shadows, Neons, or Calibers, the Dodge Dart nameplate – which has been resurrected for Dodge’s new C-segment compact car – has an extensive history of its own. For those unfamiliar, here's a quick timeline of Dart milestones.

1960: To appease dealers seeking a low-cost, full-size model, Dodge launched the Dart – which rode on a slightly shorter wheelbase – in 1960. While other full-size Dodges received a 361-cubic-inch V-8 as standard equipment, the base engine on Dart models was the new 225-cubic-inch Slant-Six, which made its debut in Plymouth’s compact Valiant lineup.

1962: Dodge downsized the Dart range for 1962, essentially rendering it an intermediate-sized car.  A new 413 cubic-inch V-8 – also known as the “Max Wedge” was offered on all but station wagon models, and became the favorite of racers and performance junkies alike.

1963: The downsizing trend continued. Dodge had sold a rebadged version of the compact Plymouth Valiant – which rode on Chrysler’s A-body platform – as the Lancer since 1961, but when the A-body was redesigned for 1963, Dodge’s model was given the Dart name. Mechanically, the only trait the 1963 model shared with the 1962 Dart was the Slant Six; 170- and 225-cubic-inch variants were the only engine options for 1963. Coupe, convertible, sedan, and station wagon body styles were available.

1964: V-8 power returned to the Dart nameplate this year, as Chrysler’s new small-block 273-cubic-inch V-8 was available across the board. Despite boasting 180 hp, it wasn’t extremely popular: though 25 percent of all Dart GT models were built with the V-8, only 22,500 of the 187,500 Darts built in 1964 sported V-8 power.

1967: After three years of mild facelifts, the A-body family, including the Dart, is completely overhauled and restyled for 1967. Like its larger siblings (notably the Coronet), the Dart received crisp, rectangular styling, a canted C-pillar, and a concave rear window. Coupe, sedan, and convertible forms were offered, but the slow-selling wagon was dropped from the line.

Engine choices remained the same, save for one new option: after watching Plymouth stuff a massive 280-hp, 383-cubic-inch V-8 into its Barracuda Formula S, Dodge did the same thing with the Dart GTS. Only 457 examples were built.

1968: Slant-sixes powered most pedestrian Dart models, but a rash of new V-8 engines helped transform the mild Dart into a wild muscle car. Along with the aging 273-cubic-inch V-8, base and Dart GT models were now available with a new 230-hp, 318-cubic-inch V-8. The GTS model continued into 1969, but the 383 – now rated at 300 hp – was now an option; a new 275-hp, 340-cubic-inch V-8 was now standard.

Those seeking something a bit more muscular could always turn to Norm Krauss’ Grand Spaulding Dodge dealer in Chicago. “Mr. Norm’s” team built 48 so-called Dart GSS models with Chrysler’s wild 440 V-8 squeezed into the engine compartment.

The most extreme Dart money could buy was the Super Stock. Built in partnership with Hurst Performance, the SS packed a hot 426 cubic-inch Hemi V-8 into a Dart coupe specially prepared for the drag strip. Only 50 examples were built.

1969: Perhaps inspired by the success of Plymouth’s budget-priced Road Runner, Dodge introduced the Swinger 340 coupe. Ringing in at just beneath $3000, the Swinger 340 was the cheapest way to order the hot 340-cubic-inch V-8 in a Dart, and also incorporated some other sweet goodies (i.e. heavy-duty suspension, GTS hood, bumblebee tail stripes, etc.).

Buyers with quite a bit of cash at hand could opt for the A13 option on the Dart GTS. Inspired by Grand Spaulding’s GSS, the A13 option sent complete cars – sans engines – to Hurst, which then installed 350-hp 440-cubic-inch V-8s. All cars featured heavy-duty suspension components, limited-slip differentials, and spiffy interior equipment, but because of the lack of underhood space, power steering, power brakes, and front disc brakes weren’t available. 640 examples were made.

1970: The big-block fun drew to a close as quickly as it began. By 1970, the sole “performance” model was the Swinger 340; 383- and 440-cubic-inch options were eliminated altogether. A mild facelift lent the Dart a sinister-looking front clip across the board. Entry-level cars received a mild power increase, as the base 170-cubic-inch Slant-Six was replaced by a larger 198-cubic-inch variant.

1971: The Swinger name continued to be applied to all two-door Dart hardtops, but the Swinger 340 died for the U.S. market in 1971. The only way to order a 340 in a Dodge A-body was through the new Dart Demon, a clone of the Plymouth Duster two-door fastback.

1973: Darts were facelifted with a new pointed noise and large, NHTSA-friendly bumpers. Complaints over the Demon name and logo forced Dodge to rename the fastback the Dart Sport.

1974: Mounting emission regulations killed the 340 after 1973. The 318 was available in most trims and body styles, but a new 360-cubic-inch option, rated at 245 hp, joined Dart Sport lineup in an attempt to replace the free-revving 340.

1975: The 198 cubic-inch Slant-Six is dropped in favor of making the 225 the base engine offering. Emissions equipment choked power back to a measly 95 hp – ten ponies less than the year before, and five fewer than it would produce the following year. A new Dart Lite package for the Dart Sport attempted to improve fuel economy by adopting aluminum bracing and stampings, adjusting the intake and exhaust systems, and adjusting both transmission and rear axle ratios.

1976: Chrysler rolled out its all-new F-body cars – including the Dodge Aspen – to replace the venerable A-body family. As a result, 1976 proved to be the Dart name’s final year in North America. Only 50,428 units were sold, roughly 63-percent fewer than the year before.

1976-1981: Production continued in other corners of the globe, including Spain (through 1977) and South America. In certain markets, the Dart name was even applied to several different vehicles through the late 1980s, including a handful of K-car variants.

2013: After months of speculation – much of which suggested the Hornet moniker as a possibility – Dodge officially announced its new Fiat-derived compact car would launch in 2013 as a Dart.

In many ways, the name is quite fitting. Though base Darts were rather pedestrian, Dodge always found away to infuse some power – and some excitement – into the range with a number of special-edition, enthusiast-targeting packages. There’s some rumbling that may be the case with the all-new Dart. SRT president/CEO (and all-around car guy) Ralph Gilles previously said he loves the idea of a high-performance small car, and hinted the forthcoming Dodge C-segment offering provided a perfect platform from which to build one. Could a new Dart SRT4 be a modern-day Dart GTS? Here's hoping...

What say you? Does the Dart name work on a modern car as well as the Challenger and Charger nameplates do, or is this one model name Dodge should have left behind? Send us your thoughts in the comments section below.

jeremyon
I've owned two slant six Darts, a '65 and currently own a '63 Convertible turbocharged. The slant six is bulletproof and will certainly add some expectation of reliability out of the new Dart, so the name was wisely selected. I've also owned an Alfa Spider which is still today my favorite short distance drive car and it too contrary to popular belief was extremely reliable. Fit and finish on these cars was and is the weak link. But, I must say, I am really excited about the new Dodge Dart. It's an Alfa, and it's a Dart. An explosive combination. Wait and see, no one with an ounce of enthusiasm for cars in them will want any other compact car offered in the US after that Alfa drivetrain hits the streets. The aggresive styling doesn't hurt either. There's a reason that ALFA means "Always Looking for Another". It will surely be the most fun to drive compact sedan ever to hit US streets. Welcome back to production faithful friend and welcome back to the US Alfa! It's about time!
kego53
I think the Dart name is more than acceptable for this new Dodge entry. It has a noble history and Americans especially recognize it and most have a proper appreciation for it. Great choice Chrysler.
VinnyG
Owned a late-sixties 2000 TC as well, albeit very briefly. Bert Parks had good taste in cars (as well as in other luxuries :) There was absolutely no comparison between the handliing of the Rover sedan and the Dart (et al). It was great car until it needed repair. Especially if the repair involved the De Dion sliding tube rear axle assembly (a main ingredient in the fantastic handling recipe), which was welded shut at the Rover plant. This was a very early (and imo, misguided) application of the "no user repairable parts inside" concept to automobiles. -VG
Matt Lampe
I remember the 340 V-8 Dart GTS...my dad and I test drove a stick shift example, looking to see if there was an american compact sedan that had reasonable handling and performance. Performance it had in spades, as it could easily light the tires in second gear. We were pleasantly surprised by the handling, but it lacked the refinement we were looking for coming out of a Rover 2000TC.
VinnyG
Ah, Memory Lane stuff here. I learned to drive in a 1965 Dart 170 stick, and I would go on to own 3 slant-six-powered cars of my own. There was even a cult of rodders who specialized in the slant six, 225s for the most part. These were guys who couldn't afford the bucks to rod a V-8 and the gas to run it, or who just enjoyed being a bit different. Chrysler also marketed a marine version of that engine, and made some higher performance parts available for it. Rodders adapted those parts to the A-body cars, which led to Chrysler releasing the Hyper Pak racing package. It was a very short "era" but it was great while it lasted. -VG

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