1960-1976 Dodge Dart history: Putting the Dart before the Dart

1970 Dodge Dart Swinger

1970 Dodge Dart Swinger

Remember the Dodge Dart? No, not the Dodge Dart that was introduced at the Detroit Auto Show but the original Dodge Dart from the 1960s.

The Dodge Dart that debuted at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit is a front-drive compact four-door sedan based on an Alfa-Romeo platform and powered by an engine it will share with Alfa. Look for it later this year as a 2013 model.

1960 Dodge Dart

1960 Dodge Dart

The history of the original Dodge Dart, on the other hand, began in 1960 as a lower-priced alternative to the full-size Dodge, though only slightly shorter. It was still a big car—its wheelbase measured 118 inches and it was 209.4 inches long—almost a foot longer than today’s Chrysler 300. Although initially popular, it was restyled for 1961 and sales dropped precipitously, just in time for the 1962 Dart to arrive.

The new Dodge Dart was smaller than the 1961 model but was closer to what would become known as an intermediate. The styling was unusual if not actually unique, with two headlights in the grille and two in the fenders under an eyebrow that extended back into the front door.

1964 Dodge Dart advertisement

1964 Dodge Dart advertisement

Meanwhile, Plymouth—Chrysler’s lower-priced spread—had introduced the Valiant, sized to meet the challenge from the new American compact cars—Rambler American, Ford Falcon, and the Chevy II (and the rear-engined Corvair, a novelty on the market—which were a response to the small foreign cars that were flooding the market, and of which only the Volkswagen survived in any number.

The new 1960 Plymouth Valiant was based on an all-new unit body chassis and used Chrysler’s iconic torsion bar front suspension and rear leaf springs. The only engine was the all-new and destined to become famous “slant six.” Styling was similar to that of the 1962 Dart…or perhaps it was the other way around as the Valiant came first. The Valiant was joined in 1961 by the Dodge Lancer, essentially a clone but with a Dodge badge.

For the 1963 model year, however, Chrysler Corp. decided to jumble up the nomenclature. The Dodge Dart of 1961-62 went away in 1963 but the name was applied to the next generation of Dodge compact, Lancer having been put on dry ice for later use. Plymouth Valiant continued and it and the Dart, as compact economy cars, were available only with the 170 and 225-cubic inch slant six engines. The Dart came in five body styles, however, including a four-door sedan, two-door sedan (post), two-door hard top (no post), convertible and a station wagon. In mid-year, the higher trim line Dart GT was added, but still only with a six and only as a hardtop or convertible.

1967 Dodge Dart GTS 383

1967 Dodge Dart GTS 383

The Chrysler Corporation lightweight 273-cubic inch V8 was first offered in the Dart in 1964 with a four-barrel carburetor version coming out in 1965. A model called the Dodge Dart Charger also became available in ‘65 with a 273 4bbl, heavy duty suspension, special wheels, a unique pastel yellow exterior and special badging. It was the first use of the Charger name by Dodge. The Dodge Charger as a separate (and larger) model debuted in 1966.

The Dodge Dart saw road racing competition in 1966. Bob Tullius, better known for racing British sports cars including Triumph and Jaguars under the Group 44 banner, campaigned a Dodge Dart the first year of the SCCA’s Trans Am “Production Touring Car” class. Although Tullius racked up a win with co-driver Tony Adamowicz in a 24-hour race at the old Marlboro Raceway in Maryland and another win at Riverside with Adamowicz driving, Dodge pulled sponsorship for 1967.