The Dodge Dart is an automobile built by the Dodge division of the Chrysler Corporation from 1960 to 1976 in North America, with production extended to later years in various other markets. The Dart was introduced as a lower-priced, shorter wheelbase, full-size Dodge in 1960 and 1961, became a mid-size car for 1962, and finally was a compact between 1963 and 1976. Chrysler had previously applied the "Dart" name to a Ghia-built show car in 1956.
The first Dodge Darts, introduced for the 1960 model year, were reduced-size large cars developed to replace the Plymouth as the low-priced car for the Dodge dealer network; Dodge dealers had been selling Plymouths since 1930, but divisional restructuring in 1960 took Plymouth away from the Dodge dealer network. The Dart had a shorter wheelbase than the standard-size Dodge line, and was based on the Plymouth platform. The Dart line was divided into three trim levels: the basic Seneca, the mid-range Pioneer, and the premium Phoenix. The all-new Dart came with an all-new engine as standard equipment: the 225 cu in (3.7 L) Slant-6. 318 cu in (5.2 L) and 361 cu in (5.9 L) V8s were also available with 2bbl or 4bbl carburetors, and with single or dual exhaust.
The Dart was instantly and highly popular. Sales of the Dart outstripped those of the full-size Dodge Matador and Dodge Polara, but it also created an in-house competitor for Plymouth. Even advertising from 1960 and 1961 compared the Dart to the "C" car (Chevrolet), the "F" car (Ford) and the "P" car (Plymouth). Darts equipped with the 225 cu in slant-6 were extremely popular as taxicabs.
As Dart sales climbed, Plymouth's sales dropped and Chrysler's corporate heads did nothing to stop the infighting between the divisions. Dart sales were so strong in 1960 that Dodge had to cut back its medium-priced model lineup. The full-size, mid-priced Matador was discontinued after the 1960 model year as buyers flocked to the better-appointed and less expensive Dart Pioneer. The premium Polara was left alone to wage battle in the medium-price segment.
For 1961, the Dart remained the smallest full-size Dodge. It retained 1960's 118 inches (3,000 mm) wheelbase, and was restyled to emulate the larger Polara. The same three trim levels were available as in 1960: the premium Phoenix, mid-range Pioneer, and base Seneca.
Engine choices included the 225 cu in (3.7 L) Slant-6, and the 318 cu in (5.2 L) and 361 cu in (5.9 L) V8s were also available in various configurations. Phoenix convertibles were all equipped with V8 engines. Beginning in mid-year, some Darts ordered with the 225 engine were equipped with the die-cast aluminum block. Darts in all series were equipped as standard with three-speed, column-shifted manual transmissions. Chrysler's pushbutton-shifted TorqueFlite automatic was available at extra cost. The alternator, introduced as standard equipment in 1960 on the Valiant, was installed rather than the previous DC generator on all 1961 Chrysler products, including the Dart. Canadian-built 1961 Darts were identical to U.S. models on the outside, but the interior trim, controls, and displays were those used on the U.S. Plymouth.
Virgil Exner's 1961 styling with its reverse fins, rear fender scalloping and concave grille was highly unpopular with consumers. There was also an adverse reaction to the low positioning and small size of the Dart's tail lights positioned just above the corners of the bumper; drivers in other cars complained that they could not see them. The wraparound taillights were designed to provide side visibility at night, but the majority of the light was projected sideward, not rearward. By mid-year, Dodge was forced to make auxiliary taillights available at extra cost through its dealer network. However, these large round lights were mounted near the inboard side of the reverse fins, and aggravated the already awkward styling.
As a result, Dodge saw Dart sales drop by 53% to 142,000 units. And that was just the beginning of the bad news for Dodge in 1961. Of the total number of Darts sold, almost half—66,100—were sold in the Dart's least expensive model, the Seneca. Combined sales of the Dart and the Polara were lower than Plymouth's sales for 1961. Dodge ranked ninth in sales in the American market in 1961, down from sixth place in 1960. Sales of the compact Dodge Lancer were 74,773 units compared to its Plymouth twin, the Valiant, which sold 143,078 units for the same year.
The Lancer aside, production of the 1961 model year saw Dodge's total production drop below that of the slow selling 1959 model year and dangerously close to the disastrous Eisenhower recession year of 1958.
For 1962, the Dart was downsized as part of Chrysler's hastily planned effort to compete with what company leaders thought would be downsized large cars from Chevrolet, but turned out to be the compact-sized Chevy II Nova, which was introduced as a basic front-engined compact to better compete with the Ford Falcon, Rambler American and Plymouth Valiant than the rear-engined Corvair could. Chevrolet continued to field the Impala as a genuinely full-size car, and the Dart was perceived more as an intermediate like the newly-introduced Ford Fairlane than as a true full-size car. The Polara shared the body change with the Dart, but was offered in higher trim. Dodge dealers voiced their displeasure at being unable to offer consumers a true "full-size" car. To placate its dealer network, Chrysler hastily created the Dodge Custom 880 by mating its 1961 Dodge Polara front clip to its 1962 Chrysler Newport's de-finned body. Debuting in January 1962, the Custom 880 helped to remind customers that Dodge indeed offered a full-size car.
Styling aside, the new Dart was on an all-new lightweight unibody platform, featuring Chrysler's well-received torsion-bar front suspension and asymmetric leaf springs. The rigidity gained through the nearly-pure unibody platform combined with the suspension's low unsprung weight and near-ideal geometry provided sound handling, braking, and acceleration; the latter especially with the mid-year 415 hp (309 kW) "Ramcharger" 413 cu in (6.8 L) V8 which was aimed primarily at sanctioned drag racing, where it quickly broke performance records.
The Seneca, Pioneer and Phoenix trim levels were dropped in 1962. Dart trim levels became Dart 330, Dart 440, and Dodge Polara 500, the latter being offered in 2-door hardtop and convertible styles only with a 4-door hardtop added in December. The Polara 500 was not built or sold in Canada, and the Dart series were the same as in the U.S. except that a lower-specification Dart 220 model was offered to Canadians.
For 1963, Dodge dropped the Lancer nameplate and applied the Dart name to Dodge's newly-designed "senior compact", a marketing term referring to the wheelbase having grown to 111 in (2819 mm) from the Lancer's 106.5 in (2,705 mm). This longer wheelbase would underpin all Darts from 1963 to 1976. The early exception was the 1963–1966 Dart station wagon, which used the Valiant's shorter 106 in (2692 mm) wheelbase. The Dart was available as a 2- or 4-door sedan, a 2-door hardtop coupe, a station wagon, and a convertible. Three trim levels were offered: the low-spec 170, the high-spec 270, and the premium GT, which was available only as a 2-door hardtop coupe or convertible. The Dart was an instant market success, with 1963 sales up sharply compared to those of the 1962 Lancer, and the Dart remained extremely popular through the end of the Dart's production run in 1976.
Initial engine offerings were two sizes of the slant-6—a 170 cu in (2.8 L), 101 hp (75 kW) version was fitted as standard equipment, and a 225 cu in (3.7 L), 145 hp (108 kW) version was available for less than $50 extra. The aluminum engine block for the 225 was discontinued early in the 1963 model year. After the start of the 1964 model year, an all-new, compact, lightweight 273 cu in (4.5 L) LA V8 producing 180 bhp (134 kW) with a 2-barrel carburetor was introduced as the top engine option. 1964 was the last year for pushbutton control of the optional Torqueflite automatic transmission, so 1963 and 1964 models were the only compact Darts so equipped.
In 1965, the 2-barrel 273 remained available, but a new Commando version of the 273 engine was released with a 4-barrel carburetor, 10.5:1 compression, a more aggressive camshaft with solid tappets, and other upgrades which increased output to 235 bhp (175 kW). At the same time, the Dodge Dart Charger was offered. The Dart Chargers were yellow Dart GT hardtops with black interiors, Commando 273 engine, premium mechanical and trim specifications, and special "Charger" badging. They were the first Dodge models to bear the "Charger" name. The following year the larger B-body Dodge Charger was introduced, and the "Charger" name was thenceforth associated with Dart models only in the "Charger 225" marketing name for the optional larger 6-cylinder engine.
Other new options for 1965 included upgraded suspension components and larger 14-inch (360 mm) wheels and tires. Factory-installed air conditioning became available after the start of the 1965 model year, as well as disc brakes, which required the 14-inch (360 mm) wheels to clear the calipers.
The Dart was refreshed for 1970 with front and rear changes designed to bring the car closer to the design themes found in Dodge’s full-size vehicles through grille and contour changes. In the rear, the Dart’s new rectangular tail lights were set into a wedge-shaped rear bumper design continuing the angled trailing edge of the new deck lid and quarter panels. The revised rear styling cut trunk space almost in half compared to the 1969 model. 14-inch wheels became standard equipment, and the 170 cu in (2.8 L) Slant-6 was replaced by a larger 198 cu in (3.2 L) version for improved base-model performance and greater manufacturing economy (since the 198 shared a block with the 225, while the 170 had used its own block). Changes to the fuel system improved drivability, economy and emission control. Part-throttle downshift was added to the 8-cylinder automatic transmissions. In compliance with FMVSS 108, sidemarker lights and reflectors were installed at all four corners.
The Swinger name was applied to all the Dart two-door hardtops except in the high-line Custom series. A number of other changes were made to the Dart line to avoid internal competition with Dodge's new Challenger: the Dart convertible was discontinued along with the optional 383 cu in (6.3 L) V8, leaving the 275 bhp (205.1 kW) 340 four-barrel V8 as the top Dart engine. The sole performance model in the Dart line for 1970 was the Swinger 340 two-door hardtop. The 1970 Swinger 340 came with non-functional hood scoops with 340 on their sides. These scoops were the same as used on the Super Bee when the "Ramcharger" fresh-air performance hood was ordered, but the Ramcharger was not optional on the Swinger 340. Front disc brakes were standard. Other standard items were Rallye suspension, a 3.23:1 rear axle ratio, fiberglass-belted bias-ply tires mounted to steel wheels, a bumble bee stripe and bright chrome tip exhaust. The list of options for the Swinger 340 was extensive: all-vinyl bucket seats could replace the standard bench seat, and this permitted one to order a center console. A performance hood upgrade with scoops was painted flat black with hood tie-down pins. One could add power brakes, steering and windows. Rallye wheels and wire wheelcovers were also optional, as was a 6000 rpm tachometer and a vinyl roof in either black or white.
The 1970 Dart's dual taillamps were given over to the badge-engineered Plymouth Valiant Scamp, while the 1971 Dart received new smaller quad taillamps that would be used through 1973. The Custom 2-door hardtop became the Swinger, and the standard Swinger became the Swinger Special. Dodge gained a version of Plymouth's popular Valiant-based fastback Duster. Management considered naming it the Beaver, but it was instead marketed as the Dart Demon. As was the case with previous Dodge rebadges of Plymouth Valiants, such as the 1961–1962 Dodge Lancer, sales of the Demon lagged behind those of the Duster. With optional hood scoops and blackout hood treatment, the car was advertised that it meant trouble. The Demon's Dart-type front fender wheel lips and Duster-type rear wheel fender lips reveal that the car was essentially a Duster with Dart front sheetmetal and other minor styling changes.
The Swinger 340, Dart's performance model, was replaced by the Demon 340 with optional hood scoops and blackout hood treatment. Chrysler Canada, though, did build a small number of 1971 Swinger 340 hardtops based on the Swinger Special for two dealers in Western Canada. In 1971, Chrysler abandoned their longstanding corporate practice of installing left-hand threaded wheel studs on the left side of the vehicle; all wheel studs on the Dart thenceforth used conventional right-hand threads.
Changes for 1972 included a revised grille without the central divider of the 1970 and 1971 items, new surface-mounted sidemarker lights rather than the previous flush-mount units, a new instrument cluster featuring a large rectangular speedometer and several small round gauges, and the Demon had new fender-mounted metal "Demon" badges without the small devil character on the 1971 decals. The "Demon" decal on the rear of the car was replaced by DODGE and DART emblems on the lower right edge of the deck lid. Some Demons with the side and rear panel tape stripes retained the tape devil character.1973 Darts got new front styling with revised fenders, grille, header panel, and a hood new to the Dart but interchangeable with that of the 1967-69 Plymouth Barracuda. Massive front bumpers were installed to comply with new federal regulations, as well as side-impact guard beams in the doors and new emission control devices. New single-piston disc brakes replaced the more complex 4-piston units offered from 1965 to 1972, though Chrysler did not address the premature rear-wheel lockup that continued to plague disc brake equipped Darts. Chrysler's robust new electronic ignition system was standard equipment with all engines, and starter motors were revised for faster engine cranking. The K-frame was modified to accommodate a new spool-type engine mount that limited engine roll to 3 degrees. The upper ball joints were upgraded to the larger B-body units. Along with these chassis changes, the wheel bolt pattern on Darts with disc brakes was enlarged from 4 inches (100 mm) to the 4.5-inch (110 mm) pattern common to the larger B- and C-body Chrysler-built passenger cars. Darts with 4-wheel drum brakes continued with the 4-inch (100 mm) bolt pattern. Gone for the 1973 model year ( and only on the "A" Body line , Dart , Duster , et al. ) was the tried and true , bulletproof eight & three-quarter differential . In its stead was the eight and one-quarter , 10-bolt service cover , differential . Top gear ratio was still 3.55 , with the Sure Grip being an option ( but was mostly standard when 3.21's and 3.55's were ordered ). Vent windows disappeared from all 2 door hardtops; however the sedans retained them through the end of production (1976).
The Demon fastback was renamed Dart Sport, in response to Christian groups' complaints about the "Demon" name and devil-with-pitchfork logo. The high-performance models thus became Dart Sport 340 in 1973, and Dart Sport 360 for 1974 when the 360 cu in (5.9 L) V8 replaced the 340 cu in (5.6 L) V8. 1973 saw styling changes to go along with the name change on the Duster-bodied car. The Dart Sport received the same new front end as the other Darts, and its taillights were changed to two lights per side, each with a chrome trim ring. These would remain unchanged through the 1976 model year.
A new optional single hood scoop replaced 1971's dual scoops, and was coupled with a hood paint blackout that had been standard on the 1971 high-trim/high-value Demon Sizzler model. Cars equipped with the optional ralley wheels now came with newly restyled center caps finished in a light argent (silver) paint.
In 1974, the US federal 5 mph (8.0 km/h) bumper impact standards were expanded to cover rear bumpers as well as front ones, and as a result the Swinger and Dart sedan's rear bumpers grew much more massive. Taillights larger than the previous year's items were set above the rear bumper, rather than within it. Shoulder and lap belts were finally combined in all Chrysler products into a retractable, inertia-sensitive, single-buckle design Chrysler called "Unibelt", replacing the difficult-to-use separate lap and shoulder belts that had been installed through 1973.
The Dart and its Plymouth Valiant/Duster clone led the American compact car market during the early 1970s. Their already-strong popularity was bolstered by the Arab oil embargo of 1973, which caused gasoline shortages with long lines at stations and dramatic price increases at the pump. To capitalize on an emerging trend toward luxurious compact cars, Dodge introduced the Dart SE (Special Edition) in mid-1974 as a four-door sedan and two-door hardtop. The SE included velour high back bucket seats with folding armrest, carpeted door panels, woodgrain instrument panel and deluxe wheel covers along with a TorqueFlite automatic transmission as standard equipment. The air conditioning system available on all Darts had increased capacity, quicker cooldown and lower minimum temperatures. An evaporator pressure regulator valve, long used on larger Chrysler products, varied the compressor's capacity without cycling the clutch.
Aside from a new grille, the 1975 models were virtually identical to the 1974s, except that California and certain high-altitude models were equipped with catalytic converters and so required unleaded gasoline. All 1975 models were required to pass a roof crush test and to meet this stringent requirement, and additional reinforcements were added to all Dart two-door hardtops. Heavy gauge steel in the windshield pillar area had been incorporated into the windshield, pillar and roof design. Darts were also equipped with an improved energy absorbing steering column which used multiple slots in the column jacket to replace prior used convoluted mesh design. At impact, force applied to the steering wheel curled the column jacket back over a mandrel mounted on the floor. Federal Motor Safety Standards briefly required that the front seat belts include a starter interlock system that prevented the engine from starting unless the front seat outboard occupant and the driver fastened their belts.
A 4-speed manual transmission was offered with the 6-cylinder engine for the first time in the North American market since 1965, and with a new 30% overdrive 4th gear ratio. It was Chrysler's first application of an overdrive system since 1959. The final drive ratio in fourth gear was 2.36:1 on the Slant Six cars equipped with 3.23:1 rear axle, and 2.15:1 on the V8s equipped with 2.94:1 rear axle. The result was less engine noise and wear and greater fuel economy.
Also for 1975, heaters had 14% more heating capacity than in the previous year's models. The added capacity was the result of adding a third speed to the blower system, which provided 20% greater air flow at maximum setting. The electrically heated backglass defogger grid timer cycle was doubled to 10 minutes.
For the Dart's final year of 1976, the inside rear-view mirror was mounted on the windshield rather than from the ceiling. Front disc brakes became standard equipment on 1 January 1976 in accord with more stringent U.S. Federal brake performance requirements, and a new foot-operated parking brake replaced the under-dash T-handle used since the Dart's 1963 introduction as a compact car. The grille's parking lamps were cast in ambre, whereas the previous years had clear lenses with ambre-coloured bulbs.
Over its 13-year production run, the Dart earned a reputation as a sturdy, dependable car. "The Dart was one of the most successful compact cars ever introduced in the American automobile marketplace," according to R.D. McLaughlin, then vice president of Chrysler's Automotive sales division, "It enjoys a strong owner loyalty and is a car that has established a reputation for reliability and value…these are [some] reasons why we wil continue to market the Dart while introducing the new compact Aspen." Ultimately, the A-body Dart was replaced by the F-body Dodge Aspen beginning in late spring of 1976—a replacement Chrysler President Lee Iacocca would later lament due to the Aspen's many early quality problems.