From a large family sedan to a Charger variation to a compact car, the Dodge Dart has come in many variations. The iconic “Dart” name has been dropped, resurrected, and now refers to so many different types of vehicles that it’s hard to remember them all.
Here’s a look back at the Darts of old and today’s version.
Early Dodge Dart Models
The first Dodge Dart was originally offered in 1960 as a smaller version of the large sedans from Plymouth – the low priced car that Dodge dealers offered the prior year. Basically, Dodge dealers had offered both Dodge and Plymouth models since 1930, but a corporate restructuring meant that Plymouth was becoming a separate brand. This new Plymouth brand was going to have separate dealers, and that meant that Dodge dealers were going to lose some of their inexpensive offerings.
In order to soften the sales blow of a lost low-end model, Dodge execs essentially “re-badged” a Plymouth Savoy with the name “Dart.” Chrysler executives reportedly came up with the name “Dart,” then rejected the name, conducted a comprehensive research program to develop a new name, and came up with “Zipp.” Obviously, “Zipp” was rejected and the name “Dart” was selected.
Dodge initially offered the unibody Dart with a new 225 cu in, 3.7L “Slant 6.” Dodge offered it in a sedan and coupe with three different trim lines: Seneca, Pioneer, and Phoenix. The mid-range Pioneer and premium Phoenix had a 318 cu in (5.2L) and 361 cu in (5.9L) V8 engines.
Upon the Dart’s introduction, sales soared. It immediately helped Dodge compete with the entry-level Chevrolet, Ford and created an in-house competitor for the Plymouth. While sales were great, 87 percent of the Dodge Darts sold were the entry level variety.
In 1961, auto sales were off across the industry, and Dart sales suffered mightily. Growing criticism over the Dart’s styling changes to the grille and rear fins effected sales, as did the low position of the 61′ Dart’s taillights. According to some, the taillights on the 61′ Dart were positioned so low (just above the bumper) that other drivers had a hard time seeing them. The taillight issue grew to the point that Dodge sent out auxiliary upper tail lights during the year that owners could mount to compensate for the problem.
In 1962, the Dart was changed again. It was considerably smaller and lighter than the 61′ model, the range of options and features was simplified, and it was available with the famous “Max Wedge” 413 V8 (which you can learn more about here and here).
The Muscle Car Era Dart
In 1963, the plan at Dodge was to move on from the Dart name after a couple of years of disappointing sales. In fact, it was only a last-minute decision to drop the new “Lancer” name that kept the Dart moniker alive. For the 1963 model, the Dart was offered in a 2 or 4 door with two sizes of the Slant 6: a 170 cu in (2.8L) or a 225 cu in (3.7L). It was also available as either a:
- Hardtop coupe
- Station Wagon
One of the most memorable 66′ models was the Dart Charger, in particular the yellow Dart GT hardtops with black interior, a Commando 273 engine, and premium mechanical and trim offerings. It also had special Charger badging. These were the first Dodge models to bear the name “Charger,” prior to an actual Charger model being offered in 1966.
In 1967, the Dart was longer and wider than the 66′ model, and this new chassis was essentially unchanged thru 1976. While the 67′ only offered the same 273 and slant-6 engines of the 66′, Dodge offered a 318 by 68 and a 340 by 1970.
In 1969, Dodge offered the “Swinger” trim level on the Dart, a name that perhaps executives at Dodge didn’t fully comprehend (or perhaps maybe they did – a 69′ Swinger is a pretty hilarious “accident,” don’t you think?). Thru the early 70′s, Dodge shuffled around names and features on the Plymouth Duster, Dodge Dart, and Dodge Demon, offering slightly different packages and options on each vehicle that generally overlapped with one another.
The Demon name has an interesting history in its own right, as it was initially going to be named the “Beaver” before market research found the name to be unfavorable. [Seriously, what's going on at Dodge in the 60's? Swingers? Beavers? What were they thinking?] After some time on the market, the Demon name met so much criticism from Christian groups that it was renamed the Dart Sport.
By 1974, the Dart was in decline. Despite numerous updates in the 74′ model year, Dart sales were sliding. The mid to late 70′s were a tough time for American automakers (Chrysler in particular), and numerous quality issues combined with a difficult economy and a convoluted product line ultimately led to the Dart’s demise in 1976.
The Dart is Reborn
In 2013, Dodge brought back the Dart as a compact sedan. The introduction of the Dart is Dodge’s first compact sedan in years and marks the reentry after the discontinuation of the Neon. Yet, it wasn’t supposed to happen that way.
Initially, it was the developed as a Dodge Hornet and was revealed in 2006 as a concept for introduction in 2010. Yet, the financial collapse of 2009 and subsequent restructuring at Chrysler killed the Hornet.
Yet while the ”Hornet” would not be resurrected, the Dart would. The thought was that the Hornet had a long heritage going way back to the Hudson Hornet, and Chrysler didn’t want to disrupt that (perhaps they’re saving this name for a future model?).
The new Dart comes the latest technology, transmission and engine offerings that Chrysler has and is based on one of the most admired platforms in the world – the Alfa Romero Giulietta. Using this platform also shaved years of the development time frame.
Taking that platform, Chrysler engineers went to work on the unenviable task of creating both a strong competitor in the loaded compact sedan market and, more importantly, building a winner that would help resurrect Chrysler from the 2009 bankruptcy.
In order to compete:
- They stretched the Giulietta wheelbase to make it both wider than the competition and also to boost room in the interior
- Dodge placed great emphasis on offering premium options, even though the new Dart was intended to be an entry-level vehicle
- To maximize appeal to consumers and fleets, the Dart comes in five different models, offers six powertrains, and 14 color and trim combinations
Powering the base Dart is a new 2.0L DOHC 160-hp engine called Tigershark. The name refers to the Northrop Grumman F-20 jet fighter. With a cool name, the engine had to live up to high expectations and it has. It is an aluminum block-and-head, short-stroke, 16-valve with variable valve timing and port injection.
Chrysler didn’t stop at just one transmission to power the Dart, they introduced three! The base six-speed manual is from Fiat. An optional Powertech six-speed automatic comes from Hyundai. Lastly, a dual-clutch automatic from Fiat is optional with the 1.4L turbo engine.
Also, Fiat sent over their MultiAir system that electronically controls the hydraulic fluid between the cam lobes and valves to vary intake timing and lift. This system is equipped in the 1.4L turbo engine and helps make it one of the most technologically superior engines in its class, as well as very fuel efficient.
For trim levels, the Dart comes with a SE (base), SXT, Rallye, Limited and R/T. Each level, above the base, adds items like:
- Larger engine
- Improved seat materials
- Back up cameras
- Larger alloy wheels
- Keyless entry
- Split rear seats
One of the best trim levels is the Limited. It has lots of great features like active grille shutters, a large 8.4-inch touch screen with rear backup camera, a re-configurable electronic gauge cluster, additional chrome accents, rear cross-path detection, heated steering wheel and many premium interior accent touches.
The performance trim level is the R/T. It gets the larger 2.4L Tigershark that puts out 184 hp with 171 lb-ft of torque mated to either a six-speed manual or automatic with AutoStick. It also has a sport suspension with frequency-sensing damping shocks, 18-inch aluminum wheels, integrated dual exhaust and lots of exterior/interior upgrades like front fascia, grille and Nappa perforated leather seats among other items. Plus, you can purchase additional Mopar parts to really customize and improve the Dart.
Lastly, one of the best new innovations for those on the go is wireless charging for compatible devices like a cell phone or tablet. This system uses the principles of magnetic induction to wirelessy transmit electrical power to a device. While Powermat has had plans to bring its technology to cars long beforehand, those plans didn’t materialize. Chrysler, though, made it happen in the Dart. This cutting edge technology will, most likley, become standard in many future cars.
Rounding out the cool new Dart models is a four-wheel drive rally car. It is a blue-and-white SRT-badged car that comes with a turbo-charged 4-cylinder capable of reaching 600 hp with over 550 lb-ft. of torque. It is mated to a Sedav 4-wheel drive gear box. If that wasn’t cool enough, the car was driven to victory by four-time Rally Champion Travis Pastrana during the 2012 Global RallyCross Championship Series.
In the end, while the Dart name has graced a variety of memorable cars, it was almost dropped on numerous occasions. It’s amazing that the Dart name has survived. Chrysler’s vision for the car hasn’t changed though. It is still an affordable vehicle that blends comfort and performance.