History of the Dodge Dart
With its 2013 reincarnation, we take a look back.
Web2Carz Contributing Writer
Published: May 9th, 2012
id you know that the beloved Dodge Dart was almost called the Dodge Zipp? That's right, the Zipp. With two p's. It was a bad name, abut Chrysler executives want to nix the name favored by the project managers and substitute it with that awful name, which they had paid a research company big bucks to think up. Fortunately, they eventually came to their senses and the Dodge Dart was born. Check out our timeline on the Dart's history.
Produced from 1960 to 1976 in North America, the car was introduced as a lower-priced full-size Dodge with a shorter wheel base. Later on in its lifetime, it became a mid-sized, and finally ended its run as a compact from 1963 to 1976. It enjoyed the reputation of being a sturdy and reliable car. As one former Chrysler VP said of it, "The Dart was one of the most successful compact cars ever introduced in the American automobile marketplace."
But why was it so popular?
The Dodge Dart was initially introduced to replace Plymouth as the low-priced car on the market, and sales were almost always on the up and up. Sales in its first generation (1960-1961) outshined sales of the full-sized Dodge Matador and the Dodge Polara.
Who knows if the new Dart will get any screen time, but if we had to guess, we'd say so.
In fact, Dart sales were so strong in 1960 that Dodge cut back its medium priced model lineup, and discontinued the Matador. In 1961, it was redesigned to emulate the larger Polara. The '61 styling included reverse fins, rear fender scalloping and a concave grill—and was highly unpopular with consumers. Dodge saw sales drop by nearly 46 percent that year.
In 1962, the second generation, Dart was downsized and given an all-new, lightweight unibody platform. The '62 Dart featured torsion bar front suspension and asymmetric leaf springs, which all combined to provide sound handling, braking, and acceleration. Chrysler continued to use the Dart's B-body chassis up through 1974, but it was only used on the Dart during that year.
In 1963, for its third generation, the Dart took over the Lancer's spot on the lineup, where it was given a longer wheelbase, and was marketed as a "senior compact." Available as a 2- or 4-door sedan, a 2-door hardtop coupe, a station wagon, or 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), which basically made the car accessible to anyone who wanted one.
In 1965, Dodge introduced the Dart Charger, which was a yellow Dart GT hardtop with a black interior and premium mechanical specifications. In other words, it was the Dart's version of a muscle car.
During the fourth generation (1967-1976), the Dart's engine power increased from 101bhp to 115bhp, and the new engines were less costly to make. The Dart and its sister model, the Plymouth Valiant, were substantially redesigned for 1967, getting revised steering systems and wider front track and frame rail spacing. The Dart kept its basic form, though.
The '67 Dart featured a rear window with compound inverse curves, which created a unique appearance but tended to collect snow and create blindspots for drivers. Headlights were pushed to the edges, and parking/turning lights were set into the grill. At this point, Dodge eliminated the station wagon from the line.
At the end of 1968, the 2-door sedan was dropped and replaced with the Swinger 2-door hardtop. Dodge also added the Swinger 340. The entire 1969 Dart line received trim updates, and in 1970, the Dart was refreshed yet again. Over the next few years, the Dart went through a battery of restylings, but remained popular.
1976 was its final year in the North American market, and during this year, the Dart was offered to police departments in the form of the A38 Police Package. Production volume was low, and most A38 Darts went to the Los Angeles and Ventura Police Departments in California. Taxicab companies were also able to integrate the Dart into their fleet from 1963 to 1976.
The Dart was produced in international markets after 1976, but remained off the market in the U.S.
It's a safe bet that the 2013 revival will be a hit, given the popularity of the older models, which have even appeared in movies and TV shows both retro and modern. Shows like That '70s Show and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and films like Dirty Harry featured the Dart. Who knows if the new model will get any screen time, but if we had to guess, we'd say so.