Looking Forward to the Past in a Dodge Dart
Soon, we will see the new Dodge Darts plying the roads of America and may, occasionally, see a 2013 model cruising along next to a classic like the 1965 Dodge Dart this lucky reporter was able to drive along the endless highways of Wyoming recently. The question is, will the new Dart live up to the powerful precedent of smooth dependability and high economy of the original "compact American car" of the mid-1960s?
Darting Back in Time
Chrysler's Dodge brand introduced the Dart back in 1960 as a replacement for the aging Lancer model when Plymouth split from the Chrysler-Dodge network and the company needed a smaller-car competitor to fill the gap left by the split.
The first generation entered the market in 1960 as a largely unremarkable "not quite as large as the others" car, still carrying on the land yacht tradition of the 1950s. It was, however, a huge success and started an internal war between Chrysler's Dodge and Plymouth divisions, though it caused some problems for Dodge as well, who saw many of its mid-priced cars like the Matador and the Polara flag in sales as the Dart stole their customers.
A restyle in 1961 was a disaster, however, killing sales with its outdated looks copied from the now-discontinued Polara. A second-generation was introduced in 1962, restyling the car completely, cutting the car's size to compete with the Chevy II Nova and Ford Falcon, but failed to please either dealers or their customers, though this generation saw many improvements, such as a unibody platform and torsion-bar front suspension and asymmetric leaf springs, creating one of the stablest maneuvering platforms of the period. Other factory customs added in 1962 included a Ramcharger version of the Dart with a huge 8-cylinder engine pumping out 415 horsepower and aimed squarely at sanctioned drag racing, where it immediately broke performance records.
It wasn't until the third generation, introduced in 1963, however, that the Dart really fell into stride to become one of the best-selling compact cars in American history. By 1965, everything about the car had been perfected for the times. While things would change in subsequent years through to the model's end in 1976 (and new rebirth in 2013), most of the underpinnings that made the 1965 Dart great would remain, building a legend of comfort and dependability that few other American-made cars could meet – especially considering the extremely high fuel economy the Dart offered, something it did well before anyone though of "economical" and "fuel efficient" as being cool.
The 1965 Dodge Dart
In 1963, Dodge did three things to ensure the Dart's name would forever be etched into automotive history:
1) They dropped the Lancer name and rebranded it as the Dodge Dart.
2) They configured the wheelbase to an optimal 111 inches (up from 106.5 inches, which was too short to give good handling on this platform).
3) They offered five model options with three trim levels.