Project Dodge Dart Swinger Backstory and Progress

By: Scott Murray, Photography by: Street Machine magazine

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dodge dart dodge dart

It's time to reveal some backstory on our Dodge Dart Swinger giveaway car, and report in with the latest updates

 

Project Dodge Dart Swinger

I’ll be honest with you. A project car can be a bitch; an everlasting grind of trial and error. Mainly error. Then there are those that just seem to wing in and straight back out again. The latter’s pretty much the case with our Dodge Dart Swinger giveaway car.

Our last update was when Scotty Taylor and Povi Pullinen from Street Machine had first got their grubby mitts on the thing. That was way back when they’d plucked the Swinger from an Adelaide garage, driven back to old Melbourne town. The Dart was promptly set upon by the lads at McDonald Bros Racing. And then….nothing. Until now, that is.

Dodge Dart Under

First, a bit of background on where the car materialised from. Speaking to experienced hobby importer Pat Balmer, who originally bought and brought the Dart into Australia, he says it was as much a personal effort as it was business. "I have a very good friend in the States who collects cars, and I never just buy without actually physically clapping eyes on it first. But I was looking for a Cadillac for myself in fact and he contacted me saying he’d found a couple of cars and to come have a look. I went over to his Huntington Beach, Los Angeles property, and he had the Dart sitting there in perfect condition. It looked fantastic."

Dodge Dart Under 2

Oddly, it had two bucket seats in the front, rather than the bench seat Pat was expecting. A little suspicious, he asked where they were. "‘Come down the back with me,’ was the reply, and under some plastic was the original bench seat in great condition, like the Dart itself, although with a hole accidentally punched through the vinyl with a screwdriver. Not wanting to stretch the tear, he swapped out the bench for the buckets. I felt like he was honest, and that’s the most important thing when importing."

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The Dart was also in some respectable company, which signalled again to Pat that this was a worthwhile buy. "It was sitting in a shed with half a dozen Porsches, a couple of Lamborghinis, a Ferrari and a 1970 Chevelle with a blown big block poking out of the bonnet. There was also a 1957 Fairlane, immaculate, with only a cracked windscreen," said Pat.

Dodge Dart Parts

Pat, having known this collector personally, cast his eye over to find the Dart was very tidy, and absolutely original. "Up on a hoist there was no fiddling with compliance plates, everything was decent and had a bit of light road dirt on just about everything, so I knew nothing had been changed, and there weren’t any signs of moisture anywhere. It had just sat in the shed for years, but driven infrequently to keep everything working," he says. Pat was confident; the seller had bought it in good condition and had it polished up, but it was only the seat which had copped any negligence. "I didn’t negotiate with him, I knew 100 per cent it was an honest deal."

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The only real problem Pat had was encountered at the docks, bringing the Dart into the country, where someone had written a wrong number at some point and he had to back-track a little to get the all-clear. "I then sold it on to the owner in South Australia," he says.

Fast forward and essentially we’ve focused on three major jobs on the Dart – the engine, suspension and differential, and wheels and tyres – but as is typical with this caper, nothing happens so simply. So, we swapped out the 7 ¼-inch Chrysler diff which is hard to source parts for. A Ford nine-incher went in with 3.7:1 mid-range ratios including Strange gears, 1350 yoke and nodular iron casing. An Eaton Truetrac centre went in with a maintenance-free helical gear LSD which will bias torque to the non-spinning wheel via 31-spline axles. In addition, the leaf springs were moved inboard toward the chassis rails by 19mm to accept wider tread inside the guards while allowing for a disc brake upgrade. Job done.

Dodge Dart 2

Those "upgraded" disc brakes we sported the Swinger with? Well, they were too big for the original 14-inch steel wheels that were in good condition. Despite conflicting rumours, we’re not silly, and anticipated this might happen. But learning from history we figured once the wheels were upsized to 15 inches as has been done in the past, they would surely fit. Yep, we called that one wrong. It wouldn’t be a project without the odd fail. The centres were far too small to fit inside the 15-inch rims. Consulting with Valiant messiah Steve Issa, we were advised to use the 15-inch steels from a 1969 Dodge Phoenix which had the same hubcap size as the Dart. The snag with that is the Phoenix used large Ford-style 4.5-inch pitch circle diameter (PCD) not the Dart’s four-inch – put simply we now had the wrong stud pattern, drilled to take the 285mm VT Commodore rear, and VH-VJ Valiant discs up front.

Dodge Dart Wheels

Jim Robinson at Dodge & Plymouth Parts found us three matching rims for the Phoenix studs, and a fourth that was only identifiable by the three hub cap grooves instead of the set-of-three’s four grooves. DP Blastings and Coatings in Warragul sandblasted the almost half-century old steel which, as you can imagine, was pretty rusty. Ajax Wheels, around the corner in Moorabbin, widened the rears from 5.5 to 8-inches, and Total Tyres in Oakleigh shoe-horned on the new Mickey Thompson boots which we had whitened on the lettering for that warm nostalgic throwback. Next, the boffins at Meguiar’s Colour Spec paint division made up some two-pack spray cans of Sublime using the factory colour code – although it may surprise you to know this Swinger once bore gold skin. The previous owner in South Oz applied the black stripes, which we think work nicely. It was then Scotty’s personal handiwork that delivered the finished wheels.

Dodge Dart Wheel 

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