“Got a little Retro to it,” John Wilkiewiez said, as I circled his 1971 Dodge Swinger on the show grounds of Mopars at the Strip in Las Vegas this past March.
At first, the econo-muscle car looked stock to me. Citrus Yellow with a black “Bumblebee” stripe on the rear made the angular and well-proportioned body look sharp.
Actually, the stock color for the Swinger that year was more of a “greenish yellow,” John said. Citrus was a 1970 color for the E-body. John preferred the brighter shade of yellow that he associated more with high performance. “Swinger” badges made me think, ah, a 340 Swinger.
Mopar enthusiasts know off the top of their heads Dodge didn’t sell any 340-equipped Swingers in the United States for the 1971 model year. I wonder how many people realize Dodge did export 65 of the 340-powered Dodges to Canada. In fact, one person at the show actually owned one – he just didn’t have it on the premises.
For 1970, Dodge eliminated the hotter 340 small block as the smog era began. Under the hood of this 1971 is a matching-numbers 318 block. Basically, the Dodge Swinger 340 became a high performance footnote in history. Still, the hot looks remained from the muscle car era. The 1971 model is a favorite to hop up.
John found his 1971 Dodge for sale in Corona, California nine years ago. A lady was driving the car to and from work. “She wanted a newer car, so she bought a PT Cruiser and her husband put the Dart up for sale. He was building a 1969 Road Runner convertible with a Six Pack.”
The 1971 was a rust-free driver, white with a black vinyl top, in excellent condition mechanically. John put $500 down to hold the little Dodge and returned the next day with a check for the balance.
John already owned a 1965 Dodge Coronet and a 1967 Plymouth GTX. He’s a committed Mopar restorer and builder. His goal with the 1971 was to build a Retro style modified that he could drive literally “everywhere.”
He saw no need to pull the original 318 engine. Instead, he merely enhanced the performance with external modifications. The engine bay provided a super clean space with plenty of room to work. The K & N air filter helps the opened-up 318 to breathe better than stock. An Edelbrock aluminum Performer intake and four barrel carburetor feed the engine. Ceramic-coated Doug’s Headers route hot exhaust gases through duals that empty into Flowmaster mufflers. John made his own H-pipe to help the exhausts even more.
With a Mopar Performance RV roller cam and Comp Cams roller rockers, John estimates the horsepower at 280 to 300. Although this tune won’t scare big block muscle cars at the drag strip, the little 318 passes up gas stations all day long with even more performance than a factory 340 Swinger.
John chose a set of 2.76:1 gears in the stock 8 ¾” rear end. He’s modest to say his Swinger has “a little bit of performance, but I can drive forever. Some guys have to stop a couple times a day for gas. I go all day.”
He refers to excursions that have taken him and friends far from his home in Pomona, California. One 1,300-mile trip took him to “Durango, Colorado, Pagosa Springs, all the way up through Flagstaff, down through Taos and Sante Fe, Albuquerque, Phoenix and back home.”
We met up with John in Las Vegas, Nevada at the Mopars at the Strip show at Las Vegas International Speedway, north of town. As perfect as the Dodge appeared, the car did not have the luxury of an enclosed trailer. John drove the brightly colored Swinger three to four hours from his home in Pomona, California. This is the romance of having a driver-type, Retro Swinger build.
The electronic ignition is a big help for horsepower and reliability on trips. Most cars from 1971 came with old-fashioned points in the distributor. Chrysler has been known for engineering since the glory days of the 1930s and the famous Airflow models.
The electronic ignition in John’s 1971 is available as a kit from Mopar Performance Parts. What’s even more interesting is that this kit was a dealer option in 1971.
“Some people had it because they didn’t want to mess with points.”
John upgraded the stock 727 automatic transmission with a 903 series. Still a 1970 vintage transmission, the 903 is lighter weight, but according to John, it “can still handle the horsepower.”
The suspension is fairly close to stock. John replaced the factory rear leaf springs with leaf springs from a 1970 B-body. John said, “The Super Stock ones were too stiff. The shop told me I could use B-body springs. They would be different than stock, but the car won’t ride like a wagon. It will give you just the right height, too.” The installation kit for the leaf springs included beefed up leaf spring hangars in the rear and neoprene bushings.
John added a front stabilizer bar of ¾” diameter from Just Suspension. He figured the springs would be a good starting point. Already, he chose a little bit bigger rims, measuring 14 inches in the front and 15 x 7 inches in the back. They’re polished “dog dish” to keep the Retro look alive. Mags would have been okay, but there’s no need to make a luxury statement with this car. John feels the little round moons covering the lugs are just the retro drag strip and street look he was after. The message is to pop the dishes and go drag racing. Hubcaps, of course, are not legal to run at the drag strip, autocross or gymkhana.
Inside, John rigged out the little 1971 for long distance cruising, 21st century style. The most obvious upgrade is the Garmin, mounted high to the left on the pillar.
“I have the Garmin for speaker phone and for telling me where I’m at, where I’m going, how to get there, how long it takes, tells me how fast I’m going, what direction.”
“All that?” I asked.
“Well, the speedometer got changed cause of the size of the wheels and gearing, so it doesn’t match right now. I rely on the GPS for speed.”
For years, enthusiasts have tried various ways to solve the speedometer gearing problem. With a GPS device, they don’t have to rely on mechanical gears inside the car. Satellite positioning takes care of the need to know speed.
John said, “Everything’s been redone inside except the dash and the back seat. I replaced the carpet. The front seats were bench from the factory. I took those out and got the bucket seats out of a 1972 Sebring. I matched the vinyl and pattern of the stock back seats to the front buckets. So, when you look at them, you think they are original equipment.”
Comfort had something to do with the Sebring buckets. John asked the upholstery shop to use extra foam backing. He says the stock bench was “hard and flat.” “These [bucket seats] have more of a sporty sculptured look and feel to them.”
The steering wheel is an original rim-blow. The simulated wood looks fairly upscale, in my opinion, for an economy Dart of the era. John continued the 21st century upgrade with “all the stereo stuff.” “It’s all digital – no CD player…. iPod, MP3, USB and satellite.”
John’s Dart certainly has a little bit of retro to it, but it’s anything but trapped in the past.