Not all the great Mopar musclecars were B-bodies or E-bodies. Some excellent A-body Mopars like the Dodge Dart slipped under the radar. That low profile image has made for some pretty slack jaws when junior Mopars dusted more muscular-looking cars.
The Dodge Dart started out as an economical compact car, most often propelled by the stalwart Mopar slant six engine. The Dart stayed close to its roots for most of its life span, but not all Darts were dull. The Dart GT was a nice blend of sensibility and fun, but it was the addition of an “S” that really put the sport in the Dart GTS. In some Dodge print ads, GTS was GTSport.
The 1963-1966 Darts were OK looking, but the restyled 1967 Darts were much more handsome. One of the Dart’s main competitors was the Chevy Nova, and the restyled Dart looked as good as, if not better than, the Nova.
Novas could be equipped with 283 or 327 V-8s, but in 1967 the Dart V-8 displaced only 273 cubic inches. In 1968, the excellent 340 small-block was added to the Dart engine lineup. The 340 was a bored out 273 (4.04-inches versus 3.61-inches).
One thing Novas lacked in 1967 was a big-block engine. Many enthusiasts thought that the A-body Dart and Barracuda would be great platforms for a big-block. The combination of a lightweight car and a big engine is the basis of hot rodding.
The legendary Mr. Norm (Norm Kraus of Grand-Spaulding Dodge in Chicago) supposedly asked Dodge to offer a big-block A-body model. Dodge said the big engine wouldn’t fit, but Mr. Norm showed them that it could.
Squeezing a 383 into the A-body required a few changes and compromises such as modified exhaust manifolds, relocated motor mounts, a new K-member, and no air conditioning or power steering. The lack of air conditioning wasn’t a big deal since most high performance customers considered A/C an unnecessary drain on horsepower. The lack of power steering was a more serious compromise, since the 383 weighed almost one hundred pounds more than the small-block 273.
The 1967 383 Darts and Barracudas were the just the start of big-block A-body Mopars. Eventually, the 440 wedges and 426 Hemis found their way into these lightweight cars although those versions were almost exclusively used for drag racing.
In many ways the 1967 Dodge Dart GTS 383 can be considered the car that beat the Road Runner to the punch. The big engine/lightweight car formula was in place, but the Dart GTS was a more luxurious, better-appointed car. Road Runner customers quickly tired of taxicab interiors and wanted bucket seats and hardtops (with roll-down windows). Darts like Gregg Barrette’s feature car already had the nicer interiors.
Gregg’s 1967 GTS has a flat hood instead of the power bulge vents found on the 1968 GTS. As such, the 1967 model is a cleaner looking car and a bigger surprise to unsuspecting competitors.