The Dart appeared in 1960 as a vehicle for Chrysler’s budget-conscious customers. The standard engine was the legendary 225 cubic-inch slant-six, which holds a well-deserved reputation as one of the best motors Detroit has ever turned out. The inline cylinders are set at a 30-degree angle, giving the engine a low profile that shortened its length and allowed for extra-long manifolds. The benefits of this approach included steady, even fuel mixture across the cylinders and excellent airflow throughout the engine.
The 1960 Dart was a great looking, well designed, and well-built vehicle that offered drivers an excellent value. They responded by buying the new car in droves. This of course inspired managers to fiddle with this winning formula, which they did with the 1961 styling makeover. It included a concave grille and reverse fins, features that no sane person ever asked for. Sales plummeted, but they recovered with the release of the ‘63 models. Sales of the Dart remained strong throughout its final model year in 1976.
The Dart was a solid street performer when equipped with larger engines, including a 440 cubic inch option during the fourth generation (starting with the Dart GTS). But for sheer power the ’68 Hurst Hemi track versions with a 426 cubic inch Hemi engine were unstoppable. The factory turned out between 50 and 80 of these brutal machines, depending on which source you believe. Generous use of fiberglass and aluminum, along with the elimination of such niceties as sound deadening material and a back seat, cut weight to an absolute minimum. Buyers had to sign a waiver acknowledging that federal safety standards did not apply to this version of the Dart. It’s said that simply driving one qualifies as a near-death experience.
There’s an interesting factoid from Dart history that, IMO, speaks to the infinite capacity of advertising executives to come up with really bad ideas. When the car was first being produced, the design team suggested the name “Dart.” This was almost vetoed by company marketers, who insisted on calling it the “Zipp.” Common sense won out in the end, however, for the good of auto lovers everywhere.