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New Dart can't Dodge its past

POSTED: September 23, 2012 1:00 a.m.

My ears perked up when I heard that Dodge was bringing back the Dart, a model that was last around in 1976.

We had two Dodge Darts that my dad drove until they were worn out. One of them became a car that I drove for a while.

The designers of the first one, back in 1962, proposed the name “Dart.” The executives of Dodge didn’t care for the name and commissioned a study that recommended the car be called “Zipp.” After the expensive study, they decided that Dart wasn’t a bad name after all.

A few years ago, Dodge brought back the Challenger, a high-performance muscle car that was very popular in the early '70s. It was built on the same platform as the Plymouth Barracuda, another hot car of the era.

The current Challenger looks a lot like the Challenger of old. The Dart, thankfully, does not.

The old Dart was not necessarily ugly; it just wasn’t flashy like other Dodge models.

A Dodge engine called a “Slant 6,” a six-cylinder engine where the pistons moved at an angle, rather than straight up and down, powered the ones we had.

I knew just enough about engines to be dangerous. For example, I proved on one occasion that a Slant 6 would run without oil. I didn’t run very far, but I discovered the problem before I blew the engine.

I also proved that the Dart would run without a battery. I loaned a boy my battery after starting the car. First of all, I learned a lesson about loaning car batteries, but I did drive around town all night without one.

That last Dart was green with green vinyl seats. That year, Dodge did away with a button for the horn and put some tubing around the ring of the steering wheel. It was awful.You would make a left turn and unintentionally blow the horn a few times in the process.

My dad replaced it with a doorbell button taped to the dash.

The trouble was the steering wheel kept coming apart and we tried everything from rubber bands to duct tape to hold it together.

I ended up using a pair of Vice-Grip pliers to hold the wheel on. You were essentially driving the car with a pair of pliers. This was not a repair that was listed in the owner’s manual.

I sincerely hope if anything from the old Dart is brought back for the new one, it isn’t that steering wheel.

That first Dart was a car we drove on several vacations. It did not have air conditioning and we would wait until dark before leaving. My dad would down a pot of coffee between our house and the beach.

They weren’t fancy cars and I think Dodge designed them that way.

The new one says it is the most technologically advanced car in its class and it boasts 60 safety and security features. That’s a far cry from its older cousin. I don’t think we knew where the seat belts were in the first one.

I wish the good folks at Dodge well with their new car with old name. I’ll never see one without thinking of the past.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.


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