There is a lot to be said for the Mopar family. There are many married people who enjoy the cars they build and own together; Tommy and Tonya Hayes of Durham, North Carolina, are among them. In fact, they met in high school when Tommy still had his four-door Dart. The two have progressed through life with marriage, two sons (Christian and Cale), and several projects to get to the present cruiser. Tommy likes ‘em big and bad; his '69 Road Runner has a 500-plus cube Arruzza Hemi under the hood. Tonya had a street-strip '71 Dart, but she wanted more of a cruiser—a convertible. This little Dart GT that debuted in the spring of 2013 was the result of that desire.

The '65 Dart was not noted as a performance monster, but it had good road manners, a Dodge pedigree, and a nice blend of styling cues and chrome trim that we will call “cute." Tonya admits she wasn't always a car person, but got more interested as the men in her life dragged home project after project. The '71 Dart she started with had a worked 360 in it, with a tight 3.91 gear that could cut a nice quarter-mile time. But that wasn't really the fun she wanted, a curbside classic highway star was more to her liking, with the drop-top option as icing on the cake. So she started searching; first looking at street rods, but finally settling on this complete but semi-worn '65 Dart GT with the original 273 engine and driveline intact. The six-hour ride towing the car back home to Durham provided ample time to begin figuring out how the car would end up.

For one thing, the as-built color combo—dark blue with a white gut and black top, was not going to cut it for the rebuild. Also, a more up-to-date driveline would also be part of the rebuild. Tommy and Christian already knew that Tonya really wanted a car that would meet the standards at the shows they attended, so this was not going to be some thrown together castaway. That meant the GT would be two years in the making.

Indy Cylinder Head got the call for a mill, a 360 Magnum combination that tagged the dyno needle at just over 375 ponies. Behind the engine went an 727 ‘flite, while a '66 Belvedere gave up an 8-3/4 that was narrowed to fit under the Dart. Tonya took the car to a friend's shop, Skip Couch of Couch Automotive for brake work, and got a recommendation for a local shop called JB Auto Upholstery. In the end, JB's would not only replace the seat covers and top, but would paint the car as well. Once the car's driveline was removed, the body went there for transformation.

The engine was ordered and showed up, and now the effort turned to chasing parts—particularly the bright-work, which is not being reproduced. The body came back after about a seven-month stint. While noted firm TTi supplied the headers, Tommy admits it was still a challenge getting them fitted into the tight confines of the factory fenders and suspension, which was now fully restored thanks to Just Suspension and The Right Stuff. Mancini Racing, B/E and A, Dean “Pulley Man" Golnity, and Hot Rod City came through with more equipment, with Bill and Rose Evans creating a fresh wiring harness and U.S. Car Tool of Durham coming through with subframe connectors.

The goal was to make one of the first shows of the year in the Carolinas, Steve Earwood's April bash at Rockingham Dragway. The car was close to complete, and they brought it out on a gorgeous April day for the world to see. The Hayes' were excited when the car took home the overall Best of Show honors at the end of the day. It is the beginning of a whole new era of family fun for them.

Fast Facts

'65 Dodge Dart GT
Car Owner: Tonya Hayes
Durham, North Carolina

Mopar Power
Engine: Leaving the 273 behind, the Dart now sports a 360 Magnum crate engine from Indy Cylinder Head. This includes their IndyMax heads, single-plane Mopar Magnum intake, Taylor wires, and a Mopar distributor and ignition. A factory cranksahft spins Eagle rods and Speed-Pro pistons, building a final compression ratio of 9.7. A hydraulic roller cam was selected, which—when coupled to the 1.6 ratio rockers, resulted in a .467/.482 lift combo. The engine gets fuel through a 600-cfm Edelbrock carb, and is oiled via a Melling pump and Mopar pan. A 2½-inch exhaust system was custom built by Remco Custom Exhaust of Roxboro, North Carolina.
Transmission: Legendary builder Frank Lupo of Proformance Transmission did the rework on the 727 TorqueFlite; the OEM converter was retained as well.
Differential: A narrowed 8¾ from a Belvedere ended up with axles from Mancini Racing. It has a street-friendly 2.96 final ratio.
Sure Grip
Suspension: Just Suspension was called on for a full rebuild kit for the front end; the rest of the suspension was refreshed as needed, with KYB shocks on all four corners and subframe connectors by US Car Tool.
Brakes: A Right Stuff kit put discs behind the front rims, and the big B-Body heavy-duty drum package was reinstalled on the narrowed differential.
Wheels: Taking an old-school approach, vintage 14-inch Magnum 500s and replacement rubber from Coker are the rolling stock.
High Impact
Body: The body was solid, and JB Auto Upholstery did the prep work on it before paint.
Paint: Nason Sunburst Yellow sprayed by JB
Interior: Rebuilt and recovered by JB Auto; B/E&A supplied a late '60s era A-Body shifter to maintain the old-school feel.
Special Thanks: Tommy, sons Christian and Cale, and all the craftsman and aftermarket suppliers.