My love for Mopars started at about the age of 12," says David Dudek, a truck mechanic at Chrysler's Lynch Road axle plant who hails from Shelby Township, Michigan. "My parents bought a '69 Barracuda convertible, and for me it was love at first sight. Not long after they bought the car, my dad took me to the drag strip for the very first time-Mom thought we were there just to watch. My dad and I would strap in and he'd run it.
"Mom hated the 3.91 gears it came with, so we installed a 3.23 center section so it would be more comfortable for her to drive. The car wasn't driven everyday, so if we had plans to go to the track, we'd wait for Mom to go to K-Mart (that was a two-hour ordeal in those days), and we'd swap the 3.91s back in. We were like a NASCAR team trying to get done before Mom got home! We would go race the car and swap the 3.23s back in before Mom noticed. That started the Mopar ball rolling for me."
And that ball is still rolling strong to this day. As David grew up he parked a string of Mopar classics in his driveway during the ensuing years. A Charger R/T, 340 Duster, and Coronet R/T came and went. Then for about three years David fell in with the wrong crowd, fiddling around with a few X-brand products.
"I don't know what happened to me," says David. "Anyway, about three years ago I was driving around and thinking 'when was the last time someone gave me a thumbs-up just for driving by, or someone at a gas station asked me if I could pop my hood?' Something had to be done!"
After discussing his dilemma with wife Kelly, David set out to mend his ways. He scoured the want ads in the local papers and found a '68 Dart GTS sporting fairly low mileage, a Sunfire Yellow topcoat, and a 340 mill under the hood. The Dart seemed to be the answer David had been looking for.
Following some minor clean-up, David performed the usual driveway hop-up (headers, cam, and the like) and drove the car for a year. When the paint bubbles began to percolate, David went to 23 Mile Collision for a little dress-up. But, as is so often the case, one thing led to another, and before he knew it David had the car stripped, a significant amount of sheetmetal replaced, and on and on. At this point, installing the old goods into the refurbished chassis was no longer an option, so David embarked on what was essentially a show-quality stock rebuild.
"I went so far on everything else," recalls David, "it seemed that the right thing to do was to put the engine back stock. I started tracking down the right carb, intake, exhaust manifolds, wires, battery, et cetera. The car was stock original, and too nice to race, but I did anyway."
David's GTS performed admirably in the various drag venues he entered following the restoration work, but it was a stoplight joust with a Camaro that set him on a new course.
"I was at the Woodward Dream Cruise, and on the way home I caught a light with a new Camaro SS, and we went at it. I gave it everything [the Dart] had, and couldn't pull one inch on him. Something had to be done! I was ahead about one fender and that's all. That was it for me. I called my car show buddies and told them good-bye, and took all the correct parts off and boxed them."
Without looking back, David yanked the 340 and handed it to Automotive Machine in Fraser, Michigan, where the small-block received a 0.030-inch over bore and was fitted with a carefully selected handful of quality speed parts. Bart Maurer of Automotive machine rebuilt the short-block, balancing the goods and installing 10.4:1 Diamond pistons. Modern Cylinder Head of Clinton Township ported the Mopar Performance 308 heads before installing 2.05 intake and 1.60 exhaust valves, which are animated by an Isky cam, Comp Cams solid lifters, Comp Cams springs, and Mopar Performance 1.6 roller rockers.
Topping the lot are dual Holley 600 carbs sitting on an Edelbrock STR-12 Cross Ram intake that David picked up at a Chrysler Classic swap meet. Hooker headers, Dynomax mufflers, and 2.5-inch pipes were chosen for exhaust duties. Backing the enhanced 340 is a stout McLeod clutch and pressure plate assembly leading the four-speed built by Jake's Automotive of Utica. Finally, Gary Jacobs of Jake's Automotive managed the precision tuning with the help of an electronic conversion distributor and MSD 6AL ignition system. Add the 4.10 limited slip Richmond rear gears and it's easy to see why David's GTS now boasts a dynoed 378hp at the rear wheels.
Today this spicy Dart is one of the cleanest and sleekest contestants you'll find in the staging lanes. Running street tires and a full exhaust system, the beefed-up 340 can pull high 11-second ETs at upwards of 116 mph. For emphasis, David took First Place in the Bracket 1 trophy class at the '99 Mopar Nationals.
Dad, no doubt, is quite proud of all this Dart-ing around.