We always have our ears to the ground, and if our interpretations are correct, A-Body Mopars are the hot ticket today. They're coming out of the woodwork like never before-making absolutely wonderful bone-stock restoration projects, and offering a delicious palette for superstreet modifieds. Since you might be thinking of getting in on the A-Body action, we've assembled our own musings on these spirited little compacts to give you some necessary information, and possibly some inspiration, for your own A-Body project.
Valiant '60-'62; Lancer '61-'62Chrysler entered the compact market in 1960 with the soundly engineered Valiant-the first A-Body-available as a four-door sedan or wagon. Virgil Exner, styling chief at Chrysler at the time, delighted in the extravagantly sculpted sheetmetal that inspires love or hate. In 1961, two-door Valiants entered the scene, and the Valiant became an official Plymouth model as Dodge debuted their A-Body Lancer in the same body styles in that year. The first-generation Valiants and their brethren Dodge Lancers were only available as six-cylinder cars, although the interesting 170-cube Hyper Pack four-barrel version of the Slant Six could deliver 148 hp at 5,200 rpm.
What We Like: The quirky one-of-a-kind styling (which leaves the general public wondering what it is), Hyper Packs, and the fact that they humiliated the competition in '60s baby grand racing with the Slant Sixes. The wagons are exceptionally cool.
What We Hate: The quirky one-of-a-kind styling seems to attract Hollywood freaks and alternative lifestyle weirdos-Hot Rod's Steve Magnante excepted.
The Factory Dream Combo: Hyper Pack, what else?
Our "Build It" Dream Combo: Let your imagination fly-there's no recipe for building these cars. How about a '62 Lancer wagon with a 408 stroker and injector stacks poking through the hood?
Scamp '71-'76In 1971, while Dodge was busy putting Dart front sheetmetal on the Plymouth Duster to create the Demon, the boys at Plymouth were fitting a Valiant nose onto the Dart to produce the "new" Plymouth Scamp. The Scamp was never offered as a factory musclecar, but it shared the crisp bodylines of the Dart hardtop. It looked quite good with the clean Valiant grille and bumpers. Powertrain options excluded the high performance V8s, although the 318-2V was available. Darts outsold Scamps by about three to one, but Scamps aren't particularly rare, with production averaging about 50,000 units per year for the first few years. Although not the kind of car that brings back war stories of the golden age, the Scamp is a good platform for a low-dollar high-performance build.
What We Like: People aren't breaking down doors to get at old Scamps, which keeps prices down. As easy to hot rod as any old Dart.
What We Hate: Having to explain to people that the "Dart" is actually a Scamp.
The Factory Dream Combo: The '76 Valiant Scamp Brougham 318 was as good as it ever got, with factory velour upholstery, woodgrain instrument clusters and trim, wide sill moldings, and a hood ornament. Not exactly our idea of a dream car, but grannies ate them up.
Our "Build It" Dream Combo: We'd take an early Scamp-say a '71-add a warmed 360 to replace the stock 318, and dust some Chevelles with our Duster/Dart hybrid.
Valiant/Dart '63-'66The Plymouth compacts made a break away from the bizarre styling of the early '60s with the introduction of the restyled Valiant line in 1963. Dodge's compacts were also completely restyled for '63-the Lancer name was dropped in favor of the Dart moniker, which in prior years had been attached to midsized Dodge B-Bodies. Darts were available in a GT trim level, in both two-door hardtop and convertible versions. Initially, all were six-cylinder powered, but a 273 2V became available in '64, then a 273 high-performance four-barrel engine appeared in '65. A few '66 Darts were built with a 275hp 273 for drag race purposes. Called the D-Dart, it was built to compete in the D-stock category.
The Darts were built on a 111-inch wheelbase, as opposed to the Valiant's 106 inches. Similar to the Dodge GT trim level, the top-of-the-line Valiant Signet was offered only as a two-door hardtop or convertible. Engine options matched that of the Dart for each model year, with the exception of the special D-Dart engine package. This generation marked the last time the A-Body platform was offered as a station wagon.
As the basis for performance cars, these A-Bodies lack the real estate to fit big-block engines and large slicks, but as all-around road cars they are nimble performers. Earlier cars were decidedly light duty in their chassis underpinnings, but by 1965 heavier duty suspensions, tires, shocks, and brakes became available. These Valiants and Darts remain largely overlooked by the mainstream Mopar fans.
What We Like: Nicely styled, largely overlooked. The Plymouth version had the smallest wheelbase available in an A-Body, at 106 inches.
What We Hate: The light-duty suspension, spindly brakes, and rear in the earlier cars; that push-button trannies went away for '65.
The Factory Dream Combo: D-Dart. Who else but Chrysler would sell you a drag- class car with the headers in the trunk?
Our "Build It" Dream Combo: Consider a Valiant Signet two-door hard top, High Impact color (InViolet?) over those beautifully understated lines. Radiused rear-wheel openings, fat Alloy Cragars all around, and a hot small-block (intercooled Vortec blown 360?) under the hood coupled to a Richmond six-gear. Finish the job with a complete autocross-style suspension and brake upgrades. High buck? Yes, but if we weren't stacked up with projects, we'd be building it ourselves.
Barracuda '64-'66The first generation Barracuda-a "glass back" coupe, derived from the Valiant by adapting a freshly styled roof, deck, rear window, and trim-hit the market in April 1964. The overall effect was a good-looking and unmistakably sporty car. Initially, Barracudas had no bite, sharing the Valiant's engine options. The 180hp 273 two-barrel was top dog in 1964. Things improved in 1965 with the Formula S package sporting a hot 235hp 273 and improved suspension and tires-all of which made for respectable performance in a sports compact. The Formula S was carried over for 1966, with the Barracuda given a mild styling change, most notably revised front sheetmetal. With the wagon-like wide-open cargo area, fold-down rear seat, and large rear glass, the early Barracuda was a nice car to be in.
What We Like: The Barracuda, like the '63-'66 Valiants, were the most compact of the A-Body cars, with a nimble 106-inch wheelbase. The more familiar you become with the glass-back fish, the more its unique looks grow on you.
What We Hate: The engine bay is too cramped to readily bolt in a big-block, but that would probably ruin the car anyway.
The Factory Dream Combo: A '65-'66 Formula S, 273 Commando-all the good chassis stuff that came with the package.
Our "Build It" Dream Combo: Take one Formula S, stock body and interior resto, four-wheel discs, five-speed, MiniLite wheels with modern rubber, rebuilt stock suspension with uprated sway bars front and rear. Build a high-winding short duration solid-cammed Edelbrock-head 318 or 340 and aim for the open road. We'll take ours in Spinnaker White with a stock-style over-the-roof rally stripe in blue.
Dart '67-'69Newly restyled for 1967, the Dart line retained its 111-inch wheelbase, but substantial changes were made to the basic platform. The front track was widened, making room in the engine bay for the model's first big-block powerplant. Dodge didn't hold back, offering the high-performance 383 engine for the first time in a factory A-Body. The two-door hardtop and convertible body styles were retained as GT offerings.
In 1968, Dodge put musclecar styling to the forefront with the introduction of the Dart GTS. The GTS Dart shared the up-market interior and appointments of the GT, but emphasized a performance image like never before in an A-Body. With the distinctive bumblebee tail-stripe treatment, stylized power bulge hood, fat exhaust tips, and most importantly a hot 340 or 383 engine under the hood, there was no questioning the intention. The fabulous 340 powerplant was a new engine for '68, and output with the 383 big-block was upgraded from the previous year's 280 hp to 300. The '68 was fat city for Dart performance-the capper being the unleashing of a select few Hurst-built 426 Hemi-equipped Dart SuperStock drag cars. Never before or since has a more brutal package been greenlighted by an automaker.
The '69 model year brought a minor grille restyling, and detail changes such as the round sidemarker lamps were replaced by rectangular reflectors. Engine choices for '69 were expanded to include a limited number of 440 Darts, and the 383 was again uprated in output to 330 hp. The big news was the introduction of the lower-cost Dart Swinger-a sporty version of the Dart which was more Spartanly appointed than the GT or GTS, but packing the stout 340 drivetrain. While the Swingers and GTS models stole the show, any of the Dart hardtops shared the same sheetmetal and squared-off good looks, and serve equally well if a performance build is the objective.
What We Like: The classic slab-sided squared-off Mopar musclecar styling of the '60s with that trademark Mopar hardtop roofline. A mini Super Bee or Road Runner, if you will.
What We Hate: The low-line cars used to be a dime a dozen for builders not so many years ago. Now finding a deal on even a Slant Six example takes some searching.
The Factory Dream Combo: We'll take a '68 Hurst Hemi car, in out-the-door partial primer, as the cars were originally delivered. For the street, a '69 GTS ragtop with a 340 and an 833 stick. Definitely one of Chrysler's A-Bodies worth coveting.
Our "Build It" Dream Combo: Take one mint survivor 270 Dart for $700, add uprated springs and torsion bars, factory 12-inch Cordoba discs and 11x211/42-inch drums, a 477hp solid-cammed 340 churning an overdrive 833 stick, then bolt-in custom sway bars all around. Customize it with a GTS stripe, Six-Pack glass hood, and flip-top fuel cap. Add Halibrand-style wheels with fat rubber all around, and back it up with 125 hp worth of nitrous for a hair over 600 ponies-then drive the wheels off it. Oh, we've already done this one.
Valiant '67-'69An often-overlooked body type, the Plymouth Valiant for 1967-'69 was overshadowed by the Barracuda. Available only in two- or four-door sedan body types, the Valiants were conservatively styled and neglected as performance cars. In 1967, the 273 V8 could be purchased-sold as a separate series, though, not as an option. For '68 the 318-2V became available as the top Valiant engine, and powerplant choices were unchanged for the mildly restyled '69 models.
The Valiants were never more than utilitarian low-line economy sedans. With no frills and minimal appointments, the Valiant sedans were popular as fleet service vehicles where low-cost, economical operation and reliability were the chief concerns. The sedan body style is arguably more rigid than its hardtop counterpart, and the stripped-down lightweight A-Bodies make a sound basis for a modified build.
What We Like: Lightweight, overlooked, and different with a sleeper look, but capable of accepting any of the performance hardware that make the more showy A-Bodies perform.
What We Hate: The idea that some Mopar guys will always see a Valiant sedan as a low-line grocery getter.
The Factory Dream Combo: Any of the V8 cars, if only because it already has the engine mounts.
Our "Build It" Dream Combo: Fill one boxy, overlooked sedan with a stout 450-500hp 360. Bolt an 833 four-speed behind it and finish the drivetrain off with an 831/44 filled with 3.91 gears. The exterior should be painted white with a matte black hood rolling on Rallye wheels. The stock bench-seat interior should be redone in a twin shade of blue. Yep, it's on its way.
When Plymouth restyled the Barracuda for '67, what had been considered a somewhat ungainly Valiant derivative was immediately recognized as a masterpiece of design. Available as a fastback, a notchback coupe, or a convertible, the second-generation A-Body Barracuda is recognized as a highwater mark for performance automotive styling in the '60s.
The automotive press flipped over the clean, sexy looks, while powertrain options included big-block 383 power, and later the 340 and (rare) 440 versions. The Barracuda's performance options didn't disappoint true gearheads. With the release of the Hurst-built SuperStock Hemi Barracuda cars in '68, the performance mystique of the second-gen 'Cuda was galvanized to legendary status.
Ironically, the second-generation Barracuda sold only moderately well, with Chrysler moving just a fraction of the numbers later turned in by the Duster, or by the Dart line over at the Dodge division. As a result, '67-'69 "B" Cudas are rather scarce today. Unique parts such as sheetmetal and trim take considerably more effort to source compared to some of the more common A-Body derivatives. The original lines penned some 35 years ago still convey the unmistakable look of performance today.
What We Like: How can you not like the styling? Beyond the clean lines, these Barracudas were exceptionally well-appointed automobiles in terms of trim inside and out. The resized A-Body platform for '67 had just enough room to squeeze a big-block between the fenders.
What We Hate: They just didn't build enough of them. While it's nice to be exclusive, a resto project today requires considerable legwork to collect the unique body parts.
The Factory Dream Combo: For the drags, the SuperStock Hemi cars cooked the books on "factory" performance, taking the title as the ultimate musclecars. For real life, a 340/727 Formula S fastback with air is what we'd like. That's a comfy, stylish, handling, take-anywhere road car with teeth.
Our "Build It" Dream Combo: How about a '68 fastback, black, with big and littles on vintage mags, a 600-plus horsepower 7,500 rpm 383, and Hooker 2-inch fenderwell headers? Well, that's what we're building.
Dart '70-'76The Dodge Dart entered the '70s as one of the most successful car lines in Chrysler's history. Mildly restyled for the '70 model year, the squared-off lines were rounded front and rear, resulting in a less aggressive look. Although factory performance was still alive that year with the hot Swinger 340, the GTS and big-blocks were gone from factory A-Bodies. In '71 the Swinger 340 was gone, and the Dart became a bread-and-butter transportation car, softened each year until the end in 1976. While the performance models were terminated early on, production volumes for these cars were high, and the survival rate extraordinary. There are lots of '70s Darts around, and they can still be found cheap.
Although factory performance made its last stand for only one year in the '70 Dart, the clean lines remained. Any of the early performance drivetrain components can be bolted into these cars, making them a ready platform for a high-performance build. Many of the later Darts were 318-equipped, making a swap to a hotter small-block a simple transplant. By 1973 the wheel bolt pattern was, for the first time, changed to the common 5 on 411/42-inch bolt circle used on Chrysler's other car lines, and front disc brakes became the norm in later cars. Rear brakes were upgraded as well, and the common 811/44 rear in most V8 cars is suitable for moderate performance duty in street applications. The earlier models are generally less cluttered and lighter weight than the last of the line.
What We Like: Relatively cheap, readily available, comparatively easy-to-find parts, the platform will accept the traditional Mopar performance parts to build your own hot rod.
What We Hate: Ornate luxury trim levels and a granny-car image on the later models.
The Factory Dream Combo: The '70 340 Swinger was one of the toughest looking A-Bodies ever built.
Our "Build It" Dream Combo: We would favor a svelte '70-'72 Dart-the perfect basis for a low-buck bruiser big-block swap.
Duster '70-'76As the Barracuda faded from the A-Body lineup at the end of the '69 model year, Plymouth debuted the phenomenally successful low-priced Duster in 1970. The Duster merged Valiant front-end sheetmetal with all-new two-door semi-fastback styling. The sweeping roofline and rear quarters gave the Duster a sporting appearance, while commonality of parts with the Valiant made for an exceptionally low-priced car. When the 340 engine was ordered, the lightweight Duster 340 was a true giant-killer on the street. The 340 package continued through '73, though by '72 the engine was tuned down and derated. Factory performance Dusters continued until the end of A-Body production in 1976, with the underappreciated Duster 360s among the hottest performance cars available in the mid '70s.
Factory performance Duster 340s, particularly '70 and '71 models, have become recognized and sought after as collectibles in recent years, commanding serious prices in restored condition. Plain Jane Dusters are still a great value, and because of their vast production runs, bargains and project cars can still be nabbed at lowball prices. Though the factory hot rods are getting scarce today, any Duster is an excellent platform for a performance buildup. Fill out the basic Duster with the mechanicals of your choice, and what can be made of these versatile A-Bodies is limited only by your imagination.
What We Like: Light weight, relatively easy-to-find parts, performance pedigree and heritage since day one with the Duster 340s and famous drag machines like "Mongoose" McEwen's AA Funny car. We can still find Slant Six and 318 Dusters far cheaper than B- and E-Bodies.
What We Hate: Clueless doofus TV producers who think a Duster would be a perfect loser ride for Al Bundy, then call it a Dodge.
The Factory Dream Combo: A '71 340 four-speed in Sassy Grass Green, with the hood blackout, wild "Wedge" graphic, and 340 side stripe.
Our "Build It" Dream Combo: The Strope-built "Dust-Ya" do-all machine does it all for us.
Demon/Dart Sport '71-'76One year after Plymouth's wildly successful introduction of the semi-fastback Duster, Dodge came to the market with the handsome Demon. The Demon shared sheetmetal with the Duster, but with unique taillights and a front clip borrowed from the Dart line. With a narrow chrome front bumper over a sheetmetal valance panel, the Demon had a distinctively different appearance than the Duster. An attractive stripe package and available twin hood scoops complemented the look. The Demon became Dodge's performance compact, having the 340 listed on its option sheet while it was absent from the Dart. For '73, the Demon name was dropped in favor of Dart Sport, but Dodge continued to offer their top small-block as a performance option until the end of the line in 1976.
What We Like: The Demon looks like a hot rod, with aggressive striping and black-out treatments, scoops, wheels, and exhaust. The Demon 340 was a performance car marketed unambiguously as a performance car.
What We Hate: The name change in '73 to "Dart Sport." It's nondescript in our opinion-like calling the '69 'Cuda 340 a "Valiant 340 Sport."
The Factory Dream Combo: A '71 Demon 340 decked with the full barrage of appearance options, High Impact Color, Rallye wheels, and a floor-shifted T-Flite or 833 4-gear. As with most of the performance cars for '71, Dodge pulled out the stops on boulevard presence.
Our "Build It" Dream Combo: Resto a Demon 340 to new stock condition, or take a standard Demon and add the goodies to build a clone. Why not? The factory Demon 340 had the looks and the power to back it up.