Flashback: It was 1967, and at Dodge dealerships all across America, a press release from corporate headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan, had just rolled across the desks of the general managers. It was a promotional pitch aimed toward sales of the new Hemi-powered Dart.
The press release began as follows: "Dodge is putting more zip in its Dart in hopes of hitting the bull's-eye in Class B Super Stock drag racing competition this year. The new vehicle, a lighter and quicker '68 Dart GTS hardtop, is featuring the Hemi-426 engine, with production to begin in March."
Some of the more prominent race car drivers of the day-Dick Landy, Gene Snow, Bill Flynn, and Shirley Shahan, among others-were touted as being part of the driving force. Confidence was high at Chrysler, as engineers stated optimistically that the '68 Hemi Dart would compete at "over 130 mph in less than 11 seconds" in the quarter-mile-not a frail statement from a corporate entity.
To keep the cost low, the Hemi came standard with cast-iron heads instead of aluminum. As one engineer explained, "For a thousand dollars less, the extra 70 pounds is not worth worrying about." The blocks were filled with 12.5:1 compression pistons, and fuel was ingested through a pair of Holley carburetors perched atop a lightweight magnesium intake. Special headers were utilized to help the Hemi breathe harder.
Weight was decreased through the use of fiberglass fenders and a hood with a scoop. Also, lightweight doors and side-window glass were employed. The business-coupe interior included only two bucket seats and a 135-amp battery mounted in the trunk. Heavy-duty rear shocks proved durable during initial testing at the Irwindale Dragstrip suspension-system tests.
What doesn't make sense is the press release's statement: "Front disc brakes with a 411/42-inch bolt circle provide added grip. The tires are 7.75x15--plenty to hold the rear end up and send the Dart on its way." Apparently, Chrysler realized a tire that small wouldn't send the Dart on its way, so larger rear tires were installed after the press release hit the dealerships. A heavy-duty radiator and seven-blade fan equipped with viscous drive helped keep the big Hemi cool on its short trips.
Other features included deep-groove pulleys, a high-capacity oil pump, and a roller timing chain that reduced stretch and allowed more consistent engine performance. A dual points-breaker distributor worked with a Prestolite transistorized ignition and dependable metal core wiring.
According to the corporate press release, of the 60 Darts to be produced, 25 would be built with four-speed manual transmissions and 35 with automatics. Manual-transmission-equipped cars came with a Dana-built 931/44 heavy-duty axle with a special 4.88 gear ratio, a special 1011/42-inch heavy-duty clutch, steel bellhousing, and a special torque shaft and pivots. The four-speed transmissions were modified by removing the synchronizers. This would allow power shifting without the likelihood of missed shifts. A Hurst floor-mounted shifter unit was the choice for gear selections.
Automatic transmission models incorporated the then-new Chrysler-built 831/44-inch large-stem pinion center section with a 4.86 gear set and heavy-duty axle shafts. The automatic tranny featured a 2,600-rpm high-speed torque converter. This converter had larger drive lugs and used 71/416-inch diameter attaching screws to help bear the brunt of the rough work. The heavy-duty 727 TorqueFlite transmissions were modified for manual shifting with a Hurst floor-mounted shifter.
In order to save weight, Chrysler employed lightweight steel doors, lightweight bumpers, and lightweight side-window glass (manufactured by Corning Glass). The following items were deleted on this body type: heater, body sealers, sound deadeners, silence pads, outside mirrors, right-side seatbelts, and body color paint. To hold the windows in the closed position, a seatbelt-type strap material was attached to the base of the glass. This strap had a snap on the other end, and when the window was in the closed position, the snap was attached to the bottom of the door on the interior side. The cars weighed approximately 3,000 pounds and met the '68 specifications of the major sanctioning dragstrip organizations. Although they conformed as closely as possible to street production cars, the Hemi Darts were not for use on public highways.
The yellow unmolested original pictured here is owned by Larry and LeeAnne Nash of Lebanon, Indiana. Larry grew up watching Hemi Super Stockers in NHRA Division 5. This included drivers like John Hagen, Ron Peters, and Judy Lilly during 1972, 1973, and 1974.
In 2000, Larry decided it was time to begin the search for his own "Land Rocket," so he started investigating and heard about a Dart in Pennsylvania. He made the call and couldn't believe what he was hearing. Larry wasted no time hooking up with the owner, Tim Hain, who'd had the car since 1993. After Larry was satisfied the Dart was what he was looking for, Tim received a deposit and then arranged to complete the purchase in November 2000.
According to Larry, one of Tim's most appealing attributes during the whole arrangement was his appreciation of the car. He knew the history of the car and had the respect to maintain it as opposed to altering it. Tim had even facilitated the car's ability to pass a Pennsylvania State inspection and then drove the car to local drive-ins and hangouts.
The Nash's Dart is now considered by some to be the only unmolested '68 Hemi Super Stock Dart in existence. How could this be true? Larry has a documented history of the car dating back to when Lou Mancini, the former owner of Mancini Racing, claimed ownership of this factory-offered fire-breathing dragon.
According to Lou, Tom Hoover found the car in 1977 while visiting his parents in Pennsylvania. The car was parked behind a fence at Shetran Auto Sales. Tom thought the Dart might be something that Lou would be interested in and told him of the find. Lou had originally planned to buy the car for a customer of his who'd been looking for a Hemi Dart.
When the customer backed out of the deal, Lou decided to keep it. At the time of his acquisition, the Dart was covered with a green metalflake lace-style paint job with some painted-on stencil lettering that said "Rising Sun." At a racing event in Indy, Lou's brother damaged the door on a Dart he was racing, so Lou loaned his brother the door from this Hemi Dart. Now this yellow Dart sports a different lightweight door. The green was a little bright for the older Mancini, so a fresh shade of Lemon Twist Yellow was applied. After Lou decided to keep the Dart, a Dana rear was added, replacing the 831/44 that had been factory supplied. During the Dart's tenure with the Mancini family, it was never raced, so this car has never had wheeltubs, a rollbar, or cage installed. Lou sold the car sometime in 1982 to a gentleman in Canada. The last time Lou saw the car was when Tim Hain (the man from whom the Nashes purchased it) owned it.
What do the Nashes have in store for the Dart? Since they recently expanded their own race operations to include a new facility-Indy Speed, Custom, and Restoration Shops, located in Brownsburg, near Indianapolis-rest assured it's in safe hands. Let's just say Larry likes to keep things around. As a matter of fact, he still owns his first race car, which happens to be a '74 Duster that he bought new and immediately turned into a Super Stock J (stick) race car. That Duster now only has 19.5 street miles. Apparently, at the time of purchase, he lived 19.5 miles from the dealership where he purchased it.
Do you own one of these competition-killing A-Bodies? Larry and Leanne are anxious to hear from other Hemi A-Body owners who appreciate the historical significance of these cars. They can be contacted at www.lpracing.com.