Jumping into someone else's project car is a lot like digging for gold. Sometimes, with a lot of long hours, hard labor, nearly going broke and borderline crazy, you might strike it rich. Other times, you just end up with a big hole. Clifton Mills thought he had himself one of those big, worthless holes when nothing he did seemed to spark life back into a '71 Dodge Swinger that he had purchased from another Mopar enthusiast at the All-Chrysler Carlisle show some years ago.

Clifton described his Dart as a "real fifty-footer," meaning the pretty paint job and shiny rims blinded him from the reality of wavy door panels, warped quarters, butchered floorboards, and a rat's nest of electrical and mechanical gremlins. having had a long love affair with high-performance Mopars from his early twenties during the mid-'70s, Clifton's heart ruled over his head when he laid eyes on this Dart. Wanting to get his hands on a race-ready quarter-mile machine, he snatched up the Swinger at the meet and attempted to drive it home. Clifton's hopes for a freshly built 440 and reverse-manual, valvebodied transmission-powered, NHRA-certifiable street-legal Dart were dashed when belts began to fling themselves every which way, the radiator bubbled over countless times as the engine spat and sputtered, dying midway through the trip home. He finally limped the A-Body home, but that was the last trip it made under its own power. The Dart became a trailer rider, having to be hauled everywhere it needed to go.

Having a musclecar that runs spoils you. His Super Bee, which he owned since 1977, has been a testament to the stoutness of the Mopar mark-strong, reliable, and fast as a scalded alley cat. The Dart, on the other hand, was worse than an ornery child. Fed up with the Swinger, he put it up for sale. The car brought a few interested prospects, but after seeing the dry-rotted L-60s and Swiss-cheese panels, the prospects walked, and the Dart remained untouched by anyone for over a year.

With another push to try to offload the Dart, Clifton took the Swinger to a local shop ran by another Mopar fanatic for a routine brake change. While there, it was decided to also tie in the framerails if the car was ever to be raced. What was scheduled to be a simple two-week job swelled into two years and well over the quoted $300 estimate. But the Dart arose a different animal all together.

The body was straightened and painted in vibrant Viper Red by Mark Gunby of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, with an intimidating cowl hood blocking the forward view. Some of Mark's subtle touches of genius: the window wiper attachments and antenna holes were both shaved and smoothed, while the rear quarters were slightly stretched and bulged to allow for the massive back-halved tires to be dropped and swapped if necessary. "The alterations," Clifton beams, "are virtually unnoticeable except to those who really know these Darts."

The rear of the Dart is a thing unto itself, with a massive Dana 60 filled with a Sure Grip and loaded with 4.56 gears. All this is connected to Strange axles keeping the giant M/T Sportsman Pro 31x16.50x15 rubber turning. Three-thousand-pound Mopar Performance springs were moved in to clear the wheels that are stopped by state-of-the-art Wilwood discs. The front suspension is "sort of stock" with '73 Dart Sport discs stopping the skinnies attached to a Mopar Performance big-block crossmember.

Classic Auto Glass & Upholstery kept the interior as nonchalant as possible, with Legendary seat covers, demure custom door covers, a package tray, rollbar covers, and trunk carpeting. Clifton's wife, Debbie, and Deacon Norris designed and fabricated a customized gauge cluster for the Dart to allow for a better view of all the Swinger's vital numbers. The gauges monitor a fully rebuilt, custom 440 RB block that has been bored .055 over, with Manley 6.765-inch H-beam rods, Eagle 11:1 slugs, a Lunati .600-lift cam, aluminum Edelbrock heads, and a Mopar M1 intake with a Holley 850 carburetor that has been massaged to 920 cfm.

Massive 3-inch pipes expel the gases from tti headers and a Dr. Gas X-pipe. Turbo-Action out of Smithsburg, Maryland, was hired to rebuild the TorqueFlite with a B&M shifter and a customized, in-shop-built Turbo-Action 10-inch 3,800-stall torque converter.

Clifton has never officially taken the Swinger out to a sanctioned NHRA track to get his hands on a time slip, but he has given a couple accomplished 10-second cars a heck of a race around his side of town, knowing if he can go heads up with those guys, a 10-second slip is just the next step to having the Dart Swinger nobody wanted become the low e.t. A-Body that everybody envies.

Fast Facts
Owner: Clifton Mills, Smithsburg, MD
Car: '71 Dodge Dart Swinger
Color: Viper Red
Engine: 440, bored .055 over, Manley 6.765-inch H-beam rods, Eagle 11:1 slugs, Lunati .600-lift cam, aluminum Edelbrock heads, Mopar Stage 1 intake, Holley 850 flows 920, MSD box and ignition
Transmission: Turbo-Action-built 727 TorqueFlite, B&M shifter, Turbo-Action 10-inch, 3,800 stall torque converter, reverse manual valvebody
Rearend: Dana 60, Sure Grip 4.56 gears, and Strange axles
Wheels/Tires: Front: Centerline 15x311/42, M/T Sportsman Pro 26x7.50x15 Rear: Centerline 15x12, M/T Sportsman Pro 31x16.50x15

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