Like many dieters, the Dodge Dart's size has gone up and down over its sixteen-year lifespan from 1960 through 1976. When the Dart was first introduced in midyear 1959, it was based on a large full-size sedan platform meant to contend with sister-company Plymouth's Fury. Offering three different levels of available trim and powerplants, the Dart would swing far ahead of the Plymouth in sales for the '60 model year, even outselling other Dodge marques by a considerable margin. Aimed at the Chevrolet Impalas and Ford Galaxies, the Dart would enjoy success until the following year. A drastic redesign would leave the '61 Dart awkward and ungainly with reversed tailfins, nearly invisible rear taillights, and a concave front grille. Overall sales plummeted by 53 percent.
The Dart would be redesigned from the ground up twice more until 1967, when the then-current manifestation would prove to be one of the most iconic shapes of the little A-Body. By then, the triad of trim levels had lost their individual names, replaced with Dart, GT, and GTS.
In 1968, the Dart came into its own. With avant-garde styling featuring a concave rear window and larger buttress-style C-pillars similar to the larger B-Bodies, and several engine configurations, the Dart could now compete on the track with even the big-block cars. The shorter platform contributed to the Dart's superior handling, and its weight helped with notable acceleration gains over its heavier siblings.
The higher-performance-optioned GTS was available with the 340 or the larger 383 in 1968 and the 440 in 1969. What made the Dart such a player in the musclecar battle was its ability to keep pace with the larger, intermediate-size machines, as well as battle it out with the best ponycars that Ford and the General had to offer. The Dart proved it wasn't massive cubic inches, wild color and stripe combinations, aggressive monikers and name attachments that made a musclecar what it is, it's the combination, and the Dart's combination of an aggressive small-block attached to a stout four-speed and tall gears-all packed into a lightweight body-would always dominate.
Fred Cook's '68 GTS exemplifies this. The Memphis, Tennessee, native has owned this A-Body since 1989 and has tooled on it since the day he took possession. The brunt of the restoration was crammed in during a three-year period, but like any good Mopar project, it is never really finished. Fred owned another green GTS before this one, spending time gathering up the necessary parts for a good "homespun" restoration. But a chance opportunity would land this four-speed A-Body in his hands. The other Dart was sold off, allowing Fred to dive head first into this triple GG1 Dark Green GTS. Fred's aim was to build a GTS Dart the way he would have been able to order it from the factory.
What you thought was a stock...
What you thought was a stock Dart is anything but. Fred opted to make his '68 GTS into a GTS T/A, using the factory Trans Am top end with Mopar X-Heads and the Six Pack intake.
The LA 340 powerplant was immediately pulled from between the fenders and sent to John Krag of Krag Magnetos in Memphis. The block was bored .30 over and decked. Fred had the compression bumped up to 11 to 1 with TRW slugs on stock reconditioned rods. The Crane hydraulic cam rolls at .467 intake and .494 for the exhaust pushing up the Crane High-Intensity lifters. For the top end, Fred wanted to mess with the production timeline and make his 340 Dart a 340 Dart T/A. A pair of Mopar X-Heads was milled, ported, and polished with a competition valve job, loaded with TRW valves, Crane valvesprings, and Dove aluminum rockers. An Edelbrock-built original Chrysler AAR/T/A intake manifold with the appropriate trio of Holley carburetors rests atop the stout powerplant. Fred also installed a pair of tti headers with large 211/42-inch tubes and Dynomax Turbo mufflers for pumbing the spent gases out past the rear bumper.
The Chrysler A-833 four-speed manual transmission needed little-to-no work and was mated up to a Hurst shifter. Fred mated the gearbox up to a Chrysler 8 3/4 rear with a 4.10 geared Sure Grip differential. For suspension, Fred chose to leave well enough alone, keeping the stock power drums at all four corners stopping the redline-wrapped steel 14-inch rims. New polygraphite bushings were pushed in for a stiffer, more responsive ride with KYB shocks. Within the short time that Fred owned the car, he had stripped it down to a shell and piecemealed the entire car back together.
With the Dart rolling on its own, it was then taken to Ron Foster for the final bodywork and paint. Fred had tackled some of the body labor himself, but he knew he needed a professional's touch. Ron was more than willing to let Fred assist in sanding and wet-sanding the A-Body's panels over and over again to get that perfect final shine. What resulted from all of that labor was a near-perfect example of a Dart GTS.
We don't know the overall...
We don't know the overall power output on this 11.0:1 compression 340 is, but with the tall 4.10 Sure Grip and lightweight body, it's definitely a fun ride.
Fred took the Dart back home and started installing the interior himself. As a carpet contractor, Fred knows a thing or two about interior accommodations. The dark green rug by Auto Custom Carpet was installed without a flaw, as were the Legendary vinyl bucket seat covers. Fred kept the GTS interior options (e.g., the faux woodgrain steering wheel), but modified the Dart slightly by installing a radio block-off plate; as Fred says, "there's no better music than that coming out of the motor."
Since the GTS' completion, Fred has been meticulous about keeping the little A-Body in pristine condition. Living in the South, Fred has gone to extra lengths to keep the Dart out of the rain. He tells us, "I have never let a drop of water touch it since it was wet-sanded in 1991." With all that power pumping out of that 340 lung, we hope to see a few drops of H2O hit the rear quarters when heating up some slicks in the water box.
FAST FACTS: '68 Dodge Dart GTS
The short-block is what the factory, in 1968, dropped in-a LA 340. Master-wrench John Krag from Krag Magnetos in Memphis, Tennessee, put the sizzling small-block together after boring the stock iron out .030 inches and decking the mating surfaces. Fred had the compression pushed up to 11.1:1 with TRW pistons on factory connecting rods. Crane supplied the .467/.494 camshaft and High-Intensity lifters. The original heads were exchanged for a pair of factory performance Mopar X-heads straight off a factory AAR 'Cuda or T/A Challenger. They were promptly milled, ported, and polished, receiving a competition three-way valve job and flow benched. TRW lightweight valves fill the seats mated to Crane springs and Dove aluminum rockers. Fred utilized an equally nostalgic Edelbrock-forged six-barrel intake manifold with the matching trio of Holley carburetors.
Transmission: Fred knows the score when it comes to manual transmissions. The Chrysler-built A-833 manual box is nearly grenade-proof, having served as the standard in manual-trans drag racing for years since its inception in 1965. Fred had the gearbox looked over and fitted with a long-neck Hurst shifter. a new clutch and pressure plate were installed during the restoration.
Rearend: The little A-Body, making as much torque as it does, needed the right combination to keep its back tires planted. A Chrysler 8 3/4 housing hangs out back with stout 4.10 gears and a hard-as-a-rock Sure Grip differential.
Horsepower & Performance: Fred's not divulging all his secrets, but we can guesstimate a number close to or over 400 ponies.
Fred was aiming his sights at a "homespun restoration," so not much was messed with. Fred replaced the old rubber with new polygraphite bushings and KYB shocks, providing the Dart with a stiff but firm ride even through the turns. New leafs were hung in the back. This nimble A-Body can launch just as well as it can carve the corners.
Brakes: Since the Dart was light enough, Fred decided the factory four-wheel power drums worked just fine. with the aftermarket providing almost everything imaginable, freshening up a set of drums has never been so easy.
Wheels: Sleeper is the word here. Fred kept the stock steel 14-inch rims and painted them the same dark green as the rest of the car.
Rubber: Just like the wheels, Fred kept things close to the factory. Redline 195/70/14s up front and 225/70/14s in back are all he needs.
An all-in-house restoration was the aim here. Fred stripped everything off that wasn't welded down, doing a good percentage of the bodywork himself-hand blocking, sanding, and sanding some more. The rest was handled by a professional. What trim and badges weren't salvageable were replaced with genuine OEM parts.
Paint: The artisan was none other than Tennessee native, Ron Foster. Ron's touch at restoring the GG1 Dark Green Dart is golden. A dark green vinyl top and all the trim was installed shortly thereafter.
Interior: Fred did the cabin himself since he spends his daylight hours installing carpet. Auto Custom Carpet provided the interior rug, and Legendary supplied all the vinyl for the seats, front and back. The faux woodgrain wheel was saved, and Fred gave a small salute to the Dart's Hemi-powered big brother by screwing in a radio block-off plate since, "There's no better sound than the sound of your own engine."