Black is sometimes thought of as the worst color for an old car, not because the color doesn't look good (which is anything but the truth, as black musclecars look more intimidating than a 6'4", 300-pound, tattooed bouncer with a shaved head), but because it's a bear to deal with. Black shows every imperfection in the body, every ripple, wave, and blemish left during preparation. It shows every sandpaper scratch mark, every swirl, and every heavy pass made with the paint gun. Black needs to be clear-coated several times to keep that rich, mile-deep look. It doesn't hide dust and dirt, and is the toughest judged color at car shows. But since black is one of the best-looking colors applicable to a classic Mopar, it's worth all the effort. George Cayea of West Palm Beach, Florida, has a beautiful black Dart GTS and all the labor, effort, and time dedicated to making it perfect before the inky hue was applied truly shows.
Amid the frenzy of competitive big-inch engines, the LA 340 snuck behind the velvet ropes and took most of its heftier brethren by surprise. High-revving and torquey, the 340 proved to be one of the most providential power combinations in the late '60s and early '70s. There was no beating the near 300hp output of the small-block in a lightweight, compact platform. And best of all, you couldn't beat the price. Super Bees and Road Runners were low-buck econo-racers, but it was the Barracudas and Darts that owned the streets. Many hardcore enthusiasts knew the heavier street Hemis couldn't jump to a sprint like the small-blocks, requiring far more revolutions to effectively utilize their superior chamber design than the factory 2,200-stall converters or stock clutches could dish out. The larger cubic-inch 440s fared better at the stoplights and drive-in parking lots, but their near 4,000-pound bodies weighed them down while nimble A-Bodies zipped past.
Before it was ever dressed in PPG Concept single-stage black, this particular GTS rolled off the factory floor in R6 Red with a black tail stripe and interior, which made for a striking combination rolling down the neighborhood streets.
This is no mere restored LA...
This is no mere restored LA 340 small-block. This potent powerplant offers more punch than the factory ever produced. Stretched out cylinders with a .060-inch over-bore and TRW 10.75:1 compression slugs make well over the factory rated 275 ponies. The Mopar Performance M1 intake is capped with a 750-cfm Edelbrock carburetor, while Crane provides the camshaft and valvesprings.
It would take several decades before the Dart wound up in the hands of Jeff, a coworker of George's. Jeff commenced to restore the car, but met with financial troubles; he was forced to sell the GTS to his brother-in-law, Kevin Sparks. Kevin, a rabid Mopar fanatic, relished the deal and picked up where Jeff had left off in 2001. Unfortunately, due to a persistent personal illness, Kevin wouldn't have the Dart long and eventually sold it to George. George took the car to Richard Romanelli, who was hired to tackle the complete restoration of the A-Body.
It wasn't until Richard stripped the Dart down to the bare metal did the brunt of the job reveal itself. Extensive metalwork was required to return the Dart back to factory specifications. It was during this process the decision to recoat the Dart in black, rather than its original red, was made. Knowing the difficulty of making black look right, extra effort was exuded into making the Dart's body perfect.
During this process, George contacted both Jeff and Kevin, along with a mutual friend, Rick Wheelihan, to help rebuild the drivetrain. George wanted to get as much power as he could out of the little 340 without turning it into a full-blown race plant. The block was bored .060-inch over and filled with 10.75:1 compression TRW pistons. A Crane hydraulic cam with .528-inch of lift was slid into place, while the newly ported and polished factory iron heads were fitted with Ferrea valves, Crane springs, and Harland Sharp roller rockers. A Mopar Performance M1 intake tops the small-block with an Edelbrock 750 carburetor. Big tti headers run the gases through Dynomax mufflers and finally through 211/42-inch tubes.
Photographer Jarrod Pilone...
Photographer Jarrod Pilone took some creative liberties with his "fish eye" lens. The result is similar to the classic Mopar advertising campaign during the end of the '60s. The interior is as stock appearing as Richard Romanelli could make it, down to the original AM radio and factory steering wheel.
George contacted Doug's Transmissions of West Palm Beach, Florida, to build the TorqueFlite using a Turbo Action 2,800-rpm stall converter with a Turbo Action shift kit. George ramped up the performance profile with stout 3.91 gears bolted to a Sure Grip spinning the stock 831/44 axles. The guys also felt the Dart could do with some added suspension upgrades and opted to update the suspension bushings with polyurethane pieces, Addco front and rear sway bars, and new Chrysler heavy-duty leaf springs. A Flaming River manual steering box was bolted-on, controlling the direction that the Magnum 500s wrapped in BFG rubber turn. George says that all the "upgrades" they gave the Dart are fully reversible, allowing the GTS to return back to stock trim with little effort. But it wasn't until a Gear Vendors' under/overdrive was bolted to the cone of the 727 did the Dart take on a totally new personality. Not only could it handle, accelerate, and snap around the corners, it could cruise with the best of them on the highways without pinning the tachometer.
After Richard painted the GTS with the PPG single-stage black paint, he proceeded to lay down the black Year One carpet, replace the vinyl seat covers, and install a black headliner. He kept the factory steering wheel and AM radio, along with the original console and shifter, adhering to George's request to keep the GTS as close to stock appearing as possible.
It was Richard's suggestion to apply a black tail stripe around the quarters. The black-on-black combination is subtle, yet impressive, and makes for a nice detail.
George had Addco sway bars...
George had Addco sway bars mounted front and back with polyurethane bushings, heavy-duty leaf springs, and KYB Gas-A-Just shocks.
In the same psycho Billy telephoto...
In the same psycho Billy telephoto lens, Jarrod captures the 340's break-in. Nearly finished, the black-on-black GTS roars to life in Richard Romanelli's paint/assembly booth.
FAST FACTS: '69 Dodge Dart GTS
George Cayea . West Palm Beach, FL
Engine: The original 340 was over-bored .060-inch, with a stock 3.31 Chrysler stroke and 6.123 rods. TRW forged pistons press 10.75:1 compression as the factory iron heads were ported and polished and built with Ferrea valves, Crane valves, and Harland Sharp roller tip rockers. An MP M1 single-plane intake is topped with an Edelbrock 750-cfm carburetor. The fire is thrown via a MSD Blaster II coil. TTI headers plumb through a pair of Dynomax mufflers and down 211/42-inch tubes dumping out twin chromed tips. The whole powerplant was built by friend and West Palm Beach local, Rick Wheelihan.
Transmission: A TorqueFlite 727, built by Doug's Transmissions in the same aforementioned Florida town, brags an 11-inch, 2,800-stall converter and shift kit by Turbo Action. New internals and clutches make for a tight and true gear box, while a Gear Vendors overdrive splits the gear revolutions in half, allowing the Dart great highway speeds at a mellow rpm.
Rearend: The original 831/44 was enough for drag racing over 30 years ago, and it's still good enough today. Filled with a Sure Grip spinning 3.91 gears and its original axles, the rear has little trouble making the rubber evaporate into a sticky fog.
Horsepower & Performance: George didn't give us any dyno numbers or any timeslips from the local track, so we only have the performance goodies to go by. Since the factory LA 340s were making slightly less than 300 ponies in their day, we think it can safely be said that George's GTS surpasses the 300hp number.
Suspension: Polyurethane bushings replaced the worn out rubber, while Addco sway bars front and back keep the wheels planted. Heavy-duty leaf springs from Mopar make the launches tight, while a Flaming River manual box steers the front wheels with ease.
Brakes: Stock 11-inch disc brakes up front thanks to a conversion and small 9-inch drums in the rear provide enough stopping power to suit the sub-3,000-pound A-Body.
Wheels: George went with Magnum 500s: 15x6 up front and 15x7 out back.
Tires: BFGoodrich 215/70/15s fore and 245/60/15 aft.
Body: Restored by Richard Romanelli, the body was stripped down to bare metal and laboriously manicured. George demanded that any modifications made to the car be reversible, meaning no aftermarket fabrication such as torque boxes or subframe connectors.
Paint: Originally R6 Red, George Cayea decided to go with black PPG single stage. A GTS black stripe wrapping around the tail makes for a trick look.
Interior: Richard restored the interior with Year One carpet, vinyl seat covers, headliner, and package tray-all in black. The result is a beautiful cabin that matches the double-black exterior. The factory center console, shifter, AM radio, and steering wheel all returned to keep the interior original.