Fortune-telling gypsies and psychics can't get it right all the time, so why should Mopar guys be any different? Most every project build starts off with a plan of execution, a rough budget, nebulous final projections, and some semblance of a final theme, but what most of us fail to plan for is life. Simply put, life gets in the way of our best laid plans. we try to find time on the weekends and after work to tool on our musclecars. outsiders scratch their heads when we tell them how our car build will likely span several years, but, frankly, Overhaulin' is not reality. Most car enthusiasts can't just piece together their dream Mopar in the span of a week.
In July 1989, 19-year-old Joe Theriault purchased this '70 Dodge Dart 340 with plans for a stout cruiser. Originally powered by a small-block with a four-speed, the Dodge left the plant coated in Plum Crazy Purple paint, a white tail stripe, and a white vinyl top. But by the time they got it, Joe's Dart had lost its A833 gearbox and was using a rough-and-tumble 727 TorqueFlite with a reverse manual valvebody and high-stall torque converter. The rear gears had been swapped for gritty street racer 4.56s, helping give the rolling package a formidable street presence. The numbers-matching 340 and four-speed had been replaced with a meaner plant by the original owner. By winter of that year, Joe's father, Paul, had helped his son strip the street racer down for an intended restoration. Since the car was not a dedicated daily driver, the Swinger would remain in the garage until completed. Unfortunately, it would take longer than either of them estimated.
Paul canned the temperamental small-block when it started giving him internal problems. In
Wanting to return the purple Dart to its factory appearance, but retain most of its coarse racer characteristics, the Theriault men took the Dodge down to a mere shell. Nearly twenty years old at the time of the build, the Dart was in need of rear quarters. they contacted Auto Body Specialties, which informed them that the panels might take up to two years to arrive. the A-Body was pushed back on the priority list, while parts were gathered, other projects were tackled, and leads were made for the future of the Dart. Delayed but not deterred, the Theriaults waited the two years for those quarters, and after their arrival, they wheeled the Dodge over to Ray Morin at Ray's Auto Specialty in South Hadley, Massachusetts, for the bodywork duties. Unfortunately, life again got in the way, and when Ray had to handle some unexpected personal business, work was delayed on the Dart for another two years.
With the body straight but devoid of paint, the rough and dismantled A-Body came back home, a long and disheartening five years since its disassembly. With his hopes of a quick restoration thoroughly deflated, Joe put the Dodge up for sale. The project had just eaten up too much time, money, and effort with little result. Many friends and associates expressed interest in the Dodge, but nobody came through.
Paul says, "You know how that goes, nobody wants to give you any kind of money when the car is all apart." Sad to see his son so disenchanted with their father-and-son project, Paul volunteered to take the Dodge on as his own and finish the project. Joe happily handed the keys over to his father.
A pair of Auto Meter gauges keeps a close watch on the engine.
Paul loaded up the Dart again and sent it back to Ray's shop for another go. This time, the bodywork would be perfected, and the paint would be sprayed. Under their skillful hands, the Dart would also be mini-tubbed to swallow up the large rubber that Paul had in mind. Coated in factory FC7 Plum Crazy Purple DuPont acrylic enamel, the body looked better than it had when it rolled off the assembly line. The white tail stripe was added, but the original white vinyl top was omitted. They opted to paint the roof pearl white, while retaining the factory vinyl top trim to make a faux top.
After the Dart came home, the reassembly process commenced. Its suspension was rebuilt using stock-style '73 single-piston caliper disc brakes with larger diameter torsion bars. The rear brakes employed are large 11-inch drums from an E-Body, and Super Stock springs hang the axle in place. Since the wheeltubs were spread, a spring relocation kit was needed to set the shortened Chrysler 831/44 rear. The rearend uses a 4.10-geared Sure Grip and custom Moser big-bolt patterned axles.
With aggressive-looking twin hoodscoops and a hungry 440 underneath, it would make little
With the Dodge able to roll around on its Weld Pro Star wheels, Paul sent the A-Body to Seang's Aut Upholstery in South Hadley, Massachusetts, but not before father and son had laid the new Legendary black carpet down. Seang's recovered the bench seats in black vinyl, and a Pistol Grip shifter replaced the ball shifter. An Alpine head unit was tucked underneath the seat so the factory thumb-wheel radio could stay in place.
Paul had decided early on that he was going to return an 833 manual transmission to the Dart. Once the project was nearing completion, a transmission was located, rebuilt, and mated to a scatter shield, a Hurst shifter, and stronger clutch assembly.
For the first time in the build, things were going along smoothly. Paul bolted the four-speed to the refurbished 340 and fired the engine for the first time . . . and that was when their luck ran out.
The small-block suffered from a variety of internal problems, eating up parts, and becoming far more troublesome than it was worth. Frustrated, Paul yanked the 340 and shelved it, replacing the LA block with a fresh RB 440. Accurate Automotive in Bloomfield, Connecticut, handled the machining process and, finally, shipped the plant to Paul's doorstep as a complete, turnkey powerhouse. The block was deburred, cleaned, and clearanced; street-friendly TRW pistons were mated to stock rods and a balanced factory crankshaft. Topped with an Edelbrock TM7 intake and an 850 Holley double pumper, the engine looks stock but reveals itself as a street thumper with a flash of the throttle. With a stout 440 at his disposal, Paul decided to have a little fun and create a would-be Mr. Norm's clone had the infamous performance-geared dealership continued their A-Body modifications through 1970.
It's nearly 100-percent stock because it doesn't need to be anything else. The Pistol Grip
Finished with tti ceramic-coated headers, 3-inch exhaust tubing, and Walker Turbo mufflers, the little A-Body is a meaner manifestation than it ever was with the warmed-over 340. All the work, patience, sweat, money, and frustration paid off in June 2004 when Paul pulled it out of the garage, pointed the front wheels down the street, and mashed the gas pedal-nearly 15 years after the day his son Joe brought it home.
It was shortly thereafter the Dart took home Second Place in its class at the '05 Chryslers at Carlisle event, where Mr. Norm, the celebrated auto-tuner, pulled out his pen and gave the 440 Swinger his stamp of approval on the Hemi orange air cleaner.
Fast Facts: '70 Dodge Dart Swinger
Paul Theriault * Chicopee, MA
Engine: Built by Accurate Automotive in Bloomfield, Connecticut, a RB 440 was cleaned, deburred, and bored to receive new TRW pistons, shot-peened factory rods, and a balanced and blueprinted cast crankshaft. A hydraulic Crane cam with .528-inch lift moves the new stainless valves mounted on three angle-cut factory 904 heads with factory rockers and shafts. An Edelbrock TM7 intake is topped with an 850 Holley double-pumper carburetor. A Mopar Performance distributor with a MP electronic ignition throws the fire. Ceramic-coated tti headers flow into Walker Turbo mufflers and out the back via 3-inch, aluminized, mandrel-bent pipes.
Transmission: Originally equipped with a factory four-speed, when Paul's son bought the Dart it had a 727 automatic. He returned the four-speed, added a scatter shield, a stout clutch, and a Hurst Pistol Grip shifter.
Rearend: A Chrysler 831/44 narrowed to fit the mini-tubs. Loaded with 4.10 gears and a Sure Grip, spinning the custom-size Moser axles is an easy effort.
Horsepower & Performance
Paul chose to keep some things secret.
Suspension: New larger diameter .990-inch torsion bars, new bushings, KYB shocks at each corner, new Super Stock leaf springs with a spring relocation kit accommodate the mini-tubs. Paul runs a manual steering box to help lighten up the wispy A-Body.
Brakes: Scavenged from a '73 A-Body, stock single-piston calipers clamp on the front discs, and large 11-inch drums were pulled from an E-Body for the rear.
Wheels: Weld Pro Stars make the Swinger look tough while saving weight, 15x6 up front and 15x8 out back.
Rubber: BFGoodrich T/As at each corner, 215/70R15 fore and 275/60R15 aft.
Body: After waiting two years for replacement quarter-panel skins, the car was sent on two different occasions to Ray's Auto Specialty in South Hadley, Massachusetts. The first time around, the patch panels were installed and rough bodywork conducted. The second time, the finishing body work was conducted, along with the mini-tubbing and painting.
Paint: Ray's Auto Specialty coated the Dart in DuPont acrylic enamel in factory FC7 Plum Crazy Purple and pearl white instead of installing a white vinyl top. A factory-style replacement white tail stripe was applied later.
Interior: New carpet from Legendary was installed by the father and son team before they sent the A-Body to Seang's Auto Upholstery in South Hadley, Massachusetts, where the seats were recovered in factory-appearing black vinyl. Much of the remaining interior components are original, including the thumb-wheel-style radio still in the dash. a new Alpine head unit is tucked underneath the bench seat. A '71 Pistol Grip shifter adorns the long four-speed shifter stick. A pair of Auto Meter gauges read off the water and oil stats.