Even with the winds of (E-Body) change blowing, Dodge's small-car lineup for 1969 boasted a trio of screamers. Topping the line were the GTS hardtop and convertible. These first appeared for 1968 and got some trim and mechanical changes for 1969, but with the same powertrain choices as in 1968. Standard power was the high-winding, 340-inch, LA-series small-block, and a 335-horse 383 was optional, both offered with your choice of an A-833 manual transmission (which got a factory Hurst shifter for 1969) or the 727 TorqueFlite, both with console-mounted shifters. if you were willing to forego some brightwork and go with a bench seat in front, the Swinger 340 had all the good hardware as the 340-powered GTS, for almost $400 less on the sticker.

John Schmitt has owned a half-dozen '69 Dart hardtops over the years, all 340-powered, both Swinger 340s and GTSs. When he decided he wanted another one to grace his Decatur, Indiana, garage, he started his search with a four-speed in mind. "I couldn't find one that had a relatively decent body on it that had any kind of pedigree," he says. "This one kept popping up [during my search]. I was eager to do a restoration, so I shipped it home."

"This one" was a red-on-red, 340-powered, and 727-shifted GTS hardtop. For a car nearly four decades old, it was in great shape, thanks to its previous life away from the Midwest's wintertime road salt.

John says, "It was an original California car that I bought on the West Coast. It was built in L.A. [at Chrysler's Los Angeles Assembly Plant in Bellflower, California], and it was a factory stripe-delete car."

Far from being a corroded-from-the-top-down coastal rust bucket or a sun-scorched desert rat, John says the GTS was about 95-percent rust-free, with "driver-quality" paint and more than a few dents and dings on the body. (That's called a "20 footer" for those of you not sure.)

But John wanted one that was better than a 20-footer. "After I got started on it, one thing led to another. I had it up on a rotisserie and said, 'Man, what did I get myself into?'"

What he got into, his Decatur-area friends helped him get out of--with an eye-grabbing car. "The main people involved were myself and my friend Michael Secaur," John says. "He helped me all the way through--from start to finish. The other person involved was my nephew Ryan Miller." John also credits his wife for her patience and support during the project. He gives a heads-up to Chris Luginbill at Decatur Engine Service, who did the machine work on the 340 as well as the assembly (which John helped on), and to Joe Hebble, who sprayed on the new R6 red paint once the GTS' body was ready.

However, it was quite some time before that "95-percent rust-free" car was ready for its finishing touches. the remedial and restorative bodywork was the most labor-intensive part of the job. "I blocked the car for a hundred hours, and I thought I had it pretty decent," says the one-time painter's helper.

Not that the other parts of the restoration--the powertrain, chassis, and interior--were any less of a challenge. John says it seemed like they had to do things two or three times to get it right.