What's not to love about this LA? Original 340 boasts restored Airtemp A/C compressor, ple
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.
What John and his buddies made happen was a bone-stock resto of that '69 GTS. Those of you who were there in 1969 know what a performer the GTS was, even with the air on.
If you look closely at the interior photos, you'll see one thing is missing: the factory AM/FM radio. "That radio wasn't in the car when I bought it, and I've yet to come up with a [correct factory] radio," John says of the one yet-to-be-completed phase of the project.
To keep his GTS in showroom-fresh condition, he's limited his driving of it, but when he does take it out, he enjoys it. He says, "As far as drivability goes, it drives like a brand-new car, hands-down. It shifts like a rocket!"
When asked if he will ever do another restoration, should he find another 340-powered '69 Dart that suits his fancy, John says, "I can't say I'll do another one soon, and there are better cars out there, but for doing it all ourselves, there's a lot of satisfaction there."
'69 Dodge Dart GTS Hardtop
John Schmitt, Decatur, IN
Engine: Stock 340ci LA-series Mopar small-block V-8, built at Chrysler's Mound Road Engine Plant, Detroit, Michigan, and rebuilt by owner and Chris Luginbill. Machine work by Decatur Engine Service, Decatur, Indiana.
Transmission: Stock 727 TorqueFlite automatic with console-mounted shifter.
Rearend: Stock 8-3/4 Sure Grip with 3.55 rear gears replacing the standard 3.23 set.
Exhaust: Original cast-iron 340 manifolds, with reproduction exhaust system by Accurate LTD and N.O.S. chrome exhaust tips.
Power & Performance: Advertised horsepower: 275 at 5,000 rpm. Advertised torque: 340 lb-ft at 3,200 rpm.
Frame: Same as used on production Dart GTS hardtops; no aftermarket or hand-fabricated pieces used.
Suspension: (Front) stock longitudinal torsion bars; (rear) stock asymmetrical leaf springs.
Brakes: Stock system, power assisted. N.O.S. master cylinder and brake hardware used in restoration.
Wheels: For shows: stock 14x5-inch steel wheels and standard GTS full wheel covers (same as used on Coronet R/T and Charger R/T). As seen in this story: '70-vintage Mopar Rallye wheels, which fit the '69's "small" (5-lug, 4-inch) bolt pattern.
Rubber: (Show) Coker reproduction Firestone E70-14 redline tires. (As seen in story) BFGoodrich Radial T/A's, 205/70R14 RWL.
Body: Car was 95-percent rust-free at start of restoration. Exterior trim (headlight bezels, grille, rocker moldings) reconditioned by C+J Mopar Trim, Jackson, Michigan. N.O.S. parts used include right hood louver, GTS emblem on hood, front turn-signal assemblies, taillight lenses, and door frame weatherstrips. Reproduction parts include front/rear windshield gaskets, body gaskets, body info decals, fender-mounted GTS emblems, and hood pad insulation.
Paint: R6 Red, sprayed on by Joe Hebble, Decatur, Indiana. Metalwork and paint prep by owner.
Interior: Original bucket seats/console shifter retained and reconditioned. N.O.S. parts used include front armrests and chrome armrest bases. Three-spoke woodgrain steering wheel is an original unrestored one. Dashboard "chrome" trim vacuum metalized by CV Vacuum Platers, Sumas, Washington. Seat upholstery by Legendary Auto Interiors. Dashpad refinished by Just Dashes (also supplied vinyl dye to refinish other interior parts). Original Airtemp air-conditioner outlet located under dash. Additional restoration parts came from Fellwock's and Paul Jacob's (both Evansville, Indiana), Moparts.com, and eBay.com.