1968 Dodge Dart- Sundaaay! Cruiser
Gary Perkins' Tribute To The Lo23 Hemi Darts
From the March, 2008 issue of Mopar Muscle
By Scott Ross
Photography by Dain Gingerelli
In the late '60s, while exhibition cars like the Hurst Hemi Under Glass and the Little Red Wagon, as well as Top Fuel and Funny Car match racers like "Big Daddy" Don Garlits, Don "The Snake" Prudhomme, and Tom "Mongoose" McEwen drew race fans that filled the grandstands, it was the local contingent that filled the pits and the staging lanes, and whose presence filled maybe a second-and-a-half on the radio commercials promoting those events. (Remember SUNDAAAY!)
That included Stock and Super Stock racers, whose numbers included more than a few Mopars. By the time the '67 season ended, there were factory-engineered Max Wedges, A-990s, and R023s running and winning week after week. those were fairly big cars, though not as big as the aircraft-carrier-size Ford lightweights of the early '60s.
Mother Mopar's mad scientists had something in mind for 1968 that would make even the lightest weight B-Body look huge and heavy: stuffing the 426 Race Hemi into the A-Body Dodge Dart and Plymouth Barracuda.
Just as with the altered-wheelbase cars, these conversions were done away from the assembly lines. At least 50 Dart hardtops and Barracuda fastbacks were welded together, primed, and partially assembled, then pulled from Hamtramck Assembly and shipped to a nearby plant where Hurst would add a Hemi powertrain, fiberglass front fenders and hood, thin Corning-glass side windows, and little else.
Greg Fernald-built 472-inch...
Greg Fernald-built 472-inch Hemi has magnesium cross-ram and dual Holleys, just as the originals did. Also note the same OEM power-steering pump as used on 383/440 A-Bodies.
No radio, no heater, no seat...
No radio, no heater, no seat adjuster, but a place to get in, sit down, fire up, and hang on.
The massive Mopar diesel truck/forklift...
The massive Mopar diesel truck/forklift battery is located in the trunk, just as before, as a traction aid.
Result: A fleet of race-only cars that tore up class records as they tore down the dragstrips across the country. a fleet that is, for the most part, still doing so four decades later in NHRA's SS/AH class.
Back in the day, you not only had to know somebody to get one of these cars, you had to be somebody. As in somebody who was the racer to beat in Super Stock at your hometown dragway. As in somebody who'd raced and won with Mopar power. As in someone who'd bought cars and parts from performance-oriented Dodge dealers like Mr. Norm Kraus' Grand Spaulding Dodge in Chicago, who might just take your "gently raced" A-990 or Max Wedge in trade on an LO23 Hemi Dart.
Nowadays, Hemi A-Body cars like Gary Perkins' Dart are being built as tributes to the originals. That means a builder like Greg Fernald at SS & AFX in New River, Arizona, takes a Dart that's seen four decades of daily-driver life, and makes it into a Hemi-powered screamer that performs much like the originals did.
The first time Gary saw one of Greg's creations, he came away empty handed but inspired. Gary says, "It was in April 2005. Greg had one on display at Mopars at the Strip in Vegas. I tried to buy it, but it was one of his customers' cars and he wouldn't sell it to me. But he said, 'Hey, I'll build to order.'" A couple of weeks later, the deal to build this car was done.
Keep hands and feet away from...
Keep hands and feet away from the hoodscoop while engine is running. Cragar S/S wheels give the Dart a period-correct look belied by the Viper Red paint.
Wheelwells were radiused by...
Wheelwells were radiused by SS & AFX, just like Hurst did on the original LO23s, to clear the SS-legal rear tires.
Gary Perkins enjoys showing...
Gary Perkins enjoys showing his '68 Hemi Dart tribute around Southern California.
Greg located an L.A. assembly '68 Dart 270 hardtop, and the build was underway. "He sent me some pictures of it, and I said, 'You've got to be kidding. You're going to make my car out of that?'" The tired-looking freeway warrior looked scruffy, with four different colors of paint on it. "But when Greg got it back from the stripper-they do a chemical stripping over in Arizona that they can't do in California-I was flabbergasted at how rust-free that thing was."
With that battle won, the Dart body was turned into a Hemi-in-red, with a cross-ram-equipped, 472-inch Hemi, Hurst-shifted A-833, and Dana 60 going in. the builder did have reservations about the non-original color scheme. "Greg didn't particularly like the color I picked, which was Viper Red. I just love the color, and it's the second car that I've had painted that color," Gary says.
Once finished, Gary turned his attention to the Southern California car show scene, where there's something going on almost every weekend year round. He started showing off the Hemified A-Body there. "I've shown it twice in the Newport Concours d'Elegance as an invitee," he says with pride. "The race car class is a non-judged class, but just to get an invitation is quite an honor."
Shows, yes, but on-strip runs, no. "I really don't have any interest in doing that," Gary says. "I'm 62 years old, and I've seen too many videos of guys losing it, and the car has no rollcage. while I might be tempted, I know the car will run in the high 10s the way it is now, and with some gears and tires maybe a little quicker than that, but I don't have any interest in that."
When asked if he had any advice for someone considering a similar "tribute" car, either pro-built or DIY, Gary replied, "Make sure you know what you're buying, and whose expertise you're buying."
'68 Dodge Dart Hardtop
(Reproduction of/tribute to the LO23 '68 Hurst Hemi Dart)
Lake Forest, Ca
Built by Greg Fernald at SS & AFX
New River, AZ
- Engine: You've got three guesses. Anything other than a Greg Fernald-built 472-inch Hemi is wrong. Good stuff: MP siamesed 4.125-inch bore block, ported and polished MP aluminum Hemi heads, 4.15-inch Keith Black forged crank, Eagle 6.68 H-beam billet rods, custom Ross 10.5 pistons, special Crane mechanical roller cam (.628 lift, 316 duration) with MP rockers on KB billet rocker stands, ARP stainless hardware, Comp Cams valvesprings, Smith Brothers custom pushrods, Milodon oiling system (eight-quart pan, pump, remote pickup, and drive gear), Griffin aluminum cross-flow radiator, stock MP aluminum water pump, N.O.S. fan and fan clutch mounted on deep-groove Kramer SS pulleys, '68-vintage magnesium cross-ram intake with dual 780-cfm Holleys and SS velocity stacks, stock chrome Hemi valve covers and breathers, factory original '68 race Hemi tach drive distributor with electronic internals, MSD 6-AL box and MSD Blaster coil, custom SS headers (by Rob McCabe of McCabe Racing) with quick-removal cap, and two-chamber Flowmaster mufflers.
- By the numbers: 656 hp at 7,200 rpm; 680 lb-ft of torque at 5,600 rpm.
- Transmission: As on the original LO23 Hemi Dart, it's Mopar or no(t on the) car. An 18-spline Mopar A-833 four-speed built by Passon Performance. Other vitals: Hurst shifter, Centerforce dual friction clutch and flywheel, Lakewood scattershield, and custom driveshaft by Dick's Driveshaft.
- Rearend: Anything other than a Dana 60 is scrap metal waiting to happen. Powdercoated stock-width housing holds 35-spline Strange axles and 4.10-geared clutch-type limited-slip differential.
- Suspension: It's a repop of a car built for Super Stock racing, so no altered wheelbase or equipment that's too far from '68 production. Up front, lightweight torsion bars and adjustable Super Stock shocks. In back, Mopar Super Stock springs, relocated 3-inches inboard.
- Brakes: Wilwood four-piston discs in front, 11-inch drum-and-shoe brakes in back.
- Wheels: Cragar S/S, 15x4 inches up front and 15x10 inches out back.
- Tires: 6.70-15 BFGoodrich in front, 13.5x0-15 Mickey Thompson in back.
- Body: This rust-free original '68 Dart 270 hardtop body was liberated of its original trimmings, tank-stripped, and acid-dipped. The rear wheel openings were radiused, just as the original Hemi Darts were. Subframe connectors were added. Fiberglass hood and front fenders are by Glasstek. Stock front and rear bumpers were used, as were stock headlights, taillights, and grille. The outside mirror was replaced with a Satchel Paige-inspired delete plate. The windows are N.O.S. front and rear glass with Plexiglass side windows. Quarter windows fixed, while door windows operate with a strap attached to the window bottom that snaps onto the bottom of the door when the window is up (per original Hemi Dart).
- Paint: PPG single-stage Viper Red, sprayed on by Greg Fernald. (Original Hemi Dart color choices in 1968 were gray primer with unpainted fiberglass or grey primer with unpainted fiberglass.)
- Interior: You want luxury? Buy a Monaco. Just as in 1968: 100-percent correct Hurst-spec Super Stock, including A-100 bucket seats on fixed aluminum "Swiss cheese" brackets, radio/heater-defroster delete plates, original in-dash gauges, plus Stewart-Warner tach and oil pressure gauges. Seats and side panels are covered in black vinyl. Deletions include: sun visors, coat hooks, sound deadening, rear seat and armrests, interior dome, and footwell lights.