From one of the biggest perceived screw-ups in Ma Mopar's history emerged a lineup of "full-sized" cars that were considered hideously ugly by some, but were really a neat feat of engineering and became a vital part of both the Dodge and Plymouth line-ups for many years.
That screw-up? Downsizing the all-new-for-'62 "S-Body" platform that Dodge and Plymouth would share, one year before the start of production-but one year after the designs were finalized.
We're guessing this photo...
We're guessing this photo was snapped in the pits at Lions Drag Strip in Long Beach, California, during the '62's racing heyday.
In the summer of 1960, newly-appointed Chrysler President William Newberg was at a Detroit-area social event when he overheard some Chevrolet execs talking about the new "small Chevy" that was in the works for '62. With this info, and knowledge that Ford was bringing out cars sized between their compacts and full-size models, Newberg ordered that the S-Body Plymouth and Dodge be shrunk-drastically.
E.T. slip from Irwindale Speedway...
E.T. slip from Irwindale Speedway attests to Dart's mid-12 history. Legendary strip was replaced by big Miller brewery in '80s.
Dodge tried to put the best spin on it, calling it "The Lean New Breed of Dodge!" On the day the '62 Mopars were shown to the dealers, a dozen Dodge dealers quit on the spot. They'd had trouble selling the '61s, with their weird-looking "reversed" fins, and they saw this...this...thing as something they'd never sell. The remaining dealers told Ma Mopar in no uncertain terms to get a real full-sized car in the lineup ASAP, or they'd be gone too. (Thus was born the '62 1/2 Dodge 880, with the '61 Dodge's front sheetmetal bolted on to the finless '62 Chrysler Newport body.) Chrysler styling chief Virgil Exner got the blame for the '62's styling-and the boot for it-but he and his stylists were merely following orders from the top.
By then, Newberg was out as Chrysler's president, in a conflict-of-interest scandal that broke just a couple of months after he moved into the company's top job.
But something interesting happened: Someone noticed that the new-for-'62 Dodges and Plymouths were pretty fair performers, when equipped with regular production engines like the 225 Slant Six, the 318 Poly and 361-cubic-inch B-engine.
But, put in a higher-performance engine in those lightweight "full-size" cars, and those B-Body cars would fly!
The original 413 block was...
The original 413 block was replaced early in the '62's lifetime, but the rest of the engine components are either original or era-correct.
Meanwhile, Chrysler's RB engine platform had been getting plenty ofperformance upgrades since its introduction in '58, especially when it came to carburetors and intake manifolds-culminating in the "long ram" dual four barrel intakes that were optional on the letter-series Chrysler 300s and Dodge D500s.
Somewhere inside ChryCo, the decision was made: 50 Plymouths and 50 Dodges would be built with a special 413-inch RB, intended for the Stock and Super Stock wars on the nation's dragstrips. There would be two versions-one with "low" (11.25:1) compression, putting out around 390-400 horsepower, and a high-compression (13:1) version, good for 410 horsepower. Both would wear a special "short ram" intake with two four-barrels. Transmissions would be either a floor-shifted Borg Warner T-85 three-speed manual, or a 727 Torqueflite with the same dash-mounted pushbuttons as regular-production B-Bodies.
The Plymouths were built first, at Lynch Road Assembly, in the early spring of '62. About a month later came the Dodges, out of Hamtramck Assembly.
The car you see here was the first of the Max Wedge Dodges built.
Jeff Miranda has always been a fan of the early B-Body, and he'd owned Max Wedges before, including an unrestored '62 Dart, a '62 Belvedere, and one of the factory lightweight '63s. "I've always had a love for Max Wedge B-Bodies," he says. "I've always either had a real one, or I've built clone cars. The '62-'64 B-Body cars are my favorite cars of all times-my preferences are '62, '63, and '64 Dodges and '62 Plymouths."
Custom-bent steel tube headers...
Custom-bent steel tube headers make the most of the early B-Body's limited room via their fenderwell exit.
A couple of years ago, he was searching through "The Big Brown Wishing Book" when he saw an ad for another Max Wedge '62 Dodge. "I pursued it slowly," he says of the process that brought it to his Pompano Beach, Florida, home. "I finally figured out what it was. I wanted the car, I bought it, and as time progressed, I pursued the history of the car. One thing led to another, and this person led me to that person, and it all led me to the items of interest of a car that has this history to it-time slips, buildsheet, drag slicks and wheels." One person that Jeff cites is Steve Marinoff, the Dart's second owner. He'd kept the buildsheet, time slips, and other items that later verified this Dodge's identity.
The time slips told of elapsed times in the mid-12s, which the original set of drag slicks attested to. What the buildsheet told him was not only the equipment that went on at Hamtramck-the 413 Max Wedge, the 727, and little else-but also when it was built. He's yet to see any documentation of a '62 Max Wedge Dodge with a lower VIN number or earlier build date than this one.
Jeff's '62 was built with...
Jeff's '62 was built with base-level Dart trim inside and out, which it retains. Dash-mounted push-buttons (left) control Art Carr-built 727. Other than one auxiliary gauge, rest of dash is stock.
One of the people that helped Jeff verify what he had was noted Max Wedge historian/builder/restorer Bob Mosher. "I emailed Bob some photos of the car, and he was kind enough to do some research on his end," says Jeff. "Lo and behold, he had actually done some paint work on that car some 30 years ago. He had photos of the car, and he sent them to me."
Two items seen in the photos clinched this Dodge's identity. "The tell-tale parts of it were the exhaust, and a '65 Lions Drag Strip participants' sticker on the left vent window that's been on there for years," Jeff says. "You can see in the photos that he sent me that the sticker is still there. Plus, being from Southern California, he remembers the car." That exhaust system included a specially-hand-fabricated pair of steel-tube headers with curves aplenty, which exits through the Dart's front fenderwells.
Here you see the downstream...
Here you see the downstream end of the header and where it exits in the right front fenderwell. Front wheels are chromed Hudson ones (with same bolt pattern as OEM rims), mounted on BFG "Silvertown" skinnies.
Another contact Jeff made was with Bill Gaidzik, the '62's first owner, who bought the car at Wegge Motors in Pasadena, California. (The same place that "The Little Old Lady..." that Jan & Dean made famous may have bought hers.) Through him, Jeff learned that the OEM block had been replaced early on, a casualty of the early Max Wedge's oiling problems. "As far as I know, he worked out something with the dealership, and they replaced the short-block," recalls Jeff. "He doesn't really remember if it was no charge for it, but they did replace the short-block."
Nowadays, this 4,000-original-mile car doesn't make as many 1/4-mile trips as it did in the '60s, but Jeff still gets out with it. "I do drive it to local car shows," he says. "It's a pretty nasty car." It's also one that's only had one repaint, and Jeff has re-done the Blair's Speed Shop lettering that graced the front doors when it ran at tracks like Lions, Pomona, San Gabriel, and Irwindale.
Naturally, a lot of show-goers haven't seen many '62 Dodges lately-especially one with the equipment and history this Dart has. As Jeff puts it, "They'll look at everything else in the show, then they'll stop at this thing here, and just look at it and wonder, 'What the hell is this?'" Jeff adds that the hand-fabricated exhausts get a lot of attention. "The configuration of the exhaust (headers) is probably the most exotic thing about the car. And, of course, the fact that it's a 4,000-mile car, that makes them say, 'Wow!'"
If this story has given you the urge to look for that phantom Max Wedge '62 Dart that's older than this one, Jeff has this advice if you come upon a barn filled with early B-Bodies. "If you find one and you don't need it, give me a call and I'll take it!" He adds, "If you have a passion to build it your way, then you buy it in accordance to what you're looking for. Two-door sedans are hard to find-there are more hardtops out there now then there are sedans. Buying one that's already done is great-one man's loss is another man's gain. I've always had a passion for doing them my way, and trying to make them as era-correct as possible. That's the fun that I've had doing these."
'62 Dodge Dart two-door sedan
Owned by: Jeff Miranda, Pompano Beach, Florida
- Engine: The first of the "Max Wedges"-a 413-inch RB packed with 11.25:1 compression pistons, high-lift camshaft, and topped by a short-ram intake manifold wearing two huge four-barrel carburetors.
- Transmission: An Art Carr-modified 727 Torqueflite, with dash-mounted pushbuttons. (One big reason why this car won automatically.)
- Rearend: 8 3/4-inch with 3.91:1 rear gears.
- Suspension: Restored stock '62 B-Body (Front Longitudinal torsion bars with tubular shocks (Rear) HD leaf springs with tubular shocks
- Brakes: As good as there were back then: 11-inch-diameter drum-and-shoe brakes all around, no power assist.
- Wheels: Era-correct American Racing Torq-Thrusts on Inglewood Tire Service 8.20-15 slicks in back, with a pair of chromed Hudson wheels wearing a pair of vintage BFGoodrich "Silvertown" bias-ply skinnies in front.
- Body: Original '62 Dodge B-Body two-door sedan unibody, all steel. (And, in the case of the '62 Dodge, with styling only a Mopar devotee would love.)
- Paint: One repaint in its original Medium Blue Poly finish, with era-correct lettering added later.
- Interior: Low-line Dart all the way-vinyl-upholstered bench seats, front and rear. Dash-mounted pushbuttons control the 727. Dash still has heater/defroster pushbuttons and OEM radio delete plate.