We see a lot of things as we travel around, but when we got an eyeful of Bob Smocks Dodge Dart Charger 273 at the Goodguys race in Las Vegas last fall, we had to do a doubletake. After all, the little convertible was very clean and sported a lot of neat options, but what primarily got our attention were the Charger emblems. You see, this Dart is a 65 model, put together a year before the new B-Body platform Charger made its debut.
We made some phone calls finally and determined the car was apparently one of a limited run of factory specials done on the A-platform in 65. The new 273 four-barrel was referred to as the Charger 273 V8 in early literature, and, while details are murky, one of the West Coast dealer associations was probably responsible for the cars trim, which was designed and built at the Los Angeles assembly plant. This makes sense, since Dodge was trying to keep their A-Body in the limelight because of competition from the Mustang and Barracuda. The sporty Dart GT already had three little side décor pieces along the side rocker (painted red, white, and blue), but the scripted GT logos from the previous year were gone (a body stripe was optional). So the Charger program made sense.
With the package, specially-made Dart Charger 273 emblems were added to the front quarter-panels and the glove-box door. A quadrant of (now rare) 13x6 Crager wheels replaced the stock 13x4.5 steel rims. All factory-built examples were painted cream yellow with a black interior and black vinyl or convertible top. According to a story that surfaced in Slant Six News #37, only 180 were built at the plant, while parts for an additional 300 possible cars were shipped to Dodge dealers in 11 western states.
Bob, the sales manager for a distribution firm, and his wife Zondra live in Las Vegas. A long-time hot rodder, hes had his share of prewar iron and musclecar classics, and first found out about the pre-Charger when he saw it in a friends garage. The original 273 engine was intact but wounded, and the car itself was in rough shape. If Smock were to own it, a full rebuild would be needed. Still, he decided the A-Body deserved a more loving home, and he spent the money to buy it and then started the process of bringing it back to life.
Like all hot rod projects, this would not be a perfect bone-stock plan. Since the numbers-matching 273 was in need of some serious work, Bob left the 65-vintage mill in the garage until it could be rebuilt and decided to up the ante. Into the engine bay went a warmed-up 340 with an Edelbrock intake and 650 Edelbrock carb breathing through a K&N filter in the air cleaner. Ignition parts from Mopar, Accel, Mallory and Champion spark the fuel, with a set of high-flow 340 manifolds and 2.5-inch pipe for the exhaust chores. By the way, Bob has not given up on the 273; once he gets it done, it will end up back where it belongs. Behind the current engine is a 727 treated to a stock rebuild and a 3.73:1 rear cog.
Meanwhile, the body was still in need of some serious work, so the sheetmetal was carefully worked back into shape, with Bob doing a large amount of this on his own. Once completed, Jimmy Goldsbourgh covered it with DuPont Solar Yellow paint, while Lenny Newman handled the detail work. The suspension was upgraded as well, with KYB shock absorbers, better drum brakes, and BF Goodrich 235/60 R14 tires on replacement Cragar wheels added to the package. Inside, a custom interior with hounds-tooth covers was put in place of the originals, while a new white top replaced the ruined black original.
Though far from a purist restoration, the car has received numerous accolades. Bob has taken 18 First Place and 6 Second Place awards with the car since its completion. As for survival figures on the Dart Charger 273 package, they arent known, but Bob is aware of only three others in existence at this point. Obviously, the real Charger would make its debut as a 66 model (not actually hitting the streets until mid-year), but for A-Body fans, this one is a great opening act.