Although originally purchased for $600 as relatively uninspiring transportation, this '71 Dodge Dart is now a major player in the street wars thanks to David Pagel of Kissimmee, Florida. Granted, the transformation didn't happen overnight-it took 14 years of constant modifications to get the A-Bomb to its current level of fusion-but the resulting visual and piston-pounding impact was worth the wait.
The metamorphosis began in 1987 when David convinced a friend to sell him the car. The Dart originally sported a gold exterior with a green cockpit, plus a mildly modified, factory-installed 318 that benefited from a "bigger-cam-and-headers" upgrade. David's first intention was to sell the car and earn a few coins; however, that plan changed when his girlfriend (now his wife), Tracie, expressed a desire for David to keep the Swinger. Upon deciding that the Dart was going to become a permanent family member, David realized a complete makeover was in order.
Since David is a body repair specialist by trade, the sheetmetal resurrection was a no-brainer. The Dart went into the rebuild process with a solid foundation, so most of the bodywork centered on sanding and painting.
But not just any ol' paint job would do.
Since David meant for his ride to make a statement, he and Tracie settled on an uncommon shade of Raspberry Red in a base coat/clearcoat.
Aside from the visual impact, David also wanted his Dart to carry some figurative weight in the performance department. To lighten the already lean A-Body, David added AAR Fiberglass bumpers and hood. And those gauges gracing the cowl aren't sitting there for good looks. David likes to monitor things like fuel pressure, oil pressure, and a funny little blue bottle mounted in the trunk.
For added buzz under the hood, David contacted Ray Barton Racing Engines, who treated the 340 engine to some aggressive performance work. The block is now filled with Manley rods and JE Pistons, which displace a compression ratio of 12.5:1 under a set of W-2 heads. The Comp Cams solid lifter cam actuates the valves, pulling "go juice" from a Barry Grant Demon carburetor.
Understandably, the transmission needed a built-in durability factor, so a JW Transmissions-prepped 727 was augmented with a reverse-shift valvebody and transbrake, then mated to a JW torque converter. From here, torque is shuttled to an 831/44 rear enhanced with a Strange Spool and Richmond 4.56:1 gears.
That may sound like an unusual combination for the street, but when we found David and his Dart at the Old Town cruise in Kissimmee, he had driven the car approximately 15 miles one way. While this may not seem like much, consider that this was made at rush hour, during the busy Florida tourist season.
We asked David to share his secrets on making a high-compression engine survive the street. Obviously, 87 octane isn't going to cut it. David says this level of compression means shelling out the extra cash for at least 110-octane race fuel. Another factor in making the car street-survivable relates to the camshaft. David runs a large degree of lobe separation to help bleed off some of the static compression, effectively fooling the engine into thinking there is less compression. Then there's the ignition. High compression demands a hot combustion spark, so David added an MSD ignition box with a timing retard feature to help back up the spark when necessary (such as on start-up).
Oh. And that box? It's tied into the distributor and crank trigger. Under normal driving conditions David fires the engine through the distributor. When ignition accuracy is required, David simply disconnects the distributor and plugs in the crank trigger, which is timed with racing in mind. Little tricks like this help Dave's Dart survive the perils of double-duty driving.
Since the raspberry flamb Dart was to lead a double life, David and Tracie couldn't dress the interior in the manner of a race-only car. The compromise is a blend of stock and custom pieces consisting of the factory dash cluster perched in front of a pair of JAZ lightweight seats. The door, rear side panels, and headliner are custom-made units that David covered in black tweed. Since the Dart sees a lot of road time, a JVC stereo taps into the wiring system. Finally, David built and installed a rollcage and subframe connectors for added safety during rapid acceleration tests.
The transformation from "beater to streeter" may have taken David and Tracie on a 10-year journey, but the finished product can now hammer the competition with a knockout punch.