My interest in Mopars goes back to my teen years. I first learned to drive in the late '60s in my father's '68 Plymouth Fury III. When he decided to look for a new car in 1970, I remember going to the dealership and bringing home a brochure for a '71 GTX, which I thought would make a great family car. Personally, I felt a Hemi would be extremely cool, but I knew that he wouldn't go for that, so I suggested the stock 440 instead. My dad smiled at me and promptly went out and bought a Chrysler Newport Custom with a 383 to power its massive tonnage. My dream of a musclecar had to be shelved until I could find a means to do it on my own.
As a student I had virtually no funds, and so my choices were extremely limited. By the time I was a freshman in college, I had saved enough money to buy my first car for $350-a '65 Austin Mini Cooper. Although not a musclecar, this was a high-performance version of an Austin Mini, and a total blast to drive. A few years later, I discovered the Dodge Dart had a high-performance version available that was accessible in price and not considered a sports car for insurance. While cruising the streets near home one day, I saw a '69 Dart Swinger 340 parked in a driveway. I went up, introduced myself, and told the gentleman I was interested in that type of car. The owner, an aircraft mechanic and avid auto enthusiast, befriended me, and together we looked for a suitable ride. I remember looking at several '69 and '70 Swingers before finally finding a copper-colored '69 with a 340 and a four-speed within my price range. My mechanic friend checked the car over, confirmed it was in excellent condition, and it was purchased without delay.
This car was to become the second love of my life, after my girlfriend (now wife) Cathy. With the help of my friend, I learned a lot about mechanics by working on this car over the years, doing minor upgrades, as well as significant repair work when required. I managed to increase the car's performance significantly with a good valve job, headers, and carburetor tuning. Gas mileage, however, suffered, so I slowly reverted to the original exhaust manifolds and more normal carburetor settings. I owned this car from 1973 to 1983, and it faithfully saw me through many youthful adventures up and down the east coast of the U.S. and Canada. When I finished college and was ready to go on to postgraduate training, my wife and I attached a U-Haul trailer to the Dart and moved to Philadelphia with all our meager belongings. A year later saw us moving westward to Minneapolis. The vehicle was still trustworthy, even though it had 130,000 miles on it and saw daily use.
While in Minneapolis in 1983, my wife and I had our first child, a daughter Emily. By this time, we had a second vehicle, which we used for commuting around the city. The day after bringing my daughter home from the hospital I went to leave for school, and the Dart was gone. It had been stolen, only to be found several weeks later, stripped of everything, including body parts, which at that time were difficult to find. Although the drivetrain was relatively intact, the car was essentially non-functional without significant repair work. I could not afford to fix it, and since we were moving back to Canada, I could not take it with me. I negotiated a deal with the insurance company, and the poor Dart was sent to the junkyard.