Sometime in the late 1980s, someone told me about Lime Rock, that is, Lime Rock Park, which isn’t really a park, but a race track, tucked into a valley in the rolling hills of north east Connecticut.
Automobile races are held there all season long, but racing holds little attraction for me. However, every Labor Day Weekend, Lime Rock Park hosts what they now call the “Historic Festival” and what used to be called the “Fall Vintage Festival”. The three-day weekend features historic race cars on the track (on Friday and Monday). Because racing is banned there on Sundays, they’ve taken advantage of that restriction by hosting a vintage car show on that day. I began attending the Fall Vintage Festival on an annual basis.
Visiting the track on Labor Day Weekend in 1991, I spied a car in the parking lot with a For Sale sign on it. Normally, I would not have found myself attracted to this type of automobile. It was the combination of asking price combined with some its technical features which drew me closer.
The car was a 1967 Dodge Dart GT convertible, dark blue with a blue interior, and an unattractive (not to mention worn and dirty) tan convertible top. Popping the hood, I saw that the Dart had a V8, not the slant six I was expecting. Inside were buckets, floor shifter, and center console, with the desired three-pedal setup. The asking price was $1,500, and the sign directed me to the guards’ booth for further information.
I tracked down the owner, a young man who indeed was working as a guard at the track. He told me he had owned the car for about a year and just didn’t want it anymore. We went for a test drive, and I was impressed by how well the car drove. Although I certainly hadn’t visited Lime Rock with the intention of bringing home a car, I quickly agreed to pay the ask (concerned that someone else might snap it up), gave him some sort of deposit, and headed home on the promise that I would be back the following weekend with the balance.
Next weekend, I made the 3-hour trip back, and we again met at the track. The payment and paperwork exchange went smoothly enough. But it was then that the young fellow told me “Uh, the car isn’t running so well right now. I don’t know what it is, maybe the carburetor”. (Note: anyone with car troubles who doesn’t know the diagnosis always blames the carburetor.) Sure enough, the engine had a miss, although it was there at all engine speeds, and I suspected ignition.
I now owned the car. Under the circumstances, I had little choice but to get in the car, point it south, and hope that I would make it home. With my heart in my stomach for the entire ride, I did make it, and was so relieved that I put the car in the garage, deciding to deal with the problem sometime later.
The following weekend, I popped the hood and began to go through the basics: plugs, wires, points, condenser, cap and rotor…. As soon as the distributor cap came off, I saw the crack. This was an easy fix, and given that none of the aforementioned parts looked like they had been replaced in a while, I gave the car a full tune up. It ran spectacularly after that.
There was one administrative issue that needed attention: insurance. At the time I bought the Dart, my daily driver was a company lease car. The lease generously included insurance. As I owned no other automobiles, I didn’t even have an automobile insurance policy in my name. This was when I discovered collector car insurance. The Condon & Skelly Insurance Company wrote me a policy, and as a side note, I’ve had collector car insurance with them ever since.
I enjoyed top-down motoring for the little time I had left in the autumn of ’91, then tucked the car away for the winter.
When spring of ’92 broke, the Dart came out of hibernation. Truthfully, the car needed a complete restoration to be any kind of show car, but that’s not why I bought it. It was nothing more than a toy to cruise in during nice weather.
Removing the front tires to perform a routine brake check, I was aghast at what I found: both front brake hoses had been wrapped with duct tape, then clamped with small hose clamps. The rubber hoses were cracked, and it is a miracle that I didn’t lose hydraulic pressure. The temptation to contact and berate the previous owner was overwhelming, but 1) I had no proof that he even knew about it, and 2) many months had passed since buying the car, so I decided to let it go. New brake hoses were purchased, and were easy enough to install. Whew! Glad I caught that when I did.
The next order of business was carpeting, as in, the car had none, and I wanted it to have some. Lack of carpet at time of purchase was an advantage, because that allowed me to see the condition of the floor. Someone had welded in a totally new floor before my purchase. Except for some surface corrosion, it was solid. Removing the seats, I gave the floor a coat of Bill Hirsch Miracle Paint (similar, but in my opinion better than, POR-15). With the floor so sealed, in went a new piece of carpet. The sound level reduction transformed the driving experience.
The blackwall tires were serviceable but old, and I thought that narrow whitewalls would look sharp against the dark blue paint. I got the least-expensive tires I could at the local STS (Somerset Tire Service). Reinstalling the factory wheel covers also brightened the look. The car really needed a new top, but rather than spend the money, I hid it by driving with the top down.
I took the car to the office several times that summer, and let colleagues drive it. They agreed that it was a fun car to drive. The torque from the 273 c.i. V8 was impressive, as was the smoothness of the gearbox and clutch.
Working for the Swedish company Volvo, there were Swedes on location who would make comments about my “big American car”. “Big?” I’d reply. “The Dart was the compact car in a Dodge model lineup that included an intermediate-sized car and a full-size car!” It’s all relative. Yes, the Dart, with an overall length of 195”, was five inches longer than the contemporary Volvo 240 at 190”. Good thing I hadn’t bought a Coronet (203”) or Polara (220”)!
By 1993, I had a problem. Time spent with the Dart was taking time away from the restoration work on my BMW Isetta, which had been underway for three years. The decision was made to sell the Dodge. By late in the summer of ’93, it was gone.
All my friends in the hobby talk about the cars we’ve owned, and a frequently visited theme is “the ones that got away”. Of all the cars I’ve owned and sold, it’s this Dart that I wish I still had. It had good bones, was fun to drive, simple to wrench on, and had a drop top. Had I had a little more free time (and spare cash) it would have been a straight-forward restoration. But I was determined to finish the Isetta, and with the Dart out of the way, I did. THAT’S a story for another time.
THE 1967 DODGE FULL-LINE SALES BROCHURE
This brochure, from my collection, includes all of Dodge’s models from that year.
All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.