Before the automotive market fully fragmented due to offerings to fit every type of vehicle lifestyle, the vast majority of automotive sales went to the 4 door sedan. Each American brand offered many flavors of door opening convenience through their line ups. Most often, each one was offered in bargain basement, deluxe and sometimes luxury trim by the mid 1960’s.
Dodge was no different in offering different flavors of its three different sedan sizes. The smallest you could get was the ever popular Valiant based A-body Dart before you stepped up to larger Coronet, Polara & Monaco offerings. The Dart’s aim scored success as a reasonable pair of sensible shoes, but how exactly?
Although on the third season after a 1967 redesign, the Dart continued to make incremental improvements, federally mandated or not, each model year. Plenty was done to keep the underlying chassis competitive.
Underneath the chiseled looks that gave an impressive “big car” look for a modest entry price sat a basic chassis that dated back to the 1960 Valiant. Granted, the once main rival Ford Falcon sat on an equally as old platform not as well regarded. Nor was it as fresh a design as Chervolet’s Nova either.
Nevertheless, the Valiant and the Dart maintained their popularity station. The Dart in particularly no longer had a direct competitor in the size class, as Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Mercury moved strictly into the intermediate class with their Tempest, Cutlass and Montego offerings.
For those that wanted a little bit more prestige, but did not want to tame the bulk of a package over 200 inches in length, the Dart offered a happy medium that didn’t feel like a bargain compromise, nor felt like a full fledged commitment to ever growing middle meat.
For those goldilocks shoppers you got a bit more wheelbase of 111 inches over the Valiant’s 108 and you could chose an in house Convertible or Hardtop Coupe where Plymouth shoppers had to move on to the Barracuda line for their air in their hair thrills.
The Dart also offered more comparative by the seats of the pants thrills than were available in their Valiant siblings. Again, to get any engine above the 318 LA V8 on the Valiant option sheet, you’d have to move on to the Barracuda for anything more potent than 230 horsepower.
Although most Dart Custom buyers chose either the 225 cube Slant Six, 273 or 318 V8 on offer in the Valiant, Dart 340 GT and GTS buyers could pony up to 340 cube and 383 cube V8’s.
The two later V8’s made the rather lightweight Darts rather formidable muscle cars. The smaller V8s were no slouches either, providing remarkably brisk performance competitive with mid sized offerings as well. Even with the 225 Slant Six, you wouldn’t exactly be occupying the slow lane as you would with the basic inline sixes on offer in compacts and midsizers at Ford, Chevrolet and AMC.
At the end of the day, the winning formula, and range of offerings from mild mannered economy car to near luxury compact won over a plethora of customers for the Dart without infringing much on the territory its Valiant sister ship covered. 63,740 Dart Custom Hardtop coupes and sedans made it out the door in 1969, keeping the Dart among the most popular “compact” offerings, and one of the better olive branches between size classes on the US market that season.
It would go on for a few more seasons until it found itself competing with a newly badge engineered Comet from Mercury, along with the Ventura II from Pontiac, the Omega from Oldsmobile and the Apollo from Buick in the early 70’s. However, for a brief, sunny period, the Dart had a world unto it’s own.