It is entirely possible that young shoppers poking around Dodge showrooms for a view of the brand's just-arriving 2013 compact sedans will have no idea of the half-century history behind the car's nameplate.
Still, the automaker felt it had sound reasons to apply the Dart name, which it had not used in three decades, to this all-important model. The new Dart drapes a sharply chiseled body over a chassis shared with the Alfa Romeo division of Fiat, Chrysler's Italian parent.
"Dart resonated well with younger and older potential compact-car buyers," says Kathy Graham, a Chrysler spokeswoman. Older customers, she adds, remembered the Dart "as a reliable car at a good value, and as one of the first value-oriented performance cars." To younger ones, the name suggested "aerodynamics and precision."
Among the many Dart variations offered by Dodge in 1963-76, several stand out as reasonably priced collector cars that will turn heads. The prices here were provided by the Black Book CPI Value Guide.
- 1963-66 Convertible: $3,000 to $14,000. Top-down fun with either a Slant Six or a V-8.
- 1967-69 GTS Hardtop: $9,000 to $30,000. Models with the 383- or 440-cubic-inch V-8s sell for more, but the lighter 340-powered cars drive better.
- 1967-69 GT Convertible: $6,000 to $21,000. Less power than the GTS, but still a great cruiser with either a Slant Six or one of the small V-8s offered.
- 1968-69 GTS Convertible: $10,000 to $36,000. Finding a model like the one Joe Mannix drove is a challenge: Dodge built only about 700.
- 1968-70 Swinger 340: $9,000-$30,000. This two-door hardtop had the same performance package as the GTS 340.
- 1971-72 Demon 340: $9,500 to $27,000. The Demon was a coupe based the Plymouth Duster; with the high-performance V-8 it was a bargain muscle car.
The company's use of the Dart name traces back to a show car done by its innovative design chief, Virgil Exner, for 1956. A sleek 22-foot schooner of a machine with a clean, curvaceous figure crowned by soaring tail fins, the Chrysler Dart was fabricated by Ghia, the Italian coachbuilder. It existed for just one year; a styling makeover for the 1957 auto show season pared down the fins, and it was renamed the Diablo.
Dodge first used the Dart badge on a line of large cars for 1960-61, which included the Seneca, Pioneer and Phoenix. The name shifted to a midsize series with rather peculiar styling for 1962.
The Dart most often remembered today, however, is the compact model built from 1963-76 and best known for its affordability and durability.
Hitting a sweet spot between the period's compact and midsize models was a Dart selling point. A variety of sedans, coupes, convertibles, station wagons -- even tire-smoking muscle cars -- gave the Dart broad enough appeal to sell some 3.7 million cars over 13 years.
Most Dart customers chose the car for the same workaday qualities that once made it Consumer Reports magazine's top choice among compacts: a laudable mix of value, room, quiet engines, comfortable ride and, applying a term popularized by the Dodge Brothers in the 1920s, "dependability." In its 1967 and 1972 annual car wrap-ups, for example, Consumer Reports confirmed a "better than average" repair record for the Dart.
The reputation for durability stemmed in large part from an in-line six-cylinder engine that powered about two-thirds of all Darts sold. The cylinder block's 30-degree tilt toward the passenger side -- the source of the engine's Slant Six nickname -- let designers specify a lower hood line, and it made room for efficient fuel and exhaust systems.