Have you seen the new Dart?
It’s a standout. It’s a scandalous addition to a class that is otherwise bland and disinteresting.
There’s a reason for this, however, and if you want to really get to know what has contributed to making it one of the best-driving vehicles for a price tag that doesn’t sting for the quality you need only to be reminded that the history of the Dodge Dart reaches back almost sixty years.
Where it All Began
Often referred to as “the Original Dodge Dart” due to a lapse in the production of the Dart name during the ’90s and early ’00s, the first vehicle to carry the name began production in 1960.
The public reveal came a few years earlier, in 1957, and featured a style that was developed and designed by the renowned Italian automobile design and coachbuilding firm, Carrozzeria Ghia. When it came time for the production model to roll out, drivers were offered a car with a lower price than many available at the time along with a shorter wheelbase, in a full-size model.
As a full-size model, the vehicle used the Unibody Plymouth platform, with three trim levels that included the basic Seneca, a well-equipped Pioneer, and a luxury model: the Dart Phoenix. Under the hood the Dart was equipped with an all-new engine – the 3.7-litre Slant-6, with the 5.2-litre standard on specifically-optioned Phoenix models, and finally a 5.9-litre V8 optional 2-barrel or 4-barrel carburetors, again with single or dual exhaust.
In 1961 an additional engine was made available: the 6.3-litre V8.
Back in the ’60s there was certainly an allowance for quick iteration changes based on the public’s responses and so in the following years the Dart body was altered to be a mid-size car for the second-generation released in 1962 which was followed by a third generation in 1963 where it was re-classified as a compact car.
A fourth generation was released in 1967 that included more options and an alternative name; the Dodge Demon.
In this size it continued until 1976 with refreshes and updates along the way.
The Slow Decline and the Various Options
The Dodge Dart helped establish and in turn spawn a segment of vehicles that were both affordable and offered a series of modern features that appealed to the market as a whole.
In fact, for nearly a decade the Dodge Dart was a staple representative of the taxi market, with specifically-developed models tailored to the expectations of heavy use and consistent driving needs. The automotive game was changing in the mid-seventies, however, and the Dodge Dart’s presence was diminishing as Dodge moved into more profitable model development.
The Dart becomes the Aspen
From 1976 until 1980, the Dodge Dart was re-named the Dodge Aspen, with a compact-car classification and despite earning titles from Motor Trend of Car of the Year, the market simply wasn’t responding enough.
This edition of the Dart utilized modern technology such as computerized features, and a lighter material for body and frame that enabled a more aerodynamic driving experience.
Dubbed, “the family car of the future” in 1976, the Dart was offered in 2-door coupé, 4-door sedan, and 4-door station wagon options. Each came with 3 trim levels and a variety of engine options.
Numerous changes and updates came in 1978 with custom and special editions, grille updated, and automatic transmission availability. There was even a Kit Car special edition of the Aspen in which only 144 were ever manufactured.
Leading up to the end of the production cycle, a few notable changes were addressed including new headlamps, an improved hood, fenders, and front bumper. The front-wheel drive was replaced from the Dodge Aries from the 1981 production model.
The Storm Before the Calm
Following the relative successes of the previous generation, Dodge released models that resembled and contained many of the characteristics that drivers enjoyed on the Dart on the Aries, in a way, a spiritual successor to the Dart brand. It was marketed well but with consistent changes over the years it received only a fraction of the praise that the Dart had had prior to it.
Other vehicles attempted to latch on to the popularity of the Dart, including the Dodge Diplomat which had run concurrently with the Dodge Dart as a mid-size contender, being produced from the late ’70s up until 1989.
The Lancer was another such chameleon, but stopped production in 1976.
After some failures and poor marketing and production decisions the Dart name would vanish into the history of Dodge and there wouldn’t be a vehicle to carry the title for almost two decades.
The Modern Dodge Dart
Revealed as a development car by Chrysler in 2006, aficionados took note that an all-new Dodge vehicle was set to release in 2010. Originally carrying the name Hornet, the concept was dropped during the financial crisis as Chrysler scrambled to restructure the company.
The production notes went quiet until 2011 when the automaker announced that they were going to be resurrect the Dart name for the new car.
Released in 2012, the car has continued to exceed expectations on sales and with a huge range of customizability and options, it has done well to live up to the vehicle lineup it honours that began 5 decades ago.
If you want to learn more about the modern Dodge Dart come down to Richmond Chrysler and let our team show you what this amazing car has to offer.