Heavy hitter

by Larry D'Argis . Jul 22 2016

The new compact Dodge Dart hit showrooms in 1963 as a replacement for the previous Lancer model introduced in 1961. Slightly larger than the Lancer, it offered styling similar to the rest of the Dodge lineup and included 170, 270 and GT trim levels. Completely restyled from the chassis up in 1967, the Dart was given a more refined look, and even though they looked larger, they were actually a half-inch shorter. Sales were brisk, as the car appealed to a broad market. Young and older buyers alike saw the car’s size and available options as great value for the dollar.

For 1968, Dodge was looking for more of a performance image with the Dart and introduced the 340-cubic-inch, V-8 powered GTS as a special high-performance version of the GT. At nearly $300 more, it actually crept into the mid-size Coronet market, and sales were less than hoped for. The answer came in 1969 as the Dart Swinger. The Swinger 340 became Dodge’s new “Scat Pack” economy sports performance model. With the emphasis on performance over luxury, weighing in at 3,179 pounds and motivated by the 275-horsepower 340 V-8 it gave muscle-car fans more bang for their buck. Not as flashy as the GTS, it was equally as fast or faster, and because it was considered a compact car, insurance companies charged lower premiums than other muscle cars.

For Mark Stanczak of St. Andrews, his Dart experience began in 1974 when his father, Ted, purchased the family’s 1974 Dart SE. “I was 13 years old, and I remember him driving it off the lot at Pembina Dodge,” says Stanczak. The SE, or Special Edition, was a later model that included a posh interior and more creature comforts, but it would also be the car Stanczak would learn to drive and obtain his licence with. Around 2011, he started a search for an original 1970 Dart 340 Swinger. Really wanting to find a turn-key car, he became disappointed after a year of looking. At one time these Darts were plentiful, but time has a way of taking its toll, and many were traded off, wrecked or simply rusted away, leaving them a scarce commodity today.

Casting his eyes toward the best candidate he could find led him to Winnipeg in 2012 to look over a 1970 Dart hardtop tribute car. The Dart started out as a 318-cubic-inch V-8-powered car, and the owner had converted it to a healthy 340 V-8, with 727 Torqueflite three-speed automatic transmission, with shift kit and 3.91:1 ratio sure-grip rear axle. “Along with the powertrain, the car had all of the metalwork done, it was in primer and ready for prep and paint, and the black vinyl interior upholstery was new, says Stanczak. The 340 V-8 has been rebuilt with high-performance camshaft, Edelbrock aluminum intake manifold and Holley 650 cfm four-barrel carburetor and dual exhaust with Flowmaster mufflers. The car also came equipped with power steering, AM push-button radio, hood scoops, rear go-wing and 14-inch blackwall radial tires mounted on the period-correct steel rally wheels.

To ready the car for paint, Stanczak and his son, Scott, dismantled the car and started sanding, before turning it over to friend Frank Stranieri to apply the Bright Red and clear-coat paint finish along with the black hood and rear go-wing.

With the paint complete, Stanczak would spend the next three years reassembling the car. Now on the road, Stanczak and wife Karen are enjoying taking in the occasional cruise and show. A member of the Manitoba Mopar Association, Stanczak’s goal is still to build the closest tribute to a Swinger 340 he possibly can. For the original Dart Swinger side emblems, Stanczak found Ray at Bucks Auto had amassed a good selection of them that only need a simple polish before being installed. Other items he’s found for future installation is the rally dash gauge package, bucket seats, steering column and centre console with floor shift. He also acquired the rare four-piston front disc brake package with power booster and plans to add the black bumblebee stripe on the rear.

Today, these 340 Swingers are elusive and expensive to purchase if you can find an original. There are still some good Dart bodies out there, and it isn’t too difficult to equip one as a tribute car. It may lack a factory build sheet, but it will give you the same rush and is sure to put a smile on your face.