1963 Dodge Dart Test Drive Notes
Read the Tech Specs for this car.

 

Convertible, black with large areas of rust
Price in 1963: $2,257
Price today: $2,256

As you might imagine, we test drive a lot of cars. Now, most of the time, we have mixed feelings about the cars we drive. There are some things we like...and some things we don't like.

This is NOT one of those times.

Let us be perfectly clear about what we think of Tommy's 1963 Dodge Dart:

Despite anything Tommy might tell you to the contrary, the car is pure, unmitigated junk.

In fact, this car gives junk a bad name. That Tommy is still driving the Dart is more a testament to Tom's impressive lack of taste than it is a statement about the Dart's staying power.

transmission system The Dart does have a few interesting features, some of which might still be considered innovative 36 years after it was built. In the interest of fairness, here's our list of what we like about the 1963 Dodge Dart:

The Dart starts immediately--every single time. It never fails. This is more than can be said for some newer cars.

The Dart has an interesting transmission system, using buttons mounted on the dash. (The only other shifting system like this of which we are aware is the space shuttle.)

Visibility is excellent. (This is with the top down--since we couldn't get it up. Must be interesting in the rain.)

Ergonomics

Ergonomics are great. (This was particularly innovative thinking for 1963, given that it would be 20 years before the word "ergonomics" would even be coined.) All the dials that have not fallen off or been eaten by raccoons are in full view. The steering wheel doesn't block anything, and there are no pesky air bags in the middle of the steering column. We particularly liked the heater controls, which are clear and easy to reach...once you open the glove compartment door.

Service and maintenance

Dodge has given some thought to maintenance and repairs--particularly the under-dash repairs, which can be so very difficult in other cars. In the Dart, all the wires are hanging down, in clear view of both driver and passenger. One can actually see each and every wire that's underneath the dashboard. (Service technician's note: Many wires are missing their insulation, eliminating the sometimes difficult step of stripping wires during repair.)

The oil light is always on. Presumably, this means that there is oil in the car. Otherwise, it would have stopped running in 1964.

Interior
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This particular model comes equipped with two radios, enabling driver and passenger to listen to different stations...if either radio worked. (Note: Some of you have asked if the Dart came equipped with an eight-track player, to which we must point out that when the Dart was new, eight tracks were but a glimmer in the eye of inventor Bill Lear.)

You'll note how well the Dodge Dart has held on to resale value--losing only one dollar in more than four decades. Match THAT, Porsche and Mercedes!

If you're starting to think the 1963 Dodge Dart doesn't sound like such a bad car to own, let us stop that line of thinking in its tracks. Look at Tommy and you'll see precisely what such thinking gets you: '65 AMC Ambassadors, Fiat Spiders and an angry spouse.

Why, then, is the Dart such a lousy car? We could go on for pages. In the interest of brevity, however, here are a few highlights:

Driving Experience

 

  • The car handles like...like...well, quite frankly "handling" isn't a word that one would really use around a car like the Dart. How do you steer it? You don't. You "guide" it. Point it in a general direction, pray there are no pedestrians in sight and hope for the best. Because the Dart incorporates the Nautilus options package (no power steering), turning the wheel at a dead stop requires the biceps of Dolph Lundgren. Above 5 mph, there is so much slop in the steering that there's about a 30-second lag time between a turn of the wheel and a change of course. (Riverboat and luxury-liner captains would be right at home behind the wheel.)

     

  • Even if the Dart does start to initiate a turn, you still have to be patient. The last time we checked the turning radius, it was just a few inches shorter than the loop around Boston on Route 128.
Styling
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  • It is difficult to articulate just how ugly the Dart is. (Adjectives we rejected: "putrid," "vile," "criminal," "Jerry Springer-like" and "of or related to a baboon's ischial area.") The seats were nauga...once. Over the decades that fabric gradually melded with Big Macs, duct tape and animal droppings to create a one-of-a-kind organic/fabric matrix. The exterior is beyond description. Imagine taking the Dart, fresh off a 1963 new-car lot, carrying it aboard a Gemini rocket...and then allowing it to free-fall through a fiery reentry back to earth. Now add enough rust to dissolve the Titanic. Starting to get the picture?

     

  • The noise level in the Dart could not be higher. Our informal analysis revealed the following component noises: piston slap (all pistons); valve clatter (cylinders #2,3,4,5); pinging; two generations of quarreling raccoons; numerous loose and squealing belts (fan, timing, chain); warped brake drums; warped head gasket; and miscellaneous trunk noises (extra starter motor, mouse family infected with hanta virus, snow shovel, loose cigars, polyester pants, cement block with attached handcuffs, tire chains, adult undergarments).
Reliability

 

  • We feel very, very unsafe in this car. Air bags? Of course not. ABS brakes? Yeah, right! Active safety packages? Who are you kidding? Believe it or not, there are actually no seat belts in the Dart. None--not even a lap belt. Plus, there's that wonderful sharp metal dashboard, so you can be sure that when you are propelled forward in an accident, you are sure to split your skull in two as you admire that push-button transmission for the last time. (See Dart Advantages above.)

    You can rely on only two safety features in the Dart: the several tons of steel that still cling to the chassis; and the hope that you might have the top down if you have an accident, allowing you to get ejected and land on something softer...like asphalt.

Overall comments

Perhaps no one has summed up the existential essence of the Dodge Dart better than French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Writing about his Dart in 1961, Sartre said,

"In my journey to the end of night, I must rely not only on dialectical paths of reason. I must have a good solid automobile, one that eschews the futile trappings of worldly ennui and asks only for basic maintenance. My Dodge Dart offers me this elemental solace, and as interior parts fall off I am struck by the realization of their pointlessness. I might not know if the window is up or down. It is of no consequence."

So, if you see a famous dead French philosopher out on a drive with Tommy some morning in Our Fair City, don't be surprised. It's just Tommy and Jean-Paul Sartre out for a Sunday drive in the Dartre.