If you listen to Car Talk even casually, you know that Tom Magliozzi once owned a scabrous 1963 Dodge Dart convertible, a car that “gives junk a bad name.” The car led a charmed life until being hit by a snowplow in our fair city of Cambridge.
But Darts live on. For one thing, I own one—the exact same car as Tommy’s, a ’63 Dart convertible (though mine’s much nicer than his ever was). And Dodge, in its wisdom, is making Darts again. This week, I managed to score one—a bright orange 2014 GT, costing $25,125 as equipped, almost exactly 10 times what mine cost new 50 years ago.
My ’63, which I bought down in South Carolina, drove home to Connecticut, and have now owned for at least 20 years, is powered by a 170-cubic-inch Slant Six. That’s the smallest engine they made back then, and it definitely means that acceleration is leisurely and hills a challenge.
It’s a car just made for Sunday afternoon cruising. It has a wide bench seat, a pushbutton automatic transmission, and an AM radio. I can’t play my iPod or Bluetooth music from my phone. Everything’s analog, and if I need directions, I have to ask somebody for them. There’s something relaxing about not having many choices.
Dodge made a Dart GT in 1963, but that’s where the resemblance ends. This is a modern car, with all the gadgets, including the $995 technology package, the six-speed automatic ($1,250), Sirius FM and the $495 Uconnect system.
The GT comes quite equipped, with a 2.4-liter four that can haul the car to 60 mph in about 8.7 seconds—probably twice the acceleration of my old Dart. It feels very quick and head-snapping on the road, with nicely weighted steering and suspension that hits a sweet spot between too firm and too soft. Motor Trend called the ride “brain rattling,” but I went over some very rough pavement and wasn’t overly bothered. The Limited model detunes the suspension somewhat, and still handles well.
Uconnect is one of the nicest things about this car. It’s like MyFord Touch, but much more intuitive for accessing music and using GPS.
So far, advantage 2014, and safety is another plus--there are five-star frontal and side crash ratings (four stars for rollover and passenger crash). My Dart, well, it has seatbelts, also a hard metal dashboard and no crumple zones. But the 1963 has a much better back seat (and twice as much trunk space). The older Dart can comfortably carry six people, but the new one accommodates five (or, better, four), and those in the rear will complain about the lack of legroom. I don’t quite understand disappearing rear legroom, especially in convertibles—when I asked about this problem in the new Mustang, I was told, “It’s a Mustang.” So?
The new GT, built in Belvidere, Illinois, also has a fuel economy advantage, but not as big a one as you’d expect. It offers 22 city/31 highway (26 combined). My Dart, with that economical 170, achieves an average of about 21/25 mpg, which means we haven’t made all that much progress in a half century. Chrysler is last among the Big Three in this area, and it needs to do better. Let’s bring back the Slant Six!
My Dart and I have a standing invitation to carry veterans in the Memorial Day Parade, and this year was no exception. I fry every year, but it's a great moment. Despite blistering temperatures and driving 45 minutes at a crawl, I've never had the car overheat. My passenger this year was a Vietnam-era vet who seemed to know just about everyone on the crowded parade route. You can't do this with a 2014 Dart!
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the Dart GT, which does most things well. I could live with it as my daily driver, and the ’63 for weekends. That’s a bit of continuity for you.