Could a '63 Dodge Dart by the cure for Will's automotive blues?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 2008

Dear Tom and Ray:

Since moving to another city, I've been stricken with car problems. First, I had a VW Eurovan, which was great all winter. But then it needed a $2,000 air-conditioning unit. I promptly sold it. Then I bought an Acura. It's a nice car, but it doesn't like to start. While looking for a Subaru or something to replace the Acura, I came across a 1963 Dodge Dart. Because it's old, I figure it's got to be very simple. Fewer parts means less can go wrong. Am I correct in trying to go basic? By the way, the car has an interesting history. It was owned from 1983 to 2003 by Peter DeFazio ... the congressman from Oregon's 4th Congressional District. Cool, huh? -- Will

TOM: We've actually seen that very car, Will. We were visiting the Capitol a few years ago to attend a soiree for the benefit of National Public Radio. Peter DeFazio grabbed us, dragged us through the halls of Congress, and insisted that we come out to the parking lot behind the Capitol so he could show off his Dodge Dart.

RAY: And we're glad to hear that all the therapy we recommended has worked, and Peter has finally been able to let go of that thing.

TOM: You might not know this, Will, but until just a few years ago, I owned a beautiful 1963 Dodge Dart convertible, which I loved. It was incredibly reliable. It started every day, and never gave me a moment's trouble -- until my then-teenage son decided to stop short in front of a city snowplow, and turn it into a snub-nosed subcompact.

RAY: Well, it was fine for my brother, because his daily driving consists mostly of puttering half a mile up to his favorite coffee shop and sitting there until the owner throws him out, and then driving back home. But if you have to actually DRIVE this car, and it's necessary for you to actually BE places at specific TIMES, I think this is a bad idea, Will.

TOM: Well, what if he just wants to drive it around town?

RAY: Will, if you plan to drive it 500 miles a year or less, and are willing to drive only between 3 and 4 in the morning, when there's no traffic, then I'd say fine. But if you're planning to drive this thing miles a day, in traffic, I'd argue against it.

TOM: Why? It's a tank!

RAY: A septic tank. Modern cars have anti-lock braking systems, electronic stability control, air bags, crumple zones, reinforced doors, padded dashboards. The Dart didn't even have seat belts!

TOM: Picky, picky.

RAY: Will, try putting a new fuel-pump relay in your Acura. That's a common reason those cars don't start in hot weather. If that doesn't fix it, and you still want another car, buy the cheapest new Kia, Hyundai or Suzuki you can find. Any one of those will have tons of safety features and a long new-car warranty, and -- no matter how small it is -- it'll be 10 times safer than that Dart.

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