During the 1960s, American auto-manufacturers were engaging in one of the fiercest wars the automotive world has ever seen, pumping out pared-down, street-fighting machines powered by big-cube and high-horsepower motors. Why? Well, at the time, the phrase “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” was holding true, with success in motorsport directly translating into success on the showroom floor.While success on the oval track held the spotlight, some of the toughest cars ever produced were born for one thing only — to be as quick as possible in a straight line.
When it comes to the sport of drag racing, few manufacturers could hold a candle to the efforts of Chrysler’s Super Stock racing programme — even today, half a century on, the word ‘Hemi’ still conjures up sepia-toned images of wrinkled sidewalls, wheels-up launches, and long, black rubber marks snaking into the distance.
In 1968, Hurst developed for Chrysler what could quite possibly be the most formidable Super Stock drag cars ever seen, stuffing the 426ci Hemi into the lightweight A-body Dodge Dart and Plymouth Cuda. Stripped of everything not conducive to a low ET, and fitted with fibreglass panels, lightweight windows, and, of course, a cross ram–equipped 426ci Hemi with 12.5:1 compression, the cars were inconceivably aggressive, even at the time.
Hence, the 1968 Dodge Dart is one of the era’s great muscle car heroes, but, thanks to the great success and desirability of other Chrysler stablemates, it has remained the forgotten child in the company’s illustrious motorsport history. For Warren Brown, the owner of this incredible example, things are a bit different — sure, it may not be Hemi powered, but the ’68 Dodge Dart has been his dream car for a long time, and he’s well aware of what makes a car special. As a veteran of drag racing in New Zealand — Warren was the first local Top Doorslammer driver to break the 160mph barrier, in his small-block Chev–powered Plymouth Arrow — you can bet your bottom dollar that if it’s got anything to do with drag racing, Warren will know something about it.
So, about this Dart, then. While browsing the depths of the internet one night, Warren came across a Dodge Dart, located in Portland, Oregon. You know that feeling you get when the stars align and everything is ‘right’? As soon as Warren found this car, he knew it was the one, and Kiwi Shipping was very soon arranging to transport the car across the Pacific. Now, Warren is notorious for getting bored with his cars, and, more often than not, his son Shaun gets to snap them up for a bargain. However, this Dart was different, and that was confirmed as soon as Warren sat behind the wheel. “After the first drive, I rang Shaun to tell him that I wouldn’t be selling this one,” Warren says, clearly stoked at having finally found the car he’d always wanted.
One of the reasons it felt so special to Warren was undoubtedly in the 440ci big block residing beneath the scooped bonnet. The engine sounds and performs so well that any thoughts of a Hemi are forgotten as soon as the loud pedal is pressed to the firewall. Built and installed in the Dart’s past life abroad, the 440 is a tough piece of kit. Based upon a Mopar 440 RB block of 1966 vintage, it’s filled with a steel crank, forged pistons, and a camshaft ground to a Mopar profile. While there are ‘better’ cam profiles out there nowadays, few could hope to match this one’s unbridled fury from idle to redline. The ported and polished Chrysler 906 heads, Edelbrock intake manifold, and Proform 850cfm double-pumper all provide incredible breathing potential, which translates into extreme performance without compromising real-world drivability.
Six fast and loud months later, Warren decided that he’d better paint the car, to get it looking as good as it felt. “All I was going to do was remove the windows to paint it, but Shaun talked me into removing the motor and transmission to paint the engine bay the same colour. I was originally going to leave it black.” Warren explains, of how he started down the path that’d take the Dart to where it now is. “Two weeks later, and it was on to Dave Levien for sandblasting, before I took it to Anton Zaknic and Dennis Freeth for panel beating, then to Andrew Morris at Whenuapai Auto Refinish for repainting.”
The vivid red hue is actually a factory Ford colour called ‘True Red’, from the 2014 Ford Ranger line-up. “We’d narrowed the colour down to the red from either a late-model Audi or the new Ford Ranger,” Warren says. “My wife and I had just been to check out the Audi colour in person, and we were heading to the Ford dealer to have a look at a Ranger. On the way there, we stopped at traffic lights, and just happened to see an Audi A3 next to a late-model Ford Ranger, both in red. That made the decision easy, and we went for the Ford colour.”
There’s no denying that the bright red looks the part, especially when paired with the satin black bonnet. The enormous Hemi-style scoop was seamlessly grafted in by Mike Kiddie, at Classic & Custom Auto Body, and provides a far more appropriate style than the tunnel-ram that preceded it.
The tough looks up front are backed up at the other end. Already mini-tubbed when Warren purchased it, the rear holds huge 15×10-inch American Racing Torq Thrust rear wheels wrapped in chunky Mickey Thompson rubber. Coupled with the skinny front-runners and 15×4.5-inch wheels of the same style, the Dart looks like something plucked straight from the ’60s.
While the car may look period correct, you’d be very wrong to assume so. With everything in bits, Warren’s eye turned to the torsion-bar front suspension, which he thought looked awfully heavy. A quick visit to the internet, and he found HDK Suspension’s A-body K-member kit, which included A-arm front suspension, QA1 coilovers, and rack and pinion steering. The Wilwood catalogue was then scoured to bring the brakes up to scratch, and Warren fitted a non-boosted Wilwood master cylinder and Wilwood Dynalite four-piston calipers, and drilled and slotted rotors to the front end. The net result of these modifications is a great-looking front undercarriage, as well as immeasurably improved driving dynamics.
The rear end is far simpler, but gets the job done with zero fuss. Suspension duties are taken care of by Calvert Racing adjustable shocks, Calvert Racing split mono-leaf springs, and CalTracs traction bars. These are attached to the Mopar 8¾-inch diff, filled with a 3.55:1 crown wheel and pinion gear set, Mopar 489 cone-style LSD head, and Dutchman axles. The rear end is only one part of the Dart’s tough driveline, and having the engine and transmission out of the car prompted Warren to get the 727 TorqueFlite freshened up. The decision to take it to Eric Livingstone, from West Auckland Engine Reconditioners, was a no-brainer, and Eric’s experience in dealing with all things Mopar has proven invaluable in the build of the car. Eric rebuilt the 727 to race spec, including a full reverse-pattern manual valve body and Fairbanks 3500rpm stall converter.
Such work underneath meant the Dart would always be a joy to drive, and that’s reflected in the interior, which contains everything Warren needs and nothing he doesn’t.
“I’m a big believer in the ‘Kiss’ philosophy — keep it simple, stupid!” Warren claims, and that sure is reflected throughout the build. An Auto Meter Mopar series rev counter sits on the steering column, as would have been the norm back in the ’60s, and Auto Meter gauges help Warren keep an eye on the vitals of oil pressure and water temperature. Other than that, there’s an SCS shifter for controlling the manual valve-bodied 727, and that’s it — hell, even the stereo system is the original ‘Dart Solid State’ AM radio.
Of course, when you can be listening to the raucous noise of 440 cubes of angry, big-block Mopar reverberating through a full three-inch exhaust system, you’d have little use for a stereo system — that said, a layer of Dynamat over the floor and firewall does help to retain a touch of civility.
Warren’s been driving the wheels off the Dart, taking in all the sensory enjoyment that can be had from manhandling a big block–powered drag-strip weapon down New Zealand’s rural backstreets. While he may change the final drive ratio to a more strip-friendly 3.7:1 to take it down the quarter-mile at some stage, he’s having far too much fun in it to really care about changing anything. That said, we did hear him mention a word that may have begun with the letter ‘H’ and ended in ‘… emi’.
Hemi or no Hemi, we can guarantee that this feature won’t be the last you’ll be seeing of Warren’s incredible tribute to motoring history’s glory days. You may miss the bright red paintwork, or the cacophony on 440 cubes at redline, but the pair of long, black ‘11’s on the road will be a lasting reminder that Warren was here.
1968 Dodge Dart GT
- Engine: 440ci big-block Mopar, 1966 440 RB block, steel crankshaft, forged pistons, Mopar-grind camshaft, Chrysler 906 cast-iron heads, ported and polished, stainless steel valves, 2.19-inch intake valves, 1.81-inch exhaust valves, Harland Sharp roller rockers, Edelbrock Victor 440 intake manifold, Proform 850cfm double pumper carburettor, Hemi fuel pump, -8 fuel line, ½-inch in-tank pickup, TTI headers, two-inch primaries, three-inch merge collectors, twin three-inch exhaust, twin Flowmaster mufflers, Mopar distributor, MSD Blaster 2 coil, MSD 6AL ignition, MSD leads, 26-inch Aussie Desert Cooler Burnout King triple-core alloy radiator, twin Serle electric fans, custom fan shroud
- Drivetrain: Chrysler 727 TorqueFlite, Fairbanks 3500rpm stall converter, reverse-pattern manual valve body, Mopar 8¾-inch diff, Dutchman axles, Mopar 489 cone-style LSD, Mopar 3.55:1 final drive ratio
- Suspension: HDK Suspension A-body K-frame, double-wishbone front suspension, QA1 adjustable coilover front shocks, rack and pinion steering, Calvert Racing split-mono leaf rear springs, Calvert Racing adjustable rear shocks, CalTracs traction bars
- Brakes: Non-boosted Wilwood master cylinder, Wilwood Dynalite four-piston front calipers, Wilwood drilled and slotted front rotors, Mopar C-body rear drum brakes
- Wheel/Tyres: 15×4.5-inch and 15×10-inch American Racing Torq Thrust D wheels, 165SR15 Michelin XZX, 28×12.5×15 Mickey Thompson Sportsman Pro
- Exterior: Ford ‘True Red’ paint, smoothed engine bay
- Chassis: Mini-tubbed rear, subframe connectors
- Interior: Auto Meter Mopar-series tacho, Auto Meter gauges, Turbo Action SCS shifter, factory bucket seats, Dynamat
- Performance: Untested
This article was originally published in NZV8 Issue No. 125. You can pick up a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below: