1962 Dodge Dart 440 convertible

I'm working on a 1962 Dodge Dart 440 convertible. Many people think the "440" is an advertisement of engine displacement, but in this case, it was a model designation (along the lines of 330, 880, and so on).

This vehicle was purchased brand new by my maternal grandfather. While this particular body style is a "love it or hate it", he was drawn to the uniqueness of this peculiar car. He drove the car from Ohio to Oklahoma and back, and used it as a daily driver the entire time he owned it. When the car was out west, a salesman from a local dealership approached my grandfather and asked if he would be interested in selling the car. The salesman was also drawn to the radical styling, but my grandfather wasn't sacrificing the Dart.

In 1964, my grandfather passed away suddenly. My grandmother kept the car, and drove it until 1966. At that time, she parked the car, and it became one of those "barn cars" we all read about.

In the early 1980s, my dad and I decided to try to restore the car. We thought it would be a nice thing to for my mom, and that it would make a really good father/son project. As the car sat idle, my oldest brother used the car as a fort. He damaged the majority of the chrome, destroyed nearly every body panel, and cut the interior. We scoured junkyards for parts every weekend, even going out of state in search of rare body panels, chrome, a gauge cluster, and so on.

We found most of the pieces we needed, and my dad had a buddy rebuild the old 318 poly shortblock. We were glad to accept the help that was offered, but in hindsight, it was a huge mistake. The engine rebuild went horribly wrong. The body work was mediocre at best, although it was performed by "a professional". And the paint is only so good as what's underneath, which isn't much.

For years, we tried to crack the case of the shaking, smoking 318 poly. My dad eventually gave up on it, and when he fell ill, the car continued to sit in the garage. He passed away in 1998, and never got to see the car for what it should have been.

My mom continued to keep the car in her garage. It didn't take much convincing for her to tell me to take the car and see if I could figure out the issues. The first thing I did was remove that possessed-by-evil 318 poly. Rather than delve into the original shortblock, I decided to buy a new rebuilt 318 poly. I removed everything from the engine bay, and spent weeks cleaning off 25 years worth of filth before painting each piece. I also tried to shine up the finish, which had become a bit shabby after being used as a makeshift storage shelf for so many years. I really wanted to keep with the period-correct theme, so I chose American Racing Salt Flat Special wheels and kept everything else factory original. The car itself has a mere 52,000 miles on it, so I never had to worry about rust, or any other weather-sustained damage.

It was amazing to actually drive that car and see it move under it's own power for the first time since I was a child. It was almost like connecting with the grandfather I never had the chance to meet, while finishing a project started by my dad and I, and bringing a smile to my mother's face all at the same time. The difference is night and day, but now that I resurrected the beast, I want more.

The plan is to keep the car as close to something that came out of 1962 as possible. That being said, the 318 is something I'm choosing to eliminate in favor of a Big Block 440 based stroker. I'll miss the push-button 727 torq-flite, but I think the addition of a manual trans will help with the grief. I'll have the interior reupholstered with material as close as possible to the original, and this time, I'm going to tackle the body work myself. Once the hard part is finished, I want a paint job so stellar it looks like you could swim in it.

They say the Dart has a face only a mother could love. But to me, it's one of the finest examples of automotive design in existence. The design itself was so far ahead of its time that people just weren't ready for it. But to those who truly do have an appreciation for chrome, fins, and lines to die for, this car is the pinnacle. And being one of 3166 made in 1962, I seriously doubt I'll ever have to worry about pulling into a car show and having three just like it parked in the vicinity.

 

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