Catching Heck: My (Brief) Life of Crime

Nobody likes to admit to having done bad things, and for the most part each of us is a good person. But sometimes good people get a little off base and do bad things. Here’s the story of how an original 1967 H-code 383 4-speed Dart GTS caused my first (and only… so far) serious run in with the cops. This is also the story of how I was reunited with the very same car – thirty five years later.

Let’s go back to the summer of 1975. Me and my group of same-age buddies used to ride our bicycles around the quiet town of West Brookfield, Massachusetts. It was summer vacation and there was little else to do in those (wonderful) days before video games, Twitter and texting. We were all about eleven or twelve years old at the time. The town was safe and our parents trusted us enough to set us free for the entire day.

Well before the age of mountain bikes or even 10-speed “racing” bikes, our little gang rode around on stripped down single speed bicycles with 20-inch wheels and Bendix “Coaster Brakes.” Usually based on a Columbia or Sears “Free Spirit” bike, we’d yank the fenders then paint the frame flat black. I guess we were after the same austere vibe that’s motivated hot rodders for decades. We called our contraptions “junk bikes” since they were a far cry from the shiny (stone stock) bikes the square kids rode to and from the town library. And no, we didn’t steal these bikes. Each was a Christmas or birthday gift from our parents that we customized to suit our taste.

As we rolled away the summer days we’d engage in some off road trail riding or find the steepest paved hill in town and ride to the top (without getting off to push) then turn around and fly back down as fast as we could go. We all learned a lot about gear ratios and how we could swap front and rear sprockets to get the best acceleration or top speed – but never both - on these simple single-speed bikes.

Our riding often followed the busy main roads that ran through town and we’d all pay special attention any time a muscle car or hot rod rumbled past. Remember, this was the mid-Seventies so we got exposed to a wide variety of cool stuff. I remember loads of GTOs, Road Runners, Mach 1 Mustangs and even a SuperBird. A few were still original owner cars, but most were at the hands of their second or third owners – often high school kids. As such, they were far from stock and typically fitted with wide mag wheels, traction bars, side pipes, hood scoops and other bolt on doodads of the day.

Two cars in particular stood out to my young mind, a pair of 1967 383 Dart GTS hardtops. We didn’t know it at the time, but those special big block-powered Darts were late-year models and only 229 are reported to have been built (as well as a small quantity of 383-powered Formula S Barracudas). Having two of these rare Darts in our town was a treat. One was burnt orange, the other dark green, but both were in fairly original condition except for add-on small bolt Cragar S/S mags. I’ve written briefly in this column about these cars but never told the full story of how we got a little too close to the green one – and wound up in trouble.