The Keeper: Hemi Dart Performance Review

s a kid, I never thought I’d be able to say the one car I’ve owned for the longest continuous span of years was a Hemi powered Dart. But it’s true. I’ve owned the red 1967 Dart 2-door sedan featured here since April 21, 1992. That’s a total of eighteen years – somewhere between a third and a half of my 46 years on this planet. On that April day so many years ago I paid $800 to a petite brunette by the name of Nancy. She was a manager-in-training at the Carl’s Jr. hamburger joint on Huntington Ave. in Azusa, California. The purchase made me the Dart’s third owner, the first being one “Robert A. Grandpre” of Arcadia, CA (according to the still-present Certicard).

Of course it wasn’t Hemi powered when I got it. Rather – as Galen Govier later confirmed – it turned out to be one of 29 ’67 Dart Sedans built with the E-code 273 Four Barrel engine and column-shifted 904 Torqueflite transmission. Mr. Grandpre must have had fun playing with suckers who figured his unassuming little sedan was a Slant Six econo-car! No doubt he’d mash the gas, crack open the AFB and make the 235 horses bark through the A-861 tuned high-capacity single exhaust and cool chrome-tipped resonator.

At the time of the purchase, I was working for Roland Osborn’s Chrysler Power magazine as an associate editor. Quickly we hatched a plan to stuff one of the then-new Mopar Performance Super Commando 360 crate engines in it and run 12s. Anybody remember the Chrysler Power “Project L.A. Dart”? That was this car. We only got as far as installing big bolt A-Body front disc brakes and an 8 ¾ rear axle before things changed and I left the magazine to work as a machinist at Stage V Engineering in nearby Walnut, CA. There I drilled, tapped, reamed, bushed and polished untold thousands of Hemi intake and exhaust rocker arms for the next three years.

In addition to investment-cast stainless roller rocker arms for high stress Hemi applications (most competitive Super Stock and Top Fuel Hemis run their intake rockers) Stage V has offered an excellent Hemi Conversion package since 1986. This Hemi Conversion kit allows owners of wedge blocks to fit Hemi heads and thus enjoy Hemi horsepower without the weight and cost of a Hemi block. Before long we decided to build a 520-cube Stage V Hemi Conversion mill and stick it in the Dart. After almost two years of getting the engine built and modifying the Dart to accept it, on May 14, 1997, the Dart first ran with a Hemi under the hood – and has been elephant powered for the past thirteen years. As for the original 273 A-861 Four Barrel mill, 904 Torqueflite and 3.23 geared 7 ¼ rear axle, they were sold off to help finance various costs of the Hemi swap. Did I “destroy” a rare car? Yes and no. If it was a 4-speed E-code car I’d have left alone. But I figure the Hemi transplant was an honor to the car, not an insult. I hope you agree. So far the car ain’t talking.

Now it is 2010 and I’m living in Massachusetts and am happy to report the Hemi Dart is alive and very well. A few weeks ago I trailered it 90 miles to the “local” track – Lebanon Valley Dragway in New York – to see how it likes the crisp New England air. At this point I need to spell a few things out. Back in California, the Dart’s best ever run was a 10.99 at 127 at the now-defunct and magically historic Carlsbad drag strip - did you know Chrysler used to do a bunch of Hemi testing there in the weeks prior to the big races at Pomona? I get goose bumps thinking about the fact I ran down the same stretch of track as Ronnie Sox, Jim Thornton and Dick Landy did back in the day.