Mopar Memories

Updated: Mar 2

By Patrick King (in response to this Hemmings article)

My parents didn’t drive so when I got my license and convinced them we needed a “family car” I suggested a 1969 Dodge Dart GTS 340, yellow with black interior, black vinyl roof and black bumblebee stripe. It was hardly a random choice: I’d been devouring the buff books since I was eight and loved what few imports existed but I wanted a muscle car and my friend’s ‘65 GTO convertible seemed too large and unwieldy. Also, the Dodge was unibody, unlike the large, body-on-frame GM and Ford hot rods. Everything I read pointed to the Dart. But what really enticed me about the Mopar was the brand-new, thin-wall, high-performance small block 340 introduced the year before to combat the small block Chevy. At the time I could quote all the specs of this engine, from its compression ratio to the windage tray in its oil pan (to the great amusement of my chortling uncles who would ask me to perform my routine as if I were reciting the latest Dylan lyrics).

The 340, descendants of which exist to this day, didn’t come in two-barrel, low compression form – it was strictly a high-performance offering. The optional 383 “upgrade” might well have been faster on the drag strip (as were the fifty or so 440 and half dozen Hemi Darts built) but that was hardly the point. The decidedly low-tech big block was a station-wagon-and-pickup-truck boat anchor whose weight obliterated the balanced handling of the A-Body Dart and Barracuda, and, given my fanaticism about the original Trans Am series, this mattered... A lot!

Which brings me to this Hemmings find. Matt correctly notes the Dart’s Trans Am success with Bob Tullius and Tony A-to-Z before it handed racing duties over to the new Challenger and ‘Cuda for the 1970 season but that raises the question: what does the 383 have to do with road racing? The answer: nothing. Granted, the blue car has a matching-numbers engine and a stick, so its rarity explains the asking price but it irks me that I never see a 340 ANYTHING at Mecum Kissimmee that I attend regularly or even on Graveyard Carz (c’mon Mark!). And I wonder how many Darts and Barracudas have been big block-swapped and painted resale red over the years for a quick buck.

Needless to say, that GTS taught me all about power oversteer (drifting, before it was a thing) on my favorite twisty road along the banks of the Charles River in Newton, Massachusetts, and prepared me for my next automotive adventure, a new 1971 BMW 2002. Still, after a ‘76 Sirocco, a ‘70 Trans Am and another 2002, I flew from Boston to Atlanta to buy a then-twelve year-old ‘69 Swinger 340, “rust-free” having already achieved mantra status in my lexicon, so apparently I hadn’t gotten that little Mopar out of my system yet. Still haven’t, really.

Somewhat regrettably, it’s been VWs and BMWs since then. Now here we are in 2022 and a 1968 GTS – with the WRONG motor – sells for the price of a new, base-model M3!

Ah, well...

Here's an audio clip of my yellow 340's exhaust note recorded in 1971, just before I traded the car for my first 2002. I placed the Akai reel-to-reel portable tape recorder you see above in the trunk and taped a stereo microphone above each exhaust tip. Then I bungie-corded the trunk shut and went for a blast up Route 128 in Newton and Weston. Good speakers cranked to eleven recommended. Enjoy!

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