Although the Dodge Dart nameplate was introduced in 1960, it didn’t truly assume the identity it is most well-known for today until a 1963 redesign. During its initial iteration from 1960 to 1962, the Dart was only nominally smaller than its stablemates (118-inch wheelbase versus the other models’ 122 inches), and was a completely different car from the popular Plymouth Valiant. In fact, the first Valiant twin was the Dodge Lancer, which helped to launch the bulletproof slant-six engine. This compact was a charmingly eccentric, baroque design whose only real fault was that it couldn’t readily be updated. By 1962, Lancer sales were a fraction of the Valiant’s and the car’s styling already seemed dated.
In an effort to shake things up, a new Dodge Dart bowed in 1963 as the Lancer replacement. The redesigned Dart was a true compact model with an entry price just below $2,000. Slightly larger than its Valiant sister, the car wore clean sheetmetal with slab sides and exaggerated headlights. The 170 line offered two- and four-door sedans and a station wagon, the upscale 270 offered a convertible in addition, and the GT came as a two-door hardtop and a convertible. All were powered by 170-c.i. or 225-c.i. slant-six engines. Consistent with their sticker price, cars were sparsely equipped, and operation was very economical with 20 to 25 miles per gallon.
Dodge sold almost 140,000 Darts during the 1963 model year, far surpassing the 1962 Lancer’s 64,300 and putting it on par with similar offerings from Mercury, Oldsmobile, Pontiac and Buick. With a little tweaking, Dodge seemed to have found a winner.
Choosing not to mess with success, the 1964 Dart changed little except for some bolder trim and the introduction of a 180-hp, 273-c.i. V-8 that marked Dodge’s Golden Anniversary. The compact Dart was again a hit, with 195,000 Dart’s moving into new driveways. A refresh in 1965 further tidied some design work, and sales remained strong at 206,000. Almost half of 1965 Dart production was equipped with a V8 engine.
The last run for the 1963 body was 1966, by which time the tooling was more than paid for. Sales that year fell quite a bit as public interest was singularly focused on the Ford Mustang, and the Dart’s vintage 1963 design instantly felt old. Still, Dodge managed to sell 113,000 units. The following year the car was completely redesigned, and the 1967 Dart would be the best-looking one ever and the basic shape continued with detail changes for 10 years.
Dodge Darts of this generation make an ideal first collector car. They are simple, relatively resistant to rust, inexpensive to use, and quite durable—all slant-six engines can exceed 100,000 miles between rebuilds. Lots of choices for powertrain and body type mean there is a Dart of this era somewhere to suit nearly everyone’s taste. The high production numbers mean there are still lots of solid survivors available in addition to lots of spare parts, and that prices are also held in check by ample supply. All in all, the 1963 to 1966 Dodge Dart offers lots of fun and many miles for the money.
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