Exhaustive Comparisons Part 2: A Review of Dodge Dart Exhaust Systems through the Past Fifty Years

dart dual exhaust

Welcome back to our discussion of all things Dart and engine aspiration. The Dart nameplate was revived in 1960 and ’61 to identify the entry level Dodge (beneath the Matador and Polara in 1960 and below the Polara in 1961), a full size offering based on the large C-body semi-unit construction platform. When equipped with the optional 318 polyspherical head Power Package V8 or 361, 383, 413 wedge head V8’s with single or dual Carter 4-barrel carburetion, dual exhaust was standard issue though the tail pipes were plain, unadorned bits of steel tubing formed in a gentle downward curve to discharge against the pavement. V8 Dart owners wanting to highlight their car’s enhanced breathing – and power – potential went to the MoPar parts counter (or the thriving aftermarket) for a set of chromed dress-up tips.


The 1962 model year brought drastic down-sizing and the birth of the intermediate-sized Dart line. Full size Dodges were re-named Custom 880 and continued to ride on the semi-unitized C-body platform (the front sub-frame still had to be bolted to the cowl and floor of the body shell under the front seat area, by contrast the B-body integrated the front sub-frame into the unibody as a welded-on component). With the 1962 Dart, Dodge entered / helped create the mid-size market segment. The Dart was offered in several levels of trim to suit every budget. The base model was the Fleet Special, followed by the basic Dart, Dart 330, Dart 440 and topped by the Polara 500. All of these cars could be had with an optional 361 4-barrel or a dual-quad 413 (both wedges) with standard dual exhaust systems to allow proper breathing at high rpm. Like the full size Darts of 1960-’61, the dual exhaust tips were still plain, unadorned turn-downs (though the late-year 413 Ramcharger Max Wedge 413 NHRA super stock drag race package made plenty of waves – social and sonic – with its stealthy under-car lakes-style exhaust by-pass caps which could be un-corked with the simple removal of 4-bolts per side). Again, tail pipe dress-up was handled by the guys at the MoPar counter or aftermarket industry sources.


Quietly waiting in the wings was the new-for-1961 Dodge Lancer. A spin-off of the 1960 Plymouth Valiant – Chrysler Corp.’s first offering for the post-WWII compact car market which included the Chevy Corvair, Ford Falcon, Studebaker Lark, Rambler American, plus an assortment of foreign offerings led by the VW Beetle. The Lancer was based on the A-body platform and like the B-body was fully unitized, but even smaller with a 106.5-inch wheelbase (versus the B-body’s 116-inch measurement).


While Valiant sales were causing Plymouth dealers to smile (nearly half-million Valiants sold in the 1960-’62 time frame), Dodge Lancer sales averaged about 70, 000 units per year in 1961 and ’62, less than half what Plymouth Valiant dealers were used to. Regardless of sales totals, the new fleet of Plymouth and Dodge A-body Valiant/Lancer compacts were all powered by the now-legendary Slant Six engine (170-cubic inches standard, 225 optional). With its inline configuration neither Valiant nor Lancer offered a dual exhaust package – it simply wasn’t needed. The low-revving Slant Six was an economy oriented power plant with no need to spin past 5000-rpm. The closest thing was the limited issue Hyper-Pak of 1960-’61 (PN 2205 573 long since discontinued though Clifford Performance produced a small run of reproduction intake manifolds in 1999).


To recap, the Hyper-Pak was an over-the-counter performance kit for Valiant and Lancer owners consisting of a ram-tuned intake manifold, Carter 4-barrel carburetor, specific low-profile air cleaner (to accommodate the A-body’s low cowl height and hood line without adding a scoop), high lift camshaft, split exhaust manifolds, increased diameter tail pipe and…a chrome plated turn-down style exhaust tip. With a list price of $403.30 plus installation cost, the Hyper-Pak kit easily added 30% to the window sticker so only about 200 were manufactured – one of which helped Marvin Panch win a special NASCAR compacts-only race at the 1960 Daytona 500 with average lap speeds nearing 130-mph! With its chrome-plated exhaust tip, the over-the-counter Hyper-Pak kit stands as the first example of attention being paid to the appearance of an A-body exhaust outlet by factory engineers.


Moving up to 1963, we get to the real genesis of the Dart legacy. This is when Dodge – fed up with trailing Plymouth in sales – totally broke away from the Valiant and redesigned the Lancer as a standalone model re-named the Dart. Like the current 2013 Dart of half a century later, the ’63 Dart offered more standard equipment and better engineering than its competition, a recurring theme no? For example, the base sticker price of a 1963 Dart 170 series 2-door sedan was $1, 983. For that you got an industry-leading 111-inch wheelbase for a comfortable ride, the modern ram-inducted 101-hp Slant Six with 170 cubic inches (an extra $47 got you the 145-hp 225-cube version), a standard alternator versus the rpm-sensitive generators used by many competitors and responsive torsion bar front suspension with an aluminum manual steering box – which was quite an accomplishment at the time.


By contrast, the Studebaker Lark was $48 less ($1, 935) but that stuck you with a shorter 109 inch wheel base, heavy (thirsty) body-on-frame construction, a generator and a 169-cube inline six inhaling through a crude log-style intake manifold. The Rambler American also had a lower base sticker price of $1, 832 but rode on a choppy 100-inch wheelbase (nearly one foot shorter than the Dart) with antiquated king-pin front suspension and was powered by an obsolete 195.6-cube flathead six. Ford’s Falcon listed for two dollars more than Dart ($1, 985) but saddled buyers with an anemic 144-cube OHV six and rode on a shorter 109.5-inch wheelbase. Chevy compacts for ’63 included the Chevy II ($2, 003) and Corvair ($1992). The Corvair’s eccentric rear-mounted, air cooled six was brave, but delivered unconventional handling traits and a marginal heater in cold climates. The Chevy II was generally uninspired versus the sharper thinking put into the Dart and base model buyers made due with a 153-cubic inch inline four cylinder engine (the 194-cube six cost extra).


As for the so-called GM “senior-compacts” from Buick (Special), Pontiac (Tempest) and Oldsmobile (F-85), with their larger size they had to – and did – sell for more money (Buick = $2, 309, Olds = $2, 403, Pontiac = $2, 188). The Dart attracted GM senior compact shoppers with its long wheelbase and lower base price. It is no wonder the new-for-’63 Dart sold 153, 900 units, an amazing 140% increase over sales of the outgoing 1962 Lancer. The Dart would go on to become one of Dodge division’s strongest selling models, often accounting for 30-percent of total annual sales.


Getting back to our discussion of Dart exhaust systems, as the popularity of larger V8 muscle cars grew, the demand for V8 powered compacts was inevitable. Chrysler set the stage for future greatness with the 273 2-barrel in 1964 (an outgrowth of the polyspherical-head A series 318 engine line) and added it to the Dart (and Valiant) line for an extra $131 ($350 when the Torqueflite automatic was specified). Breathing through an economical 2-barrel carburetor and humble single exhaust tract with small piping and a muffler tuned for quiet operation, the 273 made 180-hp at 4200-rpm and was available in any Dart body type including station wagons and convertibles. The internal engineering designation assigned to the 273 2-barrel (Chrysler’s first small block V8) was A828 and it would quickly grow into a fearsome (for the competition) small block performance legend with subsequent displacement increases to 318, 340 and 360 cubes.


The 180-hp 273 gave any Dart an exciting power-to-weight ratio and easy sub 10-second 0-60 acceleration times. The Slant Six – particularly the 225-cube version – was considered quick among its peers, but this was something else altogether. But as with the muscle car segment, a significant number of buyers wanted even more. For 1965 Dodge unleashed the A861, an enhanced performance version of the 273 small block V8 with 235-hp. Marketed as the Charger 273 (or Commando 273 in Plymouth models), changes to the A861 versus the base 273 2-barrel A828 included a bump from 8.8 to 10.5:1 compression, substitution of the single 2-barrel carburetor and intake manifold with a Carter AFB four barrel, a hotter cam profile, dual point distributor, non-silenced chrome air cleaner, black wrinkle-painted valve covers with decorative fin appliques and a very unique exhaust system.


To help the engine reach its 5200-rpm horsepower peak, the engineers devised a cost effective, high flow single exhaust tract. Often overshadowed by later full length dual exhaust systems (more on them in a moment), every A861 was equipped with a large diameter 2-1/2 inch Y-pipe, large capacity single muffler and one of the coolest tailpipes of all time. From the rear of the car, onlookers were met with the sight of a large rectangular stainless steel outlet measuring a gaping 5×3 inches that exited beneath the driver-side of the rear bumper. Much more than a bolt-on tip (like the Hyper-Pak’s purely ornamental unit), this stainless steel tip was big – you could put your fist in it. Crimps and spot welds were present to permanently attach the tip to the body of a round, 18 inch long resonator. Not so much a muffler as an acoustic tuning device, the resonator delivered a mellow burble at idle and low throttle openings that complimented the combustion event music created by the A861’s elevated compression ratio and increased valve overlap events. But when all four barrels of the Carter carburetor were summoned, the resonator gave the 273 Four Barrel an almost Ferrari-like scream that could be heard from miles away on a quiet night.


I know, I’ve personally owned two A861 equipped cars – a ’65 Dart GT hardtop and a ’67 Dart 170-series 2-door sedan – and I learned to enjoy walking around each car – as it sat idling – just to hear the steady thrum emitted from that neat resonator. Onlookers were also curious and I probably answered several hundred inquiries over my years of ownership as to its origins. Most folks were shocked to learn that Chrysler invested so much engineering effort into a single exhaust system. But let’s remember, a true full-length dual exhaust would have added cost, complexity and weight. And truth be told, on the small displacement 273 V8 (that’s roughly 4.4L) with its small valve, small port cylinder heads, the breathing potential just wasn’t there to justify a true dual layout. Cost cutting was also a factor. The A861 shared its cast iron exhaust manifolds with its 2-barrel sibling. Between 1965 and 1967 the A861 Charger 273 engine (often graced with die cast metal “273 Four Barrel” emblems on the front fenders) was available in any Dart except for station wagons. I love knowing it was possible to order a four door Dart sedan with this raspy little fighter under the hood – and it’s brash single exhaust tip taunting would be over-takers.


Getting into 1967, the Dart had been on the market for four successful model years but it was time for a redesign. Since muscle car fever had spread throughout the Dodge lineup and knowing GM and Ford were conjuring big block engine options for their compact models, Chrysler re-engineered the A-body chassis and suspension to accept big block 383 and 440 engines. After some initial off-campus prompting from outlets like Mr. Norm’s Grand-Spaulding Dodge and Hurst Performance, Dodge officially released the 383 motivated GTS as a 1967 model and followed it with similar offerings for 1968 and ’69 – with the 440 making its factory-installed debut in 1969. Naturally each of these cars was fitted with an efficient full length dual exhaust system, which was an easy task considering the 1967-up Dart floor and trunk pans were specifically designed with plenty of room for single or dual mufflers and tail pipes as needed. Visual spice was often – but not always – provided by sleek chrome plated exhaust tips with oval outlets appearing for the first time in 1968.


The small block performance legacy also continued with the 1968 introduction of the 340 – replacing the Charger 273 option of 1967 (“E” engine designation code in the fifth spot of the VIN, the 340 code is “P” for 1968-’69, “H” for 1970-’73). The light 340 was strictly intended as a high performance offering and was never available in a Dart 4-door – ever. The same applies to the 383 and 440 big blocks. The days of 4-door Dart performance models was over with the end of the 1967 model year.


The next time Dodge would offer a 4-door Dart with factory installed dual exhaust outlets (excluding the all-new 2013 that’s got me all worked up) would be in 1976. Yes, 1976, the middle of the most anti-performance decade in automotive history. Though dual exhaust tips were very commonly seen jutting out from under the rear bumper of tens of thousands two door Darts (including the 1967-’69 Dart GTS, 1969-‘70 Dart Swinger 340, 1971-’72 Demon 340 and 1973-’76 Dart Sport 340 and 360), four door Darts were strictly limited to Slant Six or 318 2-barrel V8 power – which exhaled through single exhaust tracts without exception.


This lone four door / dual exhaust rule breaker came in 1976 – the final year for Dart production as the Aspen arrived to replace it. Hoping to appeal to law enforcement agencies looking for strong power-to-weight ratios, the Dart A38 Police Pursuit Package was offered with the Slant Six and 318 V8, but was at its best with the available E58 360 with 220-hp and 280-lb/ft of torque. The only sour note is that A38 / E58 units delivered to the state of California were built with their 360’s de-tuned to 190-hp and 270-lb/ft due to milder camshaft events, leaner carburetor settings and…you guessed it…single exhaust systems with a catalytic converter. It was all part of the California Emissions Package. So for its final year, the Dart 4-door was finally offered with a true dual exhaust system – but you had to wear a badge and not live in California to get one.


That’s all changed today! Every new Dart has four doors and dual exhaust outlets. Have things come full circle or what? –Steve Magnante


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