We'll admit, Dodge Dart Swingers were not the first cars that came to mind when we thought about Pro Touring Mopars. They might not even have made our top five, but that has now changed thanks to Rich Wies, Jr's '70 Dart Swinger. The Poison Dart, as he likes to call it, has opened our eyes to yet another Mopar for enthusiasts to consider, just as Romeo Furio's "Dust 'Ya" (PHR Dec. '02) helped turn the masses onto the untapped potential of Dusters.
The sporty Darts from this era feature clean lines and Hemi-sized engine compartments that made them popular in their heydey, although not at the same level as their now stratospherically priced Pentastar brethren, the 'Cuda and Charger. Wies deals in collector cars for a living and was well aware of the bargain these Darts had become in recent years when he stumbled across a pristine, Butternut-colored Swinger in July of 2004. The two-time Mopar Nationals show winner came with a $14,000 price tag, which is definitely on the high end for Darts, but a comparable 'Cuda would be considered a steal at ten times that amount.
His original intent (or at least that's his official story) was to buy the car as daily transportation for his wife, Melissa. Somehow, that plan was abandoned and, less than a year later, Rich found himself squinting from the glare of a photo reflector as we took his picture with the nicest Dart Swinger we've ever laid eyes on.
There were some early indications of what was to come. Wies already had a 528ci Hemi tabbed for his wife's commuting needs prior to even finding a car to drop it in. Soon after picking the Dart up, Rich began scheming with Jimi Day of Imagine Motorsports, and Murray Pfaff was quickly brought onboard to create a rendering that would bring the exterior up to par with the new drivetrain.
That's where the real trouble started. After more than 100 different renderings and countless gigabytes worth of digital editing, Pfaff came up with the design that Jimi Day's Imagine Motorsports crew brought to fruition with the assistance of Jeff Schwartz from Schwartz Extreme Performance.
Intentions of this car ever becoming a daily driver seemed very distant, but that didn't mean Wies was content to let this car turn into a two-toned piece of garage furniture. Hard-core racing was not in the car's future either, so Rich went with a comfortable cabin devoid of five-point harnesses, rollbars, or racing seats that make family road trips unbearable. Glide Engineering supplied a comfortable bench-style seat that Danny's Glass and Trim of Island Lake, Illinois, finished off in black leather to match the headliner and door panels. An Ellipse audio/video system was also installed to help keep Rich's sons, Damien and CJ, occupied on long road trips. Fortunately, the added electronic gadgetry did not come at the expense of filling up the trunk with subwoofers, amplifiers, or extra batteries.
Some luggage space was sacrificed for an NOS bottle, which supplies a 150hp boost when called upon. A 23-gallon Fuel Safe racing cell also takes up some square footage, but greatly increases the range of the thirsty Hemi. Relocating the fuel tank also allowed the Heidt's Superide independent rear suspension to peacefully co-exist with the dual Hooker Aero Chamber mufflers that collect fumes from a pair of custom-fabricated 3-inch oval pipes. The exhaust now exits through a custom-fabricated rectangular exhaust port located directly above a carbon-fiber air diffuser from Prototype Techniques. If the rumble of the muffled 528 isn't intimidating enough, a flip of the switch opens a pair of electric cutouts from QTP.
The fact that the Swinger had an automatic transmission was a key factor in Rich's decision to buy the car for his wife (we still don't believe him). That factory slushbox is only a memory now. In its place sits a modern 4L80E from Bowler Performance Transmission mated to a very trick Twist Machine paddle shifter mounted behind a Flaming River Waterfall Wheel. A 2,500-stall converter and 3.50 gears offer a good blend of performance and drivability, allowing the car to cruise comfortably at highway speed or shred Goodyear's F1 Supercar rubber when a stab of the throttle summons all 600 lb-ft of torque.
All that torque, plus the 700 nitrous-assisted ponies generated by the previously mentioned 528ci mill, was the result of Jimi Day and Jeff Schwartz's meticulous assembly work. A Mopar Performance crankshaft drives 9.25:1 JE Pistons, while Speed-Pro plasma moly rings, Oliver connecting rods, Manley valves, and a mild cam from COMP ensure the Mopar Performance crate motor will run strong for years to come. Speedfreek Motorsports of Woodstock, Illinois, handled the machine work on the stroker motor, and John Aruzza supplied the rockers, pushrod guides, retainers, and locks. Ported and polished Mopar Performance cylinder heads top the beast, along with a Holley Commander 950 outfitted with a pair of 1,000-cfm throttle bodies. A crank-triggered MSD Digital 6 ignition lights the fire, while a Be Cool modular cooling system with dual high-torque fans keeps the fire from burning out of control.
Schwartz found the ideal ride height by lowering the car 4 inches and replacing the stock front suspension with an AlterKtion system from RMS. Tubular A-arms and 2-inch drop spindles were also thrown into the mix, while polished aluminum coilovers dampen the ride on all four corners. The Goodyear rubber surrounds 18-inch Kinesis R58 wheels that are brought to a halt by a Hydratech braking system that grips 13-inch rotors with a pair of SSBC Extreme Force 10 four-piston calipers. Inboard 10.5-inch rotors handle braking duties in the rear. Schwartz made room for the massive rolling stock by mini-tubbing the rear wheelhousing 2.5 inches.
As extensive as the list of mechanical changes is, the list of body modifications may be even longer. Some are obvious, such as the stamped Maranello-style hood scoops, the carbon-fiber chin spoiler, the custom taillights, and the smoothed firewall. Other changes are more subtle, but every bit as important to the overall appearance. Narrowed bumpers, a wide-mouth mesh grille, and deleted marker lights and mirrors set the stage for the amazing paint that covers the exterior.
Even though the Dart was a proven show-winner when Rich picked it up, he still sent the body over to Imperial Blasting to prepare it for the paint and powdercoating that would soon follow. Gorilla Powdercoating came up with a mix for the undercarriage that matched the PPG O-So-Orange Vibrance finish that was going to be applied to the lower section of the body. Media blasting revealed extensive bondo work, so Jim Plimpton and the staff at Authentic Automotive were assigned the task of making everything right again with the panels before they laid down the two-tone paint job and the tribal flames that divide the hues.
Once all the final orange and crystal-white layers were applied, the entire surface was protected beneath several applications of PPG's Diamond Clearcoat.A mere five months after beginning their project, Jimi, Jeff, and Rich are now able to spend the summer hitting all the big events, shaking down their creation, and ironing out any bugs. "I've been itching to get it out on the dragstrip and just rip it up," says Wies. "I'm hoping for mid- to high-10s with a good pair of slicks." The dragstrip will have to wait until after the car is finished dropping jaws at SEMA. Hopefully his wife will give him a little time with it before she takes the keys back. Yeah, right.