Music store owner Nelson Wynn has a thing for Dodge Darts. As a youth he was enthralled by his older brothers' hot rods and longed to someday own one. The chance came early enough but alas the timing just wasn't right. "My brother had a '70 Dodge Dart Swinger 340 four-speed car, and he offered it to me when I turned 16, but the issue was that I was already playing music and making money doing it so I bought a van instead to haul gear around," he says.
Time passed, and Nelson and his wife, Gail, settled into life as the owners of a music store, supplying both budding and successful musicians with the instruments and gear that would perhaps allow the next generation of stars to take the stage. "As life calmed down and I got older, I told my son who was 13 or 14 years old at the time that I would buy a car, and we would build the car together. So I bought a '70 Dart. We spent some time putting that one together, but by the time we got it done, he had already turned 16 and wanted a car of his own," he says. Nelson kept that car for 13 years until he sold it in hot pursuit of a new project.
Though without A/C or a stereo, the car still has a strong current draw, thanks to an elec
A call from a friend lead Nelson to a $500 1969 Dodge Dart GT that was a little rough but otherwise a solid candidate. "It was a real good starter car. It had a little bit of rust but nothing major." The vision for a project car is different for every builder and Nelson's dream was a car that would be cleaner, faster, and nicer than what Detroit offered, but not an over-the-top, undriveable trailer queen. In other words, he wanted something that could sing as well as swing.
The foundation for his masterpiece was laid as he had friend and bodyman Fred Kralevanski Jr. replace the tattered front end with fiberglass front fenders and a Six-Pack hood. The remaining panels were rubbed and massaged until they were straight enough to pop a chalk line on. Kralevanski then squirted the body with several quarts of DuPont Lime Light Green treated with just a hint
of extra yellow to bring the color a little closer to Nelson's vision. A traditional Bumble Bee stripe was added to liven it up some more.
On the flip side, Nelson had Kralevanski make sure the chassis was able to dance to whatever tune the engine could turn out. That included back-halving the car with an RMS AlterKtion ladder bar setup and QA1 coilovers planting a set of Mickey Thompson Drag Radials. Though it took a couple of years for the general public to catch on, drag radials turned out to be the hot ticket for fast street cars, and with 3,000-pound cars now running deep in the 7s on MTs, hooking up is no problem for a ride like Nelson's Dart. Naturally, an 8 3/4-inch rearend was centered and fitted with a set of 4.30 gears. Nelson hinted that straight-line performance was the real goal with the combo. "It's got a spool rearend, so we don't go around corners very well. But it is mostly driven on the street. The car is a real good street driver."
Toward the front of the stage, a pair of Mopar Performance subframe connectors lead up to the lightweight RMS AlterKtion front K-member attached to a Flaming River rack-and-pinion. QA1 coilovers were also used on the frontend, allowing Nelson to easily adjust the ride height without fiddling with the usual torsion bar mess. The coilovers also give him the chance to loosen the front suspension up a little should the need for a little side-by-side racing action come up. In his decision-making process for choosing suspension components, Nelson laid out his philosophy: "I did a lot of research and tried to choose stuff that would last and that would take some of the street driving, not just the dragstrip driving. A lot of the tubular front suspension stuff is designed specifically for dragstrip racing and won't take the rigors of going down the street with all the bumps."
One of the key ingredients in cleaning up the engine compartment was relocating the radiat
Since Bill Wood started building brake systems for stock cars back in '77, his Wilwood Brakes have been a staple on just about every high-performance build since, so it is no surprise that Nelson took full advantage of their technology when choosing a system that would stop on a dime after jumping a Coke bottle.
Playing lead in this ensemble of speed is a '69 440 engine that has been treated oh-so right. The block was align-honed and fitted to a set of JE pistons and Eagle rods once the factory steel crank was balanced to them. With 10:1 compression and a solid-lifter cam, a pair of port-matched Edelbrock Performer RPM heads was really able to scream. The engine was originally built by Jim Wise, who also spec'd out an Indy single-plane intake manifold pulling air through a Holley double-pumper.
Nelson wanted to make sure that the engine was the showstopper here, so he thoroughly detailed and cleaned up the engine compartment. Tucking away wires and smoothing the firewall was only the start of that process. He hid the ignition box, and rather than leaving ugly holes where the factory shocks stood, routed the crankcase evac tubes down to the headers through those holes. On the back side of those tubes, Nelson ran a pair of TTI 2-inch underbody headers ready to make sweet music. All of the power created by that combination passes through a Cope Racing Transmission 727 TorqueFlite via a 3,800-stall converter.
Try as he might to make the engine the star, the interior really steals the show. Robert Beauchamp Upholstery of Highland, Indiana, was responsible for making the package really sync. They wanted to stick with the black and green theme for the interior, so Beauchamp covered a set of aluminum Kirkey racing seats and had custom "DART" patches embroidered to be inset into the seat covers, center console, and dash. He took care to make sure that there was plenty of room inside once an NHRA-approved six-point rollcage was installed with swing-out door bars for easy access. They built a custom center console to house a Cheetah Turbo Action shifter and the controls for the power windows. Yes, power windows. Machine-turned aluminum was used to give the dash, glovebox, and center console a little more flair, and they kicked it up a notch by adding Auto Meter Carbon Fiber Ultra-Lite gauges to the mix. While sitting like an engineer in front of a mixing board, Nelson controls the direction of the music by way of a Flaming River Waterfall steering wheel. Ironically, the one thing blatantly missing from the interior is a stereo system. Nelson jokes he couldn't hear it if it had one anyhow. He is also a fan of the 2-60 air-conditioning system. That is, two windows at 60 mph. This is a fairly lightweight street/strip car after all, and weight slows you down.
While Beauchamp was busy getting the interior to settle into harmony, he just couldn't find the right color thread to really pop on the black upholstery. "Nobody seems to make a nylon thread that is fluorescent green. So I was at Gander Mountain one day, and I called my buddy up who does the upholstery work and said, 'Hey, can you stitch with fishing line?' He said, 'I don't know. I have never tried.' So I bought a spool of 20-pound test fluorescent green fishing line, and that's what we stitched the interior with." The sewing machine didn't fight it and it turned out to hit just the right note, making the interior complete.
With the final notes written in this composition, Nelson couldn't wait to hear its sweet song. In fact, he's been listening to it now for over 2,500 miles of clear days and warm summer nights. He's yet to take the car to the strip but estimates a pretty lively performance. "I know that the guy who I bought the motor from was running the same drivetrain and same gear, and was running 10.80s in a car that was about a thousand pounds heavier than mine. That was before the roller rockers and Indy intake. I would say low 10s would be feasible," he says.
Though his life for the most part now revolves around helping young musicians find their glory, on those days that he takes the bright green Dart on the streets of Highland, it is that car that relishes in the limelight.
|BY THE NUMBERS
|'69 DODGE DART GT
|Nelson Wynn • Highland, IN
||Edelbrock Performer RPM
||TTI 2-inch primaries
||727 TorqueFlite by Cope Racing Transmissions
||8 3/4; with 4.30 gear and spool
||RMS AlterKtion control arms, Mopar subframe connectors, QA1 coilover, Flaming River rack-and-pinion
||RMS AlterKtion ladder bars, QA1 coilovers
|WHEELS & TIRES
||15-inch Weld Alumastars
||BFGoodrich P185/65R15, front; Mickey Thompson Drag Radial P275/60R15, rear