End of the Dodge Challenger, Birth of the Dart Sport
Dodge's path through the '70s was strewn with the same obstacles that made life difficult for all U.S. automakers in those years: a growing number of ever-stricter government regulations and a dramatically altered business climate stemming from the OPEC oil embargo of 1973-74. The division was ill-prepared for both, its early-decade lines heavy with cars motivated by thirsty V-8s and wallowing on too-soft suspensions. Worse, Chrysler's steadily declining fortunes allowed most of these dinosaurs to hang on too long.
Indifferent workmanship only further dampened sales, which culminated in the corporation's near-demise during 1980. But by that point, Dodge was through its trial by fire and building nothing remotely like its early-'70s dinosaurs, save the 118.5-inch-wheelbase St. Regis sedan and the Mirada personal-luxury coupe.
It didn't take much corporate contemplation to dispose of the poor Challenger: clumsy, poorly built, and never a serious sales threat to Camaro/Firebird or even Mustang II (if you call that one a pony car). The overweight latecomer was put out to pasture after 1974, when only about 16,000 were sold. Collectors noted the rarity and desirability of convertibles, R/Ts, and big-inch engines after '71, and have been bidding up prices at auctions.
With the dawn of the first energy crisis, the brontosaurus-like Polara/Monaco also seemed headed for the automotive tar pits, but Dodge tried hard to save them via discounts and cash rebates beginning in 1974, Polara vanished after '73. A blocky new Monaco arrived for '74, similar to that year's redesigned Chrysler but still on a 122-inch wheelbase. In 1977, it became the Royal Monaco -- selling in decent numbers only by dint of police and taxi orders -- while the Monaco name replaced Coronet on midsize cars.
Given such disappointments, it's no surprise that Dodge increasingly depended on Dart sales through mid-decade. Giving the compact line new appeal for '71 was the fastback Demon, a double to Plymouth's new-for-'70 Valiant Duster with the same 108-inch wheelbase and choice of Slant Six, 318 V-8, and optional 340 V-8. The last was reserved for a sporty Demon 340 decked out with bodyside tape stripes, matte-black hood with dual dummy scoops, and wide tires on special wheels as part of a specially beefed-up chassis.
With its trim size and 275 horsepower, the Demon 340 was nimble yet spirited -- really the Dart GTS idea remade for changing times. But the name bothered some people, so Demon was prosaically retitled Dart Sport for '73, when all Darts gained a latticework grille and modest center hood bulge. The Sport 340 became a 360 for 1974-75, Dodge enlarging its small-block V-8 in deference to easier emissions tuning.
A memorable Sport option was the "Convertriple," which actually meant two separate extras: fold-down rear seat and sliding-steel sunroof. Ordered together, they made for something vaguely like a "three-way" car. Also making Dart more than just basic transportation were the plush Special Edition sedans and coupes of 1974-76. These offered vinyl tops, special emblems, velour interiors, and other extras for about $3,800.
For more on the all-American Dodge, see:
- Dodge New Car Reviews and Prices
- Dodge Used Car Reviews and Prices