The photo with last week’s What Is It? contest of the 1970 Dodge Dart, which we ran as a tease to this week’s road test of the 2013 Dart, carries me back across the decades to an even older Dart from my teenage years.
It wasn’t mine. My cars were clunkers – with the exception of an impressive 1955 Chevy that I should have kept – but my friend Jack’s parents got rid of their big sedan and bought a new 1967 Dodge Dart.
It was a little burgundy sedan, and if memory serves, it had the 273-cubic-inch V-8 and automatic, with bench seats – a family car.
Occasionally, Jack’s folks would let Jack drive the car, and his friends helped him take advantage of their kindness.
We mistreated that little sedan. We raced it, took it on impromptu road trips and hauled many more people in it than the manufacturer had intended. It was not exactly a hot rod, so we would remove the air filter with the notion that more air would get through the carburetor and boost the engine.
Perhaps because the car began showing its age too soon, Jack’s parents sometimes banned him from taking it out. On such occasions, he would sit in the car in his yard and listen to the radio. After a while, his father took the keys because he was afraid Jack would run the battery down or sneak the car out when he wasn’t supposed to.
On one such weekend we discovered a strange property the Dart possessed. Though we had no keys, we would fiddle around with the controls anyway, and we found that if we pushed the brake pedal and turned on the left turn signal, the radio would play.
It was the weirdest thing. We had no explanation for it, but we would spend hours listening to music on the hottest rock station. (It was an AM station back then!) Jack’s parents would look out the window and wonder how we could enjoy sitting in a silent car all day.
Sometimes they would take pity and let Jack have the car. On one such occasion, we had to jump-start it because we had drained the battery by playing the radio.
We never did figure out why a combination of brake pedal and turn signal activated the radio, but then, Jack and I weren’t exactly what you would call mechanics. One weekend, we did some work on my old Ford in Jack’s yard. The last thing we did was to adjust the engine timing.
We had never adjusted timing before and, in fact, didn’t know exactly what timing was. But we did it. The car started, and we took it down the road. In lunges.
I had never before seen a car lunge. It was as though the Ford were a chained dog leaping at a mailman. The car bounded along as we headed for the nearest service station to get the timing reset by a professional.
As I recall, that Dart outlast my Ford by many years.