Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A real Swinger

'69 Dodge Dart Swinger one of the nicest restorations in years

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BY the late sixties the muscle car craze was in high gear. The Pontiac GTO that had pioneered the large engine in a mid-size car was now joined by Super Sport Chevelles, Torino GTs, a Plymouth GTX and the Coronet R/T. While they all sold well, the problem manufacturers faced was that the price of these vehicles kept rising and was quickly becoming out of reach for the very youth buyers they were aimed at. Plymouth countered in '68 with the Road Runner and Dodge followed with the Super Bee, both bare bones, go fast intermediates with a taxi-cab like interior and few amenities to keep the purchase price low. While both posted successful sales it prompted Chrysler to continue along the road of less is more for 1969.

The Dodge Dart Swinger made its debut as a new economy sports/performance two door hardtop based on the economical Dart compact line. The special Swinger 340 package gave the 2,800-pound Dart a lively V8, "Power Bulge" hood, Rallye Suspension, Bumblebee rear deck stripes, wide-oval tires and full dual exhaust system. The heart of the $2,836 Swinger 340 was its 340 cubic inch V8. Equipped with 10.0:1 compression, a mild performance hydraulic camshaft and four barrel carburetion, it developed a respectable 275 horsepower at 5,600 r.p.m. Backed by either a four-speed manual transmission or TorqueFlite automatic, with the choice of two performance axle ratios, it had just the right bang-for-the-buck for economy-minded performance buyers.

For Brad Plummer of Winnipeg, he found his yellow 1969 Dart Swinger 340 more than thirty years ago in 1974. "I was eighteen years old and it was my first muscle car," says Plummer. Used primarily as a daily driver on the street until 1979, Plummer took the Swinger to the dragstrip at Gimli, MB and raced the car regularly until 1982. After moving to Saskatoon he continued to drag race the car at S.I.R. continually turning elapsed times in the low twelve second range until he hit a bad year in 1986. "I blew up an engine, transmission and rear end all in one year and I quickly lost interest in racing, so I parked the car," says Plummer.

Returning to Winnipeg in 1987, the car followed and took up residence in his mother's garage where it remained until 2002. After driving the Swinger that summer, Plummer started looking around for an autobody shop to take it into for a repaint. Plummer said, "I made a list of six or seven shops I'd seen mentioned in the Winnipeg Free Press's Classic Cruising column and started making comparisons and I met Ron Marsh at N.O.C. Restorations in East Selkirk, MB."

After looking the car over it was clear the Swinger had some previously repaired body damage and was in for more than just a paint job. "We found damage and body filler in the front fenders and on one rear quarter panel from accidents that it was in before I even owned the car," says Plummer. After media blasting the car a few additional hidden bondo and rust surprises surfaced and it was decided the only way to do the car properly was a full rotisserie restoration.

Working over the next three years the Swinger received new rear quarter panels, trunk floor extensions and a set of straight and rust-free front fenders, before Marsh laid on the new coat of Sunfire Yellow paint over the entire unibody. Next came a set of new stainless steel fuel and brake lines followed by new Moog steering and brake components from Piston Ring Service. The car's K-frame member and suspension components have all been powder coated by Pro-Tek Coatings prior to the reassembly using new stainless steel fasteners wherever possible and all of the hood, trunk and door latches were treated to new cadmium plating at Cadorath Plating. A new full wiring harness was installed to avoid any future electrical maladies and Metro Molded Rubber supplied all new rubber door, trunk, hood and window seals to keep out the elements and eliminate rattles. Bob Duncan at The House of Silver polished the stainless steel mouldings and plated the door handles, while North Star/Fairmont Plating looked after replating the front and rear bumpers.

Dash stripped, painted

Inside, a new headliner, carpet, door panels and package tray from Legendary Interiors was installed and John Scheels reupholstered the black vinyl seats and dash pad. The dashboard was also stripped and painted and the plastic speedometer, heater and radio bezels were sent to C.V. Vacuum Platers in Vancouver to have their plastic chrome finish restored and the clear plastic speedometer lens polished. In addition to the factory instrumentation, including the original Music Master AM radio, Plummer added an AutoMeter tachometer, temperature gauge and oil pressure gauge to monitor critical engine functions. Options on the car are few other than three-speed windshield wipers, reverse gear indicator lamp, hood pins with lanyards and that signature black Bumblebee stripe.

For the powertrain, Plummer retained the 340 V8 engine he had newly rebuilt in 1986. Overbored .030" and fitted with 11.0:1 compression pistons and a performance camshaft, it's topped with a set of cc'd, ported and polished cylinder heads with 2.02" intake and 1.65" exhaust valves, Edelbrock high-rise aluminum intake manifold and 650 c.f.m. Holley four-barrel carburetor. A set of PPI ceramic-coated exhaust headers lead to a full custom 2.5-inch diameter aluminized exhaust system with Dynomax Super Turbo mufflers. Like most restored musclecars rebuilding the engine and adding performance parts bumps up the horsepower rating and Plummer's 400 plus horsepower engine is no exception. Tying it all to the road is a four-speed manual transmission with Hurst vertical gate shifter and out back is a 3.91:1 ratio, Sure-Grip rear axle fitted with a new set of super stock leaf springs. "I kept the vertical gate shifter and the Hurst Line-Lock roll control from my drag racing days because it's just so much fun to row through the gears," says Plummer. Maintaining that musclecar curb appeal is a vintage set of Keystone Klassic wheels wrapped in B.F. Goodrich T/A radial tires.

A five year member of the Manitoba Mopar Association, Plummer has managed to put just over 530 miles on the Swinger 340 since the completion of its 2005 restoration. "I only take it out for a drive if there isn't a cloud in the sky, because it's as clean underneath as it is on top and I like to keep it that way," says Plummer.

Today the Dart Swinger 340 cars are a tough find and even though thousands were built many have simply just been wrecked over the decades. Plummer's well restored example of a fully documented car easily rates as one of the nicest I've seen in many years. It's a great example of the little Mopar that made performance affordable and so much fun.

This Sunday the Kenora Classic Car Club presents Carfest on the Harbour Front in Kenora, ON. Registration is from 8 to 11 A.M. and further information is available at www.kenoraclassiccarclub.ca or by calling Rick at (807) 543-3472.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 4, 2006 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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