In the mid-'60s, Chrysler figured out a way to drop a 426 Hemi engine into the A-Body Dart and Barracuda (with a sledgehammer to the shock tower) to compete in the NHRA Super Stock class. Each Dart was built in the Hamtramck assembly plant in Michigan, converted to a Hemi Super Stocker by Hurst, and delivered in grey primer with a black fiberglass front end, Hemi scoop, and 15-inch black steel wheels. Around 150 Hemi Darts and Barracudas were built and delivered to racers for competition. Tommy Watts was an 8-year-old when he first saw one race at the Sunshine Speedway in Tampa, Florida. The year was 1968.
With the hope of a Hemi Dart burned into his memory, Tommy did the same as the rest of us and went to school, got a job, and drove a commuter, all the time watching and waiting for his Hemi Dart. Business got good and real estate got hot, so Tommy found himself in the position to find and buy the Dart of his dreams. Unfortunately, that was only about two years ago and the price of a real Hemi Dart was close to $300,000. "I remember the original ones kicking everyone's ass in the '60s," says Tommy. "Back then, if you had a real one, it meant that you were a racer, so each car has a history. I had a '69 Road Runner that was a fast car. It was fun, but not a Hemi Dart."
Tommy began to look for a rust-free '68 body to build a replica, and found that even those are hard to come by. He was close to buying a white '68 with a turquoise interior and a six-cylinder at a swap meet, but it was purchased out from under him and shipped to North Carolina. Undeterred, Tommy traveled east, found the owner, and talked him out of the car. The car was shipped to Joel Nehi at Joel's Automotive in Riverside, California, for the transformation.
"I wanted real Hemi parts on the car," says Tommy. "So I went to swap meets and bought as many early Hemi parts as I could find." He ended up with a set of '69 heads and an original block and went to the aftermarket for the rest of the parts.
The body was sanded down and resprayed the original white. Steel wheels were found at a local junkyard, and to complete the look, a fiberglass Hemi scoop hood was added. When Tommy got to the stock wheelwells, he stopped. Original Hemi Darts had the rear quarter-panels hacked to fit fat slicks for drag racing. Press photography reveals that the guys at Hurst probably cut them with a chisel or a sharp rake. Tommy wasn't in the mood to chop his pristine unitbody, so he left that bit of authenticity out of his build. "I was at the Spring Fling [a Mopar show], and guys were happy that I didn't cut the wheelwells," says Tommy. We tend to agree with them.
Who: Tommy Watts
What: '68 Dodge Hemi Dart clone
Where: Sherman Oaks, California
Engine: The Dart has a 426-inch Hemi with a '69 block and heads. The rotator and pistons are from Mopar Performance, including a forged steel crank and 6.86-inch forged steel connecting rods. The pistons are big domes that yield a 12.5:1 compression ratio. On the street the Hemi uses an expensive mix of race gas to remain authentic.
Exhaust: The '68 uses new Hemi Dart 211/44-inch race headers from Hooker that allow you to change your primary tube lengths, collector lengths, and collector types to increase or decrease the torque and horsepower output at any rpm level you want. They flow to a 3-inch exhaust, a set of Flowmasters, and Swinger tips, none of which were on Super Stock Darts.
Drivetrain: The Dart has a 727 Torque-flite with a reverse-manual valvebody and a 4,500-rpm converter. Yes, he drives it on the street. Did we mention the 4.56:1 gears in the Dana 60? His best run is 10.38 at 135 mph.
Intake: The Mopar Performance crossram is similar in form and function to the original but slightly different in height and detail. Original-looking versions are available from A&A Transmission in magnesium or aluminum.
Carbs: Tommy used the original-flavor 770-cfm dual Holleys and Mopar linkage instead of 750s. The linkage is from Mopar Performance, and correct fuel lines are available from Kramer Automotive Specialties.
Interior: The seats came from an A100 van, and Year One supplied the lightweight seat mount brackets, radio-delete plate, and carpet for the rear seat delete. Hurst Darts had black interiors and lightweight windows that went up and down with a strap.
Body: Aside from the Hemi Dart scoop, the body is original. At first Tommy didn't cut the wheelwells because he wanted the grandma sleeper look. Now he's realized that it was the right decision to not cut up a vintage Dodge for any reason. What if he wants to change it back? Hurst cars also had no mirrors, 'glass fenders, and lighweight front bumpers.