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1969 Dodge Dart Swinger 340 - Dart Games, Revisited

The Resurrection of the Car Craft Giveaway

By , Photography by Ed Zinke,

Veteran readers know the story, but for the benefit of those who have arrived after 1985, it's a tale of restoring a Dodge Swinger two times over. It all started innocently enough with a magazine attempt at the time-honored technique of bartering. In the back pages of the July 1983 issue of Car Craft, we offered a used aluminum connecting rod up for trade. A few months later, we had horse-traded up to a Muncie four-speed that Stick Only rebuilt, which we then offered up for a best-offer swap. That's when Coralville, Iowa, reader Tom Toycen offered to trade us his '69 Dodge 340 Dart. We actually tried to convince him to wait until the trade got better, but his mind was made up. He wanted to trade, so we obliged him. Mopar aficionado Roland Osborn offered to transport the 340-powered Swinger to Los Angeles, and within a few short weeks, a Bright Poly Blue A-body with a Swinger 340 bumblebee stripe was sitting in my driveway. I swept out the wasp nests and rat droppings, changed the carburetor to a Carburetor Shop 650 Holley, messed with the Mallory ignition for a time, and actually fired the small-block. After some further rough tuning, I decided a drag test was in order before disassembling the Swinger for its complete restoration and subsequent giveaway at the Street Machine Nationals. I barely got out of the driveway for one last road test when the engine began clanking badly and was suffering from at least one dead cylinder. I removed the driver-side valve cover and discovered a broken aluminum(!) valvespring retainer, and further inspection revealed at least three more that were badly cracked. That ended our drag-test plans.

The plan for the Swinger was to have Randy Gerstenberg and his company at the time, the 'Cuda Connection, completely restore the Swinger, and then we planned to give it away at the upcoming Street Machine Nationals. We also delivered the wounded 340 to NHRA racer and engine specialist Bob Lambeck for a complete rebuild. A few days later, Bob called me to come over to the shop to discuss the engine buildup. When I got there, he had a piston sitting on his desk with a broken valve turned sideways and shoved right through the top of the piston—the victim of our dropped valve. "If you don't mind, I'm keeping this," Lambeck said. "It's pretty cool."

Over the next eight months, CC documented the Swinger's progress with the finale in the Aug. 1985 issue. This was the year that the Street Machine Nationals made its ill-fated move to East St. Louis, Illinois. Those who attended will remember how badly that event went down, which was made even worse by the intense heat and a traffic jam that would make a veteran Los Angeles driver wince. Of course, the Swinger was required to appear, since it was the Grand Prize giveaway, yet handcuffing it to a trailer or a transport rig just seemed wrong. In remembering this part of the story, there is some contention about who "volunteered" to drive the Swinger out to the Midwest. In Car Craft Technical Editor Chuck Hanson's recap story, I apparently jumped ship on co-driving, claiming it had something to do with the fact that my premature-born daughter, Amber, had only recently arrived home after a lengthy stay in the hospital. To put all this in perspective, Amber is now 28 years old. My bail-out was fortunate for me, as I missed out on Chuck's near-doomed cross-country adventure. Somewhere in the mountains north of Las Vegas, the rebuilt automatic exploded in spectacular fashion, breaking the trans case and spitting the starter motor out onto the steering linkage. "It was about 2 a.m. when the trans broke," Chuck now recalls. "So I just crawled in the back seat and slept in the car that night. The next morning, I hitchhiked into Gypsum, Colorado, to get help. I remember that the tow from there to Denver was 120 miles. The trans shop had trouble finding an 727 replacement, and I spent two or three days in Denver." Fortunately, the trans shop owner was a Car Craft reader, and true to his word, he had Chuck back on the road in time to make the show—just barely. Of course, all that extra time he had built into the trip to see the sights and enjoy the solace behind the wheel evaporated in that cloud of white ATF smoke when the trans blew up. Chuck had to then perform the classic banzai trip across seven states to make it to East St. Louis in time for the show. Chuck claims now, "I harbor no permanent grudge over that whole escapade. I think I only hung onto that for two or three years." After arriving at the Nationals, Chuck caught up on his sleep and original owner Tom Toycen handed the keys over to the Grand Prize winners Scott and Denise Walton of Quincy, Illinois.

After the Dart found a new home, magazine deadlines and the threat of further broken parts prevented us from keeping track of the Swinger, and the trail went cold, until a few months before the return of the Street Machine Nationals in Du Quoin, Illinois, in early July 2013. That's when I received an email from Jim Shepard of Edwardsville, Illinois, who proclaimed that he was just finishing the restoration of the Dart Games Swinger, and he planned to bring it to Du Quoin so we could see the car again. On Friday morning, I was reunited with the Swinger for the first time in 28 years, and it was like time had stood still—at least for the Dart. Jim and his son, Jimmy, drove the Dart down from Edwardsville, Illinois, and it looked as good as the day we gave it away. Of course, it has been through a few owners and more than a little abuse, but you wouldn't know it by looking at the car today. Think about this for a minute. You purchase a car that will forever be known as the Car Craft Dart Games car, so you really can't personalize it. The pressure is on to preserve it just as the magazine originally built it, and you know that if you don't do a decent job, the critics will be all over you that you didn't do it right. It's a burden that many enthusiasts would never want to take on.

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18 comments
Ginger Barnes
Ginger Barnes

Michael Michael Barnes I think you will like this site.

Dave Farin
Dave Farin

340 great little screamer or a big block

Jerry Brentnell
Jerry Brentnell

moparfest in newhamburg Ontario in august every year give away 2 mopars at their car show

Lee Smith
Lee Smith

my first car was gonna b a green non gt dart like this (for 50$ running! ... just needed the L frnt wheel/a arm fixed (butterflyed bad. Moms was hatin (i was 15) AGood friend got it and we was all mobbin (lol

Loren Jones
Loren Jones

WISH I COULD SEE U...BLUE..SKY..LUV U FROM HERE TO THE SKY..U KNOW THW SKY GOES UP TO HEAVEN JUST CUZ THE CALL IT DIFFERNT IT NEVER ENDS...MAYBE OR CALL ME CRA2Y BUT ILL LUV U 4EVER...HERE AMD IN HEAVEN...N UR CUTE..perfect...ill tell u that all tHe time...u sAiD it..I knew I was n u sAiD I was...

Johnny Baker
Johnny Baker

I remember another car you gave away 22 years ago, the Green Machine 55 Chevy (facepalm). Hey whatever happened with the recovered remnants of Project Heavy Metal? Did you ever find more of it than just whatever was found in that Country Squire wagon?

Jae Cho
Jae Cho

Nice story Jeff smith.

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