There are Hemi Darts, and then there's this Hemi Dart. You're looking at the one and only Dick Landy four-speed car. It's not a re-creation, tribute, fake, clone, or any other such illusion. One of two '68 LO23 Hemi Darts campaigned by Dandy Dick (the other one had an automatic transmission), this is the car he drove in back-to-back Modified Production victories at the '68 and '69 NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California. Then there was the match-racing. This thing lined up against the likes of Ronnie Sox, Bill Jenkins, Dyno Don Nicholson, and hundreds of other heroes at tracks from coast to coast and quickly became a crowd-and magazine photographer's-favorite. More on that detail in a moment.
With such an illustrious competition history, you'd think its trajectory from Dick Landy's care to its present location in Pat Goff's St. Paul garage would be easy to trace. After all, vintage Ferraris, Alfa Romeos, Cobras, and Jaguars with significant racing history are marked forever and seldom slip into obscurity, so why would this car be any different?
The fact is, unlike the driving gloves and picnic basket set, we drag racers aren't always so diligent about preserving our historic machinery. All too many times, last year's race car is discarded like an empty beer can. Though this Dart served Dick Landy well, by 1970, Super Stock was rapidly evolving into Pro Stock, and he focused his most serious efforts on a new Challenger. Sure, he ran the Darts a few times-plus a few lower-class Hemi and wedge-motivated Chargers to boot. But the increasing focus was on Pro Stock, and Dodge factory sponsorship mandated use of the sexy E-Body Challenger.
All corporate marketing strategies aside, Dick Landy's duo of '68 Darts-despite being face-lifted to '69 specs-was suddenly obsolete and expendable. Around 1971 or 1972, this four-speed car was sold to Kenny Nichols, who stripped and sanded the trademark silver, red, and blue graphics off the body before campaigning it briefly himself. And so the former superstar began its incognito journey, floating around totally unrecognized for the next three decades. The amazing thing is how several hard-core Mopar fanatics owned the car over the years, and not one of them had a clue what it was.
Thanks to Daryl Klassen of Manitoba, Canada, the truth finally surfaced in 1996. He was inspecting the Dart's faded body when he noticed several small patches of silver, red, and blue paint in the crevices of the doorjambs and trunk lip. A Mopar drag race historian and collector, he noted how similar the traces were to the effect he'd seen on vintage photos of the Landy car. Could it be? And so he started the process of carefully stripping subsequent layers of paint off the factory-issue fiberglass front fenders and hood. That's where he hit pay dirt, as the black gelcoat showed signs where the original silver paint had chemically etched itself into the surface.
Plunging into his collection of vintage Car Craft, Hot Rod, and Super Stock magazines, Daryl noticed Dick Landy had a flair for personalizing his cars more than the norm. While most of the 80 racers lucky enough to get a Hemi Dart (plus another 70 Hemi Barracudas) applied fancy graphics and lettering over the factory-issue gray primer and black gelcoat body surfaces, he went several steps further-remember, he was the first to install a normal four-headlamp grille in place of the factory-issue, but awkward-looking, two-lamp grille on his '65 altered wheelbase A/FX Coronet.