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Don Mehling's 1969 Dodge Dart Swinger - Oh So Clean

By , Photography by , Wes AlIison

The terms clean and race car don't go together. It's the nature of the race that forces you to pull an engine in 30 minutes in the pits and slap in a new one. As the bolts fly and spectators help, the car gets scratched and dented-and that's the way it goes. We know this, so when we see a really clean car in the pits, we always watch to see how it runs. Don Mehling's '69 did not disappoint us with a stellar 6.87 pass at the Irwindale eighth-mile.

The trick to any really clean car is to build it twice. And that's what Don did, all by himself. Don's abilities didn't just spawn overnight. He raced Volkswagens for 20 years after seeing a turbo Bug whip a Corvette when he was 14 years old. After the Bugs, Don got into boats, and he gained the engine knowledge he needed to be fast.

Combining both drag racing and engine tuning, Don set out to build a fast V-8 car that wouldn't break when he pushed it, not caring if it was a Chevy, Ford, or Mopar. The opportunity came when he found a clean 273-powered '69 Dart near his home in Glendora, California.

"The car was so clean, I didn't even testdrive it," Don says. "That was a mistake because the engine made a lot of noise. I just pulled the engine and trans and called the scrap guy." Using parts from his growing pile, he managed to mate a TH400 to the 440 and get the car mocked up. "The engine compartment was done, and I prefit the motor, the trans, and the rearend using a motor and midplate, then fabricated the 'cage. I wanted to take care of all the mechanical work first, then take it apart and paint it," he says.

For paint, he wanted to leave the car in yellow primer because it was originally yellow. But you can't buy a primer/sealer in yellow, according to his painter. So Don decided to paint the entire car Marina Blue after seeing a '66 Nova in that color and diggin' the hue. That included pulling off the vinyl top. "I found the worst rusted roof I had ever seen in my life. There were holes rusted all the way through and patched with fiberglass. They also poured resin in the pockmarks, covered it with cardboard, and put the vinyl top back on. It looked as if nothing had ever happened," Don says. "I paid $800 for a new roof, which was highway robbery."

After the car came back from the paint shop, the fun began. Don restored the wing windows, polished or replaced all the chrome, added new rubber, lenses, headlight bezels-and anything that could be removed was blasted and repainted.

Drag racing is considered a one-man sport, but Don wanted to keep his girl, Laura, interested so they could race together. "She was there for the build as a good start for her to learn how the car goes together and how to drive fast," Don says. The car has been together for a little more than a year since completion, and Laura still goes to the track every Thursday. She has six runs on the car.

Who: Don Mehling
What: '69 Dodge Dart Swinger
Where: Glendora, CA

Engine:The engine was originally built for a guy at National Dragster magazine and passed around the Mopar ranks before ending up in Don's hands. It is a 0.060-over 440 with 11.0:1 compression, TRW forged pistons, and a mystery cam with "about 0.550 lift and around 270 advertised." The rods are stock with an ARP upgrade, and the engine is shifted at 6,000. The heads are factory aluminum Stave VIs from Mopar. The valves are 2.20/1.81 stainless steel. The pan is a Charlie's 8-quart with a swinging pickup, and the K-member was notched for clearance.

Transmission: The transmission is a TH400 from Mike's Transmissions in Lancaster, California, with a transbrake, a reverse valvebody, and a Continental 10-inch converter that stalls at around 3,300 rpm. The shifter is a B&M Pro Ratchet. The Shifnoid air shifter was made by Contender and is controlled by the MSD ignition. Behind the Shifnoid is the delay box that counts down with the Tree and release the transbrake with a dial-in of Don's choice.

Exhaust: Pro Parts makes a partial fenderwell header so you can run a 2-inch primary and a stock-size front tire without them getting together. The headeres end in a 3.5-inch collector with 3-inch oval tubing to the Flowmaster two-chamber mufflers and turndowns.

Rearend: The rearend is a Ford 9-inch housing from Currie with a Strange aluminum Third member and a spool with 4.30:1 gears. This car can also compete in the quarter-mile, so he is shifting into Third with a lot of room to go.

Wheels/Tires: If you look carefully, you can see the 11- and 12-inch brakes behind the 15-inch Weld Draglites. Those are 15x4s and 15x8s with a 6.5-inch backspacing in the rear. The meats are Hoosier 28/10.5=15s from Tucker Tire.

Body: The Marina Blue paint was sprayed by J&S Auto Body in Glendora, California. The front fenders, hood, and rear decklid are all AAR fiberglass. The stripe kit is from Graphics Express.

Interior: The 'cage was hand-fabbed by Don, the gauges are Auto Meter, and the seats are 17.5-inch Kirkey's Economy Drag. The seat brackets were handmade by Don and offer adjustability for both Don and Laura to drive the car. Layson's provided the headliner, and the carpet was done locally at Tony's Canvas. The carbon-fiber dash-panel is actually for a '67 to '68 Dart, so it is too short to cover the entire gap in the stock dash. Don formed the plastic to cover the hole. Don;s neighbor Steve rolled the beads into the door panels.

Suspension: The rear suspension uses a ladder bar setup from Accufab that hooks the 9-inch. The diagonal bar is from Chris Alston, as are the VariShock coilovers. Don made the frame connectors and reinforced them to handle the stress that the ladder bar puts in that area. The front suspension is mostly stock with RMS tubular upper control arms, a quick-ratio steering box, and Heim-jointed tie rods.

Performance: The best e.t. is 6.87 at 99 mph in the eighth or roughly 10.90 at 125. The car makes 452 hp and 600 lb-ft at the rear wheels and weighs 3,00 dry.

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