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Fifty Years Apart
Written By:Tom Olsen
Many of us who were there for it feel that the pinnacle of performance cars and drag racing was the late 1960s. The American auto manufacturers were all building high-performance cars in an effort to attract younger, performance-oriented buyers. Then as we progressed through the 1970s, horsepower began to decline and by the 1980s it appeared that any inkling of a performance vehicle was a thing of the past. But, performance is definitely back! The major manufacturers are all currently building some amazing performance cars, and every few months one or the other announces a new edition in an attempt to blow away the competition.
Back in 1968, Chrysler dominated the factory drag racing scene with the release of the Dodge Hemi Dart (L023) and the Plymouth Hemi Barracuda (B029). Fifty years later, in 2018, the Dodge Demon is unquestionably the hottest factory-built street/strip machine out there. Clint Brunner, who we introduced to you in previous issues, is fortunate to own a car from each era: a 1968 Hemi Dart and a 2018 Demon.
Dodge and Plymouth muscle cars dominate Clint’s car collection, although he has some impressive Fords in the mix as well. His sons are active in the hobby with him. In 2017, while scouring the internet for interesting cars on the market, the boys came across a “real” 1968 Dodge Hemi Dart. (I say real, because literally hundreds of Darts have been cloned into Hemi cars for racing and sales purposes over the years.)
A little background is in order here. In late 1967, Chrysler Corporation decided to build a group of Hemi powered Darts and Barracudas strictly for drag race competition in Super Stock. The original plan called for 50 each of the Darts and Barracudas to be built. But late orders trickled in and 80 Darts and 70 Barracudas were eventually built. (Accounts vary slightly on these numbers but, suffice it to say, these are rare cars!) The cars were originally coded as 383 V8 powered cars with all steel body components. The bodies were left in a light gray primer. They were then shipped minus engine, transmission, driveshaft, side glass, and interior trim to Hurst Performance Corporation. Hurst then installed black fiberglass front fenders and hood, a 426 race Hemi engine, and related parts. A mix of 4-speeds and TorqueFlite (automatic) transmissions were produced. There was an extensive list of standard parts to be deleted, and lightweight parts to be used, to keep weight to a minimum on the cars. The earliest cars produced went to many of the top racing teams in competition: Sox and Martin, Dick Landy, and Mr. Norm’s Grand Spaulding Dodge all received early shipments.
Clint is the third documented owner of his Dart. Dick Smith of Farmington, MI, was the original purchaser. He raced the car in the Detroit area from 1968 into 1971. The history then gets a little fuzzy due to the car being stolen. It was recovered and offered for sale in 1973. Jim Keyes bought the car minus engine, transmission, and some of the lightweight parts. Jim was, and still is, a very active drag racer and a machinist. He set about replacing or creating many of the missing lightweight pieces on the Dart. He had a period correct 426 Hemi built, added a TorqueFlite transmission and went racing. Raced at Detroit area tracks up until 1979, Keyes ran 9.80’s with the Dart before concentrating his efforts on a Hemi Barracuda which he also owned.
After finding the Dart online, Clint negotiated and bought the car in March of 2017. The car was as it was last raced in 1979, with the 426 Hemi and TorqueFlite. One major change was the paint. In 2000, Keyes painted the car with House of Color “flip” paint, the type that changes color depending on angle and light.
To bring the car up to date and ready it for the track, Clint had several upgrades done on the Dart. He had Tim Banning at “For Hemis Only” in Ontario, Canada, custom build a 604ci/950hp aluminum Hemi to meet his goals. Rod and Greg at Muscle Car Creations, along with Wade Lardy, did the mechanical work on the car. This included installation of the new Hemi with an A&A Racing TorqueFLite, Wilwood front disc brakes, QA1 double adjustable shocks all around, and wheelie bars. The aluminum Hemi was painted Hemi Orange to keep the look under the hood authentic. To keep a period correct exterior, Clint felt the “Chameleon” paint had to go. He had Joe at Kustom Joe’s scuff the existing paint and shoot the exterior in a light gray primer with black front fenders and hood. This replicates how these cars looked when delivered from Hurst in 1968.
Clint has been “test and tune” running the car this summer at Thunder Valley Dragways. For now, he’s getting used to the car and sorting out the mechanicals. As of this writing, his best time is a 9.27 at 145mph. He still has not made a 100% full throttle pass on the car. Ultimately, when all is sorted out, he feels the car should consistently run in the 8.70-8.80 range. Future plans for the Dart call for racing and, perhaps, further restoration efforts.
Now, for the latest in factory performance, we jump ahead 50 years to Clint’s 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon. His “F8 Green” Demon was bought new in March of this year from Billion Motors. If you haven’t heard about the Demon yet, this is an amazing production car! The 6.2L V8 produces 808hp with the factory ECU, and 840hp with the high-performance ECU and 100 octane gas. Electronics are on board to control the line lock, trans brake, launch RPM, and other functions. All are equipped with an 8-speed TorqueFlite transmission. Dodge claims several industry “firsts” with the Demon including: “wheelie” from a factory car, factory trans brake, drag radials from the factory, largest factory hood scoop, fastest 0-60 time, highest G on launch, and more. The total build of Demons is 3300 cars, with 3000 for the US, and 300 going to Canada.
The F8 Green on Clint’s car is the same color that was available in 1969. His car is equipped with the following options: passenger seat ($1.00), rear seat ($1.00), upgraded leather interior, upgraded sound system, and blacked-out hood. “Everything except the sunroof.”
Also ordered with the car is the “Demon Crate,” again $1.00. The crate includes an aluminum jack, cordless impact wrench, torque wrench, 840hp ECU and dash switch, high-flow air filter, skinny (4.5X18) front wheels, and many other goodies. All for $1.00! (Who wouldn’t order that?)
Clint began racing the Demon shortly after delivery. With the factory supplied Hoosier drag radials, the car was running “high 10’s right away.” (10.6-10.8) In working with tire pressure and the on-board electronics, the Demon has run a best of 10.2 and a speed of 135. Clint is confident that on a well-prepared track with good weather conditions, the car will get into the high 9 second range. That’s impressive for a bone-stock factory built car!
Now, I have to tell you about one of the best parts of my “job” as a writer. In addition to meeting some great people, I get to see, and occasionally ride in, some really cool cars. Not only did I get to ride in this Demon, on the dragstrip, I got to make a pass in it! I met Clint and his son, Ryan, at Thunder Valley for a test and tune one Friday evening. They were trying some new drag radials, looking for more traction. After several passes down the strip on his own, Clint asked me to jump in and ride for a couple passes. What a treat! Traction had been an issue all evening, but we made a couple passes in the 10.40-10.50 range at 131mph. Clint then asked if I wanted to give it a try…how could I possibly turn down that opportunity? I was completely intimidated with the various electronics and Ryan coached me as best he could. After a less than impressive burnout, I staged, stood on it at the green light, and made a run of 10.90 at 129mph. (A full 2 seconds quicker than any dragstrip run I’ve made in my life!) What a blast…I’m still excited about it!
It’s apparent that those of us that were worried that performance cars of the past were gone forever can rest easy. Fifty years later, the factory performance efforts of the 1960s are back with a vengeance! What is most impressive now is that, with today’s engineering and technology, ultimate performance cars can be driven comfortably on the street. One can only imagine what the future holds.