They don't make cars like they used to. Although I own a few old cars and love driving them, that's not a bad thing.
I recently brought home a 2013 Dart, Dodge's newest compact sedan, for comparison with our classic 1966 Dart GT convertible.
A lot has changed over 47 model years.
The Dart name first appeared in 1960 on a midsize model, with more than 323,000 produced that first year. Although most 1950s cars were huge, many drivers wanted smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. Dodge responded with the compact Lancer in 1961, replacing it in 1963 with a redesigned Dart that was now the brand's smallest model.
Small is relative, of course. The 1966 Dart is 314 mm longer than the 2013 version — more than a foot of extra sheet metal.
The Dart name was last used in 1976, after more than 3.6 million were sold. The only thing the new model shares is the name — and it looks nothing like its predecessors.
“We tested a ton of names with consumer groups, a mix of mostly new names and some past ones, and Dart kept coming to the top,” says Ed Broadbear, vice-president of marketing for Chrysler Canada. “There were older people who remembered the car, but for a lot of younger people, Dart was just a nice name. I would have voted for it, too.”
Broadbear won't reveal what other historic names were tried, but he does say to not expect a return of Swinger, a Dart trim line from 1969. Those were the days!
So what has changed between old Dart and new Dart? There's a carburetor versus fuel injection; rear-wheel versus front-wheel drive; three-speed versus six-speed transmission; four drum brakes versus four disc brakes (front discs were an option in 1966); the old high-beam headlight control was a foot-operated button on the floor; and old Dart, like almost every car of its day, had three ashtrays.
Although new Dart has a navigation system, old Dart's driver prefers a paper map — but there's no map pocket in the door!
It does have modern cupholders. When we stopped at a drive-in restaurant in the old Dart, we opened the metal glovebox lid to reveal shallow indentations that held our root-beer mugs.
In 1966, the Dart came with four engine choices. Two were six-cylinders, while two were 273-cubic-inch (4.5 L) V8s, one with a two-barrel carburetor that made 180 horsepower and one with a four-barrel carb, found in our “high-performance” GT, that made 235 horses.
New Dart's 1.4 L four-cylinder makes more horsepower than the largest six-cylinder of 1966 and the 2.4 L four-banger that will arrive in the Dart R/T later this year, at 184 hp, makes more than the base V8.
That's how it looks on paper, anyway. In reality, there's even more of a power gap between new and old. Up until 1972, horsepower was measured at the flywheel alone, which is much different than today's more realistic standard. The power figures quoted on the cars of yesteryear were wildly optimistic at best.
Old Dart was a bit less expensive, though. The top-of-the-line GT ragtop was $2,828 — about $20,050 in today's dollars — while the 2013 lineup runs from $15,995 to $23,995.
However, you'll recoup the difference at the pump, since old Dart was rated at about 14.0 L/100 km, versus 6.2 L/100 km in combined city/highway driving for new Dart.
If there's one area where new cars are light years ahead of old ones, it's in safety. New Dart has 10 airbags. Old Dart, at best, carries a couple of windbags. It does have seatbelts, but only over the hips. And of course, you won't find anti-lock brakes or stability control.
Many people think old cars are better because they “hold up” in a crash, versus the way new cars “fold up.”
That's wrong. New cars crumple to absorb crash energy before it reaches the passenger compartment. On old cars, it was common for occupants to be injured or killed when the car's solid body transmitted that energy into the cabin, and they were slammed into the metal surfaces. For example, new Dart's steering column will collapse away from the driver in a serious crash. old Dart's will impale you like a shish kebab.
All in all, when you add up power, fuel efficiency, features, and safety, new Dart wins hands-down.
On the other hand, on a hot summer night when you can drop old Dart's top and just go cruising . . .
They sure don't make cars like they used to.
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