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1971 Dodge Dart is keeping up with the Joneses
The 1972 Dodges were almost in the New York City dealer showrooms in September when Berl Jones went with his father to get the family’s new car, a very red 1971 Dodge Dart Swinger two-door hardtop.
Filled with pride of ownership, father and son motored to their home on 86th Street and Fifth Avenue with the famous slant-six engine purring contentedly beneath the hood.
A decade later, Mr. Jones drove the Dodge to attend the Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. Eventually, when the car was 20-plus years old, it was passed on to a niece who drove it into the ground while she was in college.
The younger Mr. Jones moved to Ashburn in 1997, a year before his father retired. Soon thereafter Mr. Jones’ parents moved to Ashburn to be closer to their son and his family. One day Mr. Jones heard he father lament, ‘I wish I had my Swinger.’
‘That’s all I needed to hear,’ Berl Jones says. Soon he was scouring the Internet in search of a 1971 Dodge Dart two-door hardtop. He found cars throughout the country. He eliminated those in other time zones and soon found one in nearby Ellicott City.
It had a black vinyl top over a freshly painted blue body with a blue interior. It had the same body style and same engine as the old red one and was advertised as having been driven only 27,000 miles.
Mr. Jones went to investigate further. ‘When I opened the door, the familiar smell hit me,’ he says. How could he resist a car that had the same distinctive smell as the old red Dodge? The answer is, he couldn’t.
The seller agreed to put on a new set of 14-inch tires and deliver the car on a rollback truck.
On the appointed day of delivery, Mr. Jones went to visit his parents and to await the Dodge Dart. When the truck backed up the driveway and unloaded the car, his father was speechless and remained so as he accepted the keys. ‘It was a surprise to him,’ Mr. Jones says. ‘It was a pretty interesting day.’
Berl Jones thought it would be a project on which they could work together, one they both would enjoy.
While work kept Berl Jones occupied, his father enjoyed driving the Dodge and kept it polished until his death in October 2004.
That’s when Mr. Jones discovered the Dodge was barely driveable and would not pass an inspection. He contacted Paul Van Doren, who was to make the Dodge whole again.
The incredibly low mileage was documented but the 225-cubic-inch, 145-horsepower engine had to be rebuilt and for safety’s sake new brakes were installed. Much of the upholstery was replaced along with the blue carpet. Along about this time Mr. Jones convinced his wife, Briseida, that restoring the Dodge was a great idea.
Records indicate that the car was sold new at Central City Dodge in Baltimore on Cathedral Street, carried a $2,561 base price, weighed 2,900 pounds and was one of 102,480 such models manufactured.
However, the grille and front bumper on the car were from a 1972 Dodge, probably the result of a fender bender. Mr. Van Doren replaced them with authentic 1971 parts.
Mr. Jones discovered EBay and began ordering necessary parts. He learned the hard way that the four taillight lenses are not universal — there is a left and a right. He now has a large assortment of right lenses.
The overhauled slant-six engine has a coolant capacity of 14 quarts while 5 quarts of oil flow through the engine and the Full-Flow Spin On oil filter. The gasoline tank has a 17-gallon capacity.
Mr. Van Doren had about completed the car when the Torqueflite automatic transmission began to shift irregularly or not at all.
Draining the fluid, disassembling the transmission, making adjustments and reassembly almost had it working correctly. A few more adjustments were made to make the transmission function properly.
Last Sunday, Mr. Jones settled behind the steering wheel in the familiar Dodge Dart and with the air conditioner blowing cool air to cool the interior and the AM radio providing music, he drove home in the car he once gave to his father.
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