- The Washington Times - Friday, May 24, 2002

Although Thomas Hilton shares the same name as his father and his son, he doesn't share his car with anybody.

The Landover, Md., resident has always happily driven Mopar products of one kind or another. In the spring of 1996 he began shopping for a muscle car. His search led him to a 1969 Dodge Dart convertible in Virginia.

A green GT model with a tan stripe across the bustle, the car sold new for a base price of $2,865 and left the factory on a 111-inch wheelbase under the power of a slant six-cylinder engine.

When Mr. Hilton first saw the Dodge it had changed hands several times. The owner at the time had removed the original engine and had a disassembled 340-cubic-inch V-8 as a replacement.

"There was no rust," an incredulous Mr. Hilton said. "I couldn't believe it." Most similar cars of the same era were notorious for rust problems. "It had a good floor in it," he recalls.

Mr. Hilton brought the Dodge home on the back of a truck, much to the delight of his son who was between fifth and sixth grades at the time. It soon became a work in progress that seemingly had no end.

With the 275-horsepower, 340-cubic-inch V-8 engine reassembled and nestled in the engine bay, Mr. Hilton fired it up.

"I had my fingers crossed," he concedes.

The finger crossing proved to be unnecessary as the engine ran strong.

Gradually, Mr. Hilton transformed the Dodge Dart into a GTS model almost.

The stock smooth engine hood was replaced by one with a pair of parallel ridges, each ridge adorned with a chrome 340 badge.

From that point on, Mr. Hilton with help from his son continued working on the car.

"We wanted to step it up a little," Mr. Hilton said.

Not particularly pleased with the green color, Mr. Hilton repainted his Dodge black with a white stripe. The black car with a black convertible top and a black interior was too much black.

The Dodge still has the black top and a black interior, but the exterior now sports a 1999 Dodge Viper red coat of paint with a black stripe across the rear.

The top features a glass rear window. A boot covers the lowered top and is held secure by 27 snaps.

Over the last six years Mr. Hilton has improved the performance aspects of his Dodge, including work on the suspension and drivetrain.

"I also beefed up the transmission," he said.

Additionally, the car now has power disc front brakes. When the capability of extra speed is available, extra stopping power is a practical, yet often overlooked addition.

Since Mr. Hilton has owned the Dodge he has added only about 2,000 miles on the odometer.

The pace is about to pick up, however, now that the Dodge is nearing the condition Mr. Hilton envisioned so many years ago.

"It's a fair weather car," he said.

When the sun is shining Mr. Hilton and his son can be seen cruising in the muscular Dodge Dart listening to the sound of the powerful engine tumbling out of the dual rectangular exhaust tips.

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