- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Tom Cardwell concedes that he is an aficionado of Chrysler’s Mopar products and as such, “I’m always on the lookout for good, low-mileage original cars.”

That endless endeavor in January 2001 led him to check out a car offered on EBay by the grandson of the original owner.

It was a gold 1976 Dodge Dart Swinger Special with only 9,000 miles on the odometer that captivated him. “It was an unrestored survivor,” he said, “one of 3,916 built.” Because it was a one-owner car with such low mileage, he took a chance and bid on the car without first inspecting the goods.

“I got lucky,” he said.

As the winning bidder, he arranged to have the 3,050-pound Dodge trucked to his Leesburg, Va., home.

Unfortunately, it was not a closed truck and on the day of delivery a snowstorm raged all day. When the car was delivered it was covered with road salt.

“I wasn’t happy about that,” Mr. Cardwell said. Despite the temperature he washed the salt and road grime from the rust-free Dodge.

The next day he gave his new Dodge a careful once-over from the dozen chrome ribs of the grille to the Colony Dodge/Winston Salem dealer emblem on the trunk lid. He was pleased with what he saw.

The 1976 Dodge Dart Swinger is a sporty little two-door hardtop with a sloping concave rear window. The gold exterior is reflected in the interior, which has gold vinyl upholstery, gold fabric seat panels, gold carpet, gold dashboard, gold steering wheel and a molded headliner, also gold.

A 100-mph speedometer is visible through the three-spoke steering wheel. “I’m sure it will do 90,” Mr. Cardwell said. Riding on a 108-inch wheelbase, the car is very nimble.

The spacious trunk holds the original 6.95x14-inch Goodyear spare tire. Under the hood at the other end of the car is the ultrareliable, 225-cubic-inch, slant-six engine that develops 100 horsepower. Mr. Cardwell has rebuilt the single-barrel Holley carburetor. The Dodge is brought to a halt compliments of drum brakes on all four wheels. They work much better now that he has replaced the master and wheel cylinders.

Like most Dodge Darts, this one is equipped with a Torqueflite automatic transmission.

This amazing all-original Dodge came equipped with power-assisted steering and an AM mono radio with a single speaker. It also has a “Quiet Package,” which consists of additional sound-deadening material, a catalytic converter (one of the early ones) and an EGR valve.

The black wheels are barely visible behind the big wheel covers. Bumper guards, both front and rear, are trimmed with rubber inlays. Running the length of the Dart on both sides is a rub rail with a rubber insert, which has protected the flanks from dings and dents from doors of cars in parking lots.

Three-point seat belts were a relatively new feature in 1976. Other standard safety equipment include the left outside mirror and backup lights incorporated into the taillights. Mr. Cardwell presumes that the two-speed electric wipers work well, but because he never ventures out in his Dodge Dart when rain is forecast, he isn’t certain.

The Dodge carried a base price of $3,337. Mr. Cardwell was in high school in Lynchburg, Va., when the Dart he now owns first appeared on the automotive scene. He recalls the parking lot of his high school being crowded with various models of Dodge Darts. The car had a reputation for reliability and wasn’t so powerful that parents would object.

With the odometer now about to record the 11,000th mile, Mr. Cardwell isn’t exactly running the wheels off his Dodge Dart.

Still, on good-weather days, he isn’t reluctant to drive his Dodge Dart Swinger to work at IBM in Herndon. A quarter century ago the roads, as well as the parking lots, would have been filled with these popular little cars.

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