- The Washington Times - Friday, July 17, 2009

On March 3, 1965, Frank Chappell went to a San Francisco car dealer with the intention of buying a new Rambler. He had done his homework and decided that was the car for him.

There were no Ramblers on the dealer’s lot that suited him, so the salesman suggested they take a look at some Dodge cars on the second floor of the garage.

Mr. Chappell said, “I saw the Dodge Dart GT convertible with the top down and I was hooked.”

The ivory-colored Dodge was one of a combined total of 45,118 Dart coupes and convertibles manufactured that model year. This particular Dart GT was equipped with the smallest V-8 engine offered, a 273-cubic-inch power plant that produces 180 horsepower.

When Mr. Chappell first saw the 2,795-pound car resting on its 111-inch wheelbase he thought it was either a small big car or a big small car. The base price was $2,628.

“It’s a five-seater,” he said. “It’s really beautiful with the top down.” Mr. Chappell loves to go cruising in the city with his Dodge filled with delighted friends.

The clean lines of the Dodge remain as stylish today as they were 40 years ago. The well-equipped Dodge Dart has power brakes, power steering and a power-operated convertible top. Mounted in the dashboard is a push-button AM/FM radio.

A heater under the dashboard is provided to knock off the San Francisco chill. Unusual for mid-1960s era convertibles is factory-installed air conditioning.

A feature that was not an option on this model, which most motorists at the time took for granted, were wing vent windows in the front doors that allow the driver to adjust the amount of air into the cabin. Unfortunately, the small, triangular-shaped windows have been eliminated by most auto manufacturers today.

On the other hand, modern cars have become safer; witness today’s visible turn signal lights. Mr. Chappell admits that the turn signals on his Dodge are “not prominent.”

When Mr. Chappell first took the Dodge home, the car was his sole means of transportation. Nevertheless, from day one he either garaged his car or kept it covered. “It has never sat outside,” he says. Consequently, the black vinyl upholstery, including the bucket seats, remains in remarkably good condition. Mr. Chappell is quick to point out, however, that the black carpet is “a little faded.”

Despite having bucket seats, the automatic transmission gearshift lever is mounted on the steering column. Although the speedometer can register speeds up to 120 mph, Mr. Chappell said in the 40 years that he has driven the car he’s “never taken it beyond 80 or 85 — if that.”

He has driven his car up the coast twice to Canada, once to Winnipeg and once to British Columbia. Otherwise, most of the almost 90,000 miles on the odometer have been recorded on the streets locally.

Mr. Chappell reports fuel economy of about 15 mpg on the highway, and “less than that around the block.”

After 15 years the original paint wasn’t polishing up as it once did, so Mr. Chappell had his Dodge resprayed. Twenty-five years later the car still appears to be in marvelous condition.

In the last 40 years Mr. Chappell’s car has had three convertible tops, all of them black like the original. The hard plastic rear window in the convertible top remains clear and unimpaired visually thanks to the owner’s tireless efforts at preservation. Every time the top is lowered he slips in a straw mat to protect the plastic window.

The single sour note in the saga of this Dodge Dart GT convertible isn’t even that bad. While slowly reversing in a parking lot a few years back, Mr. Chappell struck a light pole, putting a dent in the rear bumper.

A sympathetic body shop owner spotted the offending bruise on the bumper and, since it was a minor blemish, offered to return it to like-new condition.

Mr. Chappell can often be seen in his Dodge on the streets near his Pacifica, Calif., home. The car is easy to start, and he says, “It has never given me a bit of grief.”

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