Chrysler today announced that the replacement for the compact Dodge Caliber will be called the Dart and that the car will be based on a widened sedan version of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. Alfa Romeo is owned, like Chrysler, by Fiat. They also released some teaser photos of the new car. Chrysler has bucked the alphanumeric trend at other carmakers, preferring to use historic model names, like Challenger and Charger. Even the 300C is a historic Chrysler model name. It was rumored that Dodge might reprise the old AMC and Hudson “Hornet” nameplate, particularly after the animated Cars movies have increased awareness of that brand name, but instead Chrysler is going to use Dart. I think that’s a great move. The Caliber was singularly uninspiring. In contrast, my experience is that people who remember the name Dart have fond associations with it. Instead of just showing you the same teaser shots that all the other car sites are running, to celebrate the return of a nameplate that’s the automotive equivalent of comfort food, here are some photos of some vintage compact Mopars, including a 1968 Dodge Dart GTS convertible, about as collectible as Darts can get. Also included in the gallery are a Plymouth Scamp and two cars from Matt Donohue’s Jackson Pollocktik project.
Teaser images of the 2013 Dodge Dart after the jump
People who do remember the Dart, its Plymouth twin, the Valiant, and their derivatives like the Plymouth Duster, the Dodge Demon, and the Scamp, remember them as reliable and inexpensive cars that were comfortable to drive. The Slant Six is one of the great engines of all times, almost impossible to kill, and I always thought that the Dart/Valiant came closest of the Detroit compacts to actually handling. They were attractive cars, *cheap to own, Chrysler sold a ton of them, and fortunately for the brand name, it didn’t survive too long into the malaise era to be tainted by the period’s shoddy quality that put so many American consumers behind the wheels of Toyotas and Hondas and Nissans. So calling the new car the Dart is a smart move.
The new Dart will have independent suspension all around, and will offer three engines, Fiat’s 1.4 liter 16 valve MultiAir Turbo as fitted in the Fiat 500, a 16 valve two liter engine and a 2.4 liter MultiAir, all four cylinders. There will be three transmission choices as well, including a 6 speed manual in the R/T models.
The Dart will have its official introduction at the North American International Auto Show next month in Detroit. It will be assembled at the Belvidere Assembly Plant in Illinois.
*When I owned a ’68 Plymouth Valiant I started referring to it as a “small print car”. In the battery and tire ads, the prices are in large print and in small print it tells you what uncommon size the price applies to. With a 170 CI Slant Six, Slithis, as we named the green car after a snake in a horror movie, took the small print. Because of the engine configuration, you also didn’t have to climb under the car to change the starter motor. The starter on a Slant Six is on the upper side of the slanted engine. When a starter would start to fail, I’d get it running one last time, grab my tools, drive 10 miles to the auto repair shop that had rebuilt starters for the six cylinder Mopars for only $19.99. Then I’d swap out the bad starter in their parking lot.