We seldom get to see a car that has spanned four generations in the same family, but Steve and Keri Connor own such a vehicle. Their 1967 Dodge Dart was purchased new by Steve’s great grandfather, a gift for his wife. The car has stayed in the same family, now in its fourth generation, and was passed down to Steve following a tragic accident.
In November, 2004, Steve Connor was just 23 years old and serving in the United States Navy as a 2nd Class Machinist Mate. The tragic accident left Steve in a coma for weeks, and he became an amputee following that accident. When Steve finally returned home he was in need of a certified caregiver, so his wife, Keri, stepped in to fill those shoes. She had been a business owner of a successful salon, all while raising their daughter.
Steve and Keri have become an inspiration to other amputees and their families, and their bond grew even stronger. Because of Steve’s unending courage and inspiration, the Dart was handed down to him, and his goal was to bring the Dart back to life with a custom build.
When Lyon McClenahan, owner of Finish Line Speed Shop in Bremerton, Washington, heard about the project, he jumped at the opportunity to see this build through fruition. His desire to help make this family’s vision become reality instigated the project name “Dream Dart,” as Myrtle, Steve, and Keri have only dreamed of getting the Dart built to be a true show car.
No Major Rust, But Not Perfect
Although the Dart sat in the yard for a period of time, it remained nearly all original and all stock, but it had started to show its age. When it arrived at Finish Line Speed Shop for the full restoration/build, there wasn’t a single panel on the car that was without some sort of damage – either a dent here, or a scratch there.
The upside to all those years of the car sitting for a while is that there wasn’t any major rust through on the car. That’s over 40 years that the car has been in this family, and rust never came calling to claim any of it. All of the repairs were made to the original sheetmetal, with only one panel being replaced – the hood. The hood was upgraded with a GT/GTS hood they received from Auto Metal Direct, not out of necessity, rather out of desire to make the car look a little cooler.
But this Dart wasn’t going to be a plain-Jane restoration, there were some plans to the Dream Dart and upon hearing the story there were lots of companies that stepped up to be a part of this year-and-a-half long build. While the Dart was going to look like a regular Dart on the outside, the rest of the car was going to go through some major changes.
The motivation for the Dream Dart came in the form of a donor car that Finish Line received from Copart. A 2006 Dodge Charger R/T donor car had some front end damage, but the engine and transmission were intact and in need of a new home. The goal was to build a driver that was going to be fast and comfortable, as well as reliable.
Finish Line began the build about a year and a half ago, with the goal to take the Dream Dart to SEMA and be a part of the Car Crazy car show with Barry Meguiar. That meant stripping the car down to a bare metal shell and and doing all the repair work on the original sheetmetal.
With everything stripped out and every part removed, the build commenced from the ground up, with every part replaced, repaired, or refinished. But getting that modern drivetrain into a classic A-body wasn’t going to be easy. While we have seen a few Darts with modern Hemis, some owners have uttered, “I’ll never do that again.”
With modern engines, there are some limitations to what you can do with regards to the aftermarket. Still, the 5.7L Hemi was treated to some upgrades from MSD with a 6-AL ignition box and Blaster coil, and an Airaid cold air intake system. The Hemi mill is already pretty potent, much more than the Dart originally came with back in 1967. Inside the crankcase, Joe Gibbs’ Driven racing oil keeps the Hemi lubed up and protected.
One area that almost became a problem was the drivetrain. Although it was deemed too difficult to supplant a Gen III Hemi and the five-speed NAG1 automatic transmission from a 2006 Charger Daytona, there was a will and it found a way.
Others had said that the modern Charger’s drivetrain was not going to work with the Dart’s K-member, but that didn’t stop Finish Line from figuring it out. Never, we mean NEVER, tell a gearhead builder he can’t do something, because a quick call to longtime friend Mark Cain, of Cain Customs, was the solution to the supposed dilemma.
Cain took a look at the engine/trans mockup and decided to build a set of custom headers for the Hemi. Finish Line called upon QA1 to provide the stock-style tubular K-member, which bolts into place where the factory unit mounted. The advantage of the QA1 K-member is that it provides a bit more room for header and exhaust clearance.
QA1 upper and lower control arms were also added to the front suspension, along with the dynamic strut rods to keep things in place. The stronger units are a little lighter than the factory units, but bolt directly into place without any modifications. QA1 adjustable shocks all around provide just enough adjustment to give a comfortable ride on the street, and more control for the spirited driving that’s going to be done.
The rearend is a narrowed Ford nine-inch with 3.00 gears and a posi. Finish Line custom built and engineered the rear ABS system to help the Nag1 transmission work in the Dart. With the drivetrain figured out, it was time to choose the stance and Summit Racing Chrome Legend wheels and Toyo Proxes 4-Plus tires completed that package, with 17-inch wheels up front and 18-inch in the rear for the 255/45R18 rear meats.
Borgeson Universal provided the quick-ratio steering box, taking about 13 pounds out of the front end and providing a firmer steering feel, and to keep the rest of the car firm a set of frame connectors were installed. Finish Line also relocated the rear, lowered, springs and bushed up the suspension with Energy Suspension components. Of course, you can’t build a car like this and keep the drums, so cross-drilled and slotted brake rotors and powder coated calipers from The Right Stuff were added to bring the Hemi to a halt when needed.
Projects like this can be inundating, and it was not without its fair share of problems, or tragedies. Lyon shared with us that just days after the Dream Dart debuted at SEMA, Mark Cain, of Cain Customs, had passed away after his battle with ALS on November 11, 2015. Mark stuck with the project through the end, and with his help fabricating the headers for the Dream Dart, Finish Line was able to get the modern powertrain into the old platform. We’re all saddened by this news, Lyon told us this was a roller coaster of a ride that presented a few challenges, and tugged at a few heartstrings.
It’s The Little Things That Matter Most
As we mentioned, the hood was upgraded to a GT/GTS hood to enhance the looks of the Dart. Adding to the looks, a set of custom engraved HID projector headlights were added, and all the trim was shaved. Steele Rubber weatherstripping keeps the elements where they need to be, and inside is where you start to notice a few more detailed touches.
Dakota Digital VHX gauges reside in the custom dash, with Vintage Air climate control keeping the occupants comfy. On the dash is a Billet Badge Dream Dart badge dedicated to the build, and Car Toys came over to install the 1,500+ watts of thump with a Custom Autosound USA-630 stereo and Kicker sound system.
Inside the trunk is a custom display of sub boxes and amplifier racks to house the sound system, and Al’s Liner is used to reduce the heat and the road noise throughout the car, topcoated with Scorpion Protective Coatings. The electrical work was handled by Painless Wiring, and finishing off the dash is an Ididit tilt steering column and Con2R laser engraved steering wheel.
Down in front of the stock bench seat is a custom console, making a home for the Charger’s shifter, looking just like it belongs there. Car Toys also made the custom fiberglass kick panels and rear package tray, and finishing off the interior is a set of stock door panels, helping the Dart maintain the classic appeal. These little touches are subtle, but once inside behind the wheel there’s a lot more than meets the eye with this Dart.
The Dream Dart debuted at the SEMA show on November 5, 2015, in Las Vegas on the Car Crazy TV stage where it competed with other builds in the SEMA Ignited Battle of the Builders. It was truly a dream come true for the Connors, but it touched many more lives during the process. Lyon said, “This build showed us that humanity is still alive and well in this world. We had so many companies and people step forward on this project that it became almost unbelievable.”
Now that the car is complete, and the dust is settled on this build, don’t think for a minute that it’s going to be sitting out in the field again. Keeping all of the elements off the Dream Dart is a custom cover provided by Covercraft, helping to preserve this build so that Steve and Keri can one day pass this musclecar down to their own daughter. Sometimes it’s not about the car or the awards, however. The Dream Dart project teaches us all that sometimes it’s all about the journey, it’s about getting there just a little bit stronger – and coming out just a little bit closer when we reach our destination.
Check out the gallery of the project car below, and don’t forget to share your thoughts on the Dream Dart in the comments section below.