Muscle Cars You Should Know: 1968 Dodge Hemi Dart Super Stock

mcysksd68hemidartSmall car, big engine. It’s been a formula for high performance since the advent of the automobile, a hallmark of race car design, and the philosophy that ushered in the muscle car craze of the 1960s.

Even in typical street trim, the high performance variants of the Dart were stout performers due to their favorable power-to-weight ratio and short wheelbase. But it wasn't until Dodge decided to shoehorn a 426 Hemi into the engine bay that a true legend was born, yielding a factory-built racer that could scream into the 10s right out of the showroom. While these cars were not intended for street use, and came with a disclaimer stating such, Chrysler did set them up to meet street legality requirements, which undoubtedly resulted in some very spirited late night driving.

Even in typical street trim, the high performance variants of the Dart were stout performers due to their favorable power-to-weight ratio and short wheelbase. But it wasn’t until Dodge decided to shoehorn a 426 Hemi into the engine bay that a true legend was born, yielding a factory-built racer that could scream into the 10s right out of the showroom. While these cars were not intended for street use, and came with a disclaimer stating such, Chrysler did set them up to meet street legality requirements. This undoubtedly resulted in some very spirited late night drives. Image: Barrett-Jackson

But the folks at Chrysler took this equation to another level in February of 1968 when they sent promotional materials to Dodge dealerships across the country detailing their intention to sell race-ready, factory built dragsters using the smallest coupe in their fleet – the Dodge Dart – and the biggest motor in the Mopar arsenal – the 426 cubic-inch Hemi.

The result was the Hemi Dart, a purpose-built dragster built strictly for the track which would go on to be considered perhaps the fastest factory-built high performance machine of the era.

Production code L023 denoted the model designed specifically for competition in Class B Super Stock racing. Reportedly only 80 Hemi Darts were built, and they differed substantially from standards in ways that went far beyond a simple engine swap.

In order to put the model together, partially assembled Dart chassis were shipped to the Hurst Performance facility in Madison Heights, Michigan, to undergo the transformation. Although the cars were designed to meet street legal requirements, each wore a disclaimer that stated the vehicle came without a warranty and was intended for “supervised acceleration trials.”

Along with modified rear fenders to accommodate the big rear slicks, Hemi darts also received unique fiberglass hoods and fenders.

Along with modified rear fenders to accommodate the big rear slicks, Hemi darts also received unique fiberglass hoods and fenders, as well as light weight bumpers. To help the Dart transfer weight to the rear of the car for traction during drag launches, the cars were also fitted with uniquely tuned rear shocks. Image: Mecum

Beyond the inherent light weight of the diminutive Dart platform, Dodge tossed essentially anything in the car that didn’t improve performance in some way, ditching window regulators, consoles, carpeting, radio, heaters, all sound-deadening, and arm rests in the process. They also sent the cars to Hurst without any of the mechanical components that wouldn’t be compatible with the new power train, like the exhaust, fuel lines, drive shaft, and shifter. And since the battery would be relocated in the trunk, those were excluded as well.

To get even more weight out of the car, Hurst swapped out the metal fenders and hood for fiberglass pieces, acid-dipped the doors, installed thinner front and rear bumpers, and swapped out the glass windows for polymer-based ones that were secured by seat belt straps rather than the heavier traditional window cranks.

Since the Hemi Dart was designed strictly for racing from the get-go, anything that did not improve the car's performance was tossed, including all carpeting, sound deadening, and creature comforts like the heater and radio. Weight was reduced further by acid-dipping the doors and swapping the window glass for polymer based replacements.

The standard Dart seats were also replaced by the no-frills buckets out of the Dodge A-100 van, yielding an interior aesthetic that was decidedly all business. All put together, the Hemi Dart weighed in at a fairly scant 3,000 pounds.

The Hemi Dart also ditched the standard car's seats for a lightweight pair lifted from the A-100 van. Along with the option-free interior and Hurst-shifter on the floor, the interior of the model made the car's sole purpose abundantly clear.

The Hemi Dart also ditched the standard car’s seats for a lightweight pair lifted from the A-100 van. Along with the option-free interior and Hurst shifter on the floor, the interior of the model made the car’s sole purpose abundantly clear. Dodge was so serious about weight reduction that they actually replaced the standard window cranks with seat belt style straps. Image: Mecum

But getting the massive big-block V8 into the Dart’s engine bay was no easy task. The hand-built, notoriously underrated 425 horsepower 426 Hemi, which featured 12.5:1 compression pistons, 4.250 inch bore and 3.750 inch stroke, and a pair of four barrel Holley carburetors atop a lightweight Cross Ram aluminum intake manifold, took some ingenuity to install.

Along with moving the battery to the trunk – which also helped with weight distribution for more effective launches at the drag strip – Hurst technicians had to literally hammer out clearance for the Hemi’s massive valve covers by creating indentations in the passenger-side shock tower sheet metal. To accommodate the bigger racing slicks on the rear wheels, Hurst also cut out larger wheel well openings.

The Hemi Dart could be optioned with either a 727 Torqueflite automatic with a 4.86 gear set and a 2600 rpm stall converter or a three speed manual gearbox which utilized 4.88 gears, a heavy duty clutch, a Dana-built 931/44 heavy duty axle, and a requisite Hurst shifter.

mecum6

It’s clear why Dodge never offered the 426 on typical street-bound Darts – getting the engine into the car was not an easy task, requiring engineers to relocate the battery to the trunk and create clearance for the passenger side valve cover by taking a sledgehammer to the shock tower next to it. Along with the race-spec Hemi’s solid lifter camshaft, high capacity oiling system, and dual-quad Cross Ram intake manifold setup, a pair of Hooker headers were fitted to the exhaust ports by the techs at Hurst. To help manage the additional heat generated by the big block, a heavy duty cooling system was fitted as well, resulting in an especially tight fit in the comparatively small engine bay. Image: Mecum

Dodge engineers designed the Hemi Dart to reach 130 miles per hour in under 11 seconds, and dish out quarter mile times in the high 10-second range, but many racers were able to achieve even better results almost immediately.

68dodge45399-1

When Dodge unleashed the Hemi Dart on Class B Super Stock racing it was immediately a force to be reckoned with. The combination proved to be so effective that several years later, when the company began campaigning the then-new Dodge Challenger Super Stock racer, teams which continued to run the Hemi Dart still found success when matched up against the newer offering. Image: Cars Online

Racers like “Dandy” Dick Landy quickly found their way into the nine second quarter mile times with very little additional tuning, sending shock waves across Super Stock racing and forcing the other manufacturers to scramble to create a solution in order to stay competitive with these beastly Mopars. The Hemi Darts would remain dominant in the class for years to come.

Just 80 examples were produced, and by 1969 the L023 production code was nowhere to be found on the Dart option’s sheet, making these models a one-year-only proposition and exceedingly hard to come by.

Although it wasn’t a bargain by the standards of the time – a Hemi Dart would set you back about $4200 in 1968 – the performance and rarity of these impressive racing machines has resulted in skyrocketing values for the cars in collector circles, with Hemi Darts selling at auctions for between $170,000 and a quarter million dollars in recent years.

Even the manual gearbox in the Hemi Dart was a trick piece. The three speed A-833 gearbox was modified from its standard configuration by removing the synchronizers, thereby reducing the chances of missing a shift. The optional 727 Torqueflite automatic boasted a high speed stall converter and also sported a Hurst shifter for manual gear changes. Images: Mecum

About the author

Bradley Iger

Lover of noisy cars, noisy music, and noisy bulldogs, Brad can often be found flogging something expensive along the twisting tarmac of the Angeles Forest.
Read My Articles

Hot Rods and Muscle Cars in your inbox.

Build your own custom newsletter with the content you love from Street Muscle, directly to your inbox, absolutely FREE!

Free WordPress Themes
Street Muscle NEWSLETTER - SIGN UP FREE!

We will safeguard your e-mail and only send content you request.

Street Muscle - The Ultimate Muscle Car Magazine

We'll send you the most interesting Street Muscle articles, news, car features, and videos every week.

Street Muscle - The Ultimate Muscle Car Magazine

Street Muscle NEWSLETTER - SIGN UP FREE!

We will safeguard your e-mail and only send content you request.

Street Muscle - The Ultimate Muscle Car Magazine

Thank you for your subscription.

Subscribe to more FREE Online Magazines!

We think you might like...



Classic Ford Performance

Street Rods

Classic Chevy Magazine

Street Muscle - The Ultimate Muscle Car Magazine

Thank you for your subscription.

Subscribe to more FREE Online Magazines!

We think you might like...

  • Classic Ford Performance
  • Street Rods
  • Classic Chevy Magazine

Street Muscle - The Ultimate Muscle Car Magazine

Thank you for your subscription.

Thank you for your subscription.

Street Muscle - The Ultimate Muscle Car Magazine

Thank you for your subscription.

Thank you for your subscription.

Loading