Rare Rides: The 1969 Dodge Dart GTS M-Code 440

Last month, “Rare Rides” took a look at the 1970 Chrysler 300 Hurst, a veritable barge of an automobile that stands as the single largest muscle car ever manufactured.

In the interest of changing things up a bit this month, I thought we’d examine another Chrysler car, but one on the diminutive side of the scale – the rare and powerful 1969 Dodge Dart GTS M-Code 440!

The Dodge Dart was first released as a stand-alone model in 1960. Originally called the Zipp by Chrysler executives, the car was developed to fill the low-priced, downsized-car gap that existed in the Dodge lineup. The gap had already forced Dodge dealers to sell small Plymouths for several years.

The Dart went through three generations, each with a completely redesigned body, interior, and drivetrain, leading up to the 1967 model year.

A ground-up redesign resulted in the crisp styling of the 1967 Dodge Dart. (Photo Courtesy of Hemmings Motor News.)

For ’67, Chrysler once again opted for a ground-up redesign, resulting in a compact, svelte car with sharp lines that reflected the fresh, contemporary look of the era. In addition to the new look, the cars featured wider front tracks, frame rail spacing, and most notably, redesigned K-members that allowed for larger engines to be equipped.

A rear view of the new, for 1967, Dodge Dart showcasing the unusual rear window treatment. (Photo courtesy of Hemmings Motor News.)

Key aesthetic facets of the new Dart included an unusual, inwardly curved rear window, thick c-pillars, a twin-plane front end in which the grill and front bumper were recessed from the leading edge of the car, and dual headlights.

Mechanical highlights included a variety of drivetrains ranging from a 170ci slant-six, to a 2-barrel 273ci V-8, new safety features such as a dual-circuit hydraulic braking system to ensure that a set of brakes on one or the other end of the car always continued to operate in the case of pressure loss, and a collapsible steering column.

The ’67 Dart was available in 2-door, 4-door, and convertible body styles. Three distinct trim lines were established, with the base model simply referred to as a Dart – the mid-range model was known as a 270, and the top-of-the-line version wore the GT badge.

The new Dart’s styling struck an immediate chord with automotive buyers, and sales were brisk from the outset, enabling it to beat out compact models from GM and Ford.

Heading into the 1968 model year, Dodge supplanted the 273 in the Dart with a 4-barrel carbureted 340ci V-8 as the powerplant in the GT and created a new sub-model variant known as the GTS, which featured either a 340 or an optional 383ci V-8.

A superb example of Mr. Norms’ Dodge Dart GSS, which inspired Dodge to do a factory version. Photo courtesy of Mecum Auctions.)

Unimpressed, Norm Krause of Mr. Norm fame decided to one-up the factory, and shoehorned the big, raised block, 375hp, 440ci Chrysler V-8 under the hood. He modified about 50 Dart GTS’ in this manner, giving them the moniker Dart GSS, for Grand Spaulding Sport, to honor his performance-leaning Chicago area dealership. Dodge took note and liked what they saw.

Dodge’s factory version of Mr. Norms’ GSS: The 1969 Dodge Dart GTS M-Code 440. (Photo courtesy of American Car Collector.)

Wanting to take on other manufacturers in the NHRA’s Factory Super Stock classes in 1969, Dodge decided to create a factory street version of the GSS as a homologation special to be able to qualify for the racing series.

The factory subcontracted Mr. Norm to engineer it, and then took the design to Hurst Performance, who could better handle the volume of cars needed to homologate.

The heart of the M-Code: a 440 Magnum Chrysler V-8 producing 375hp and 440 lb-ft of torque. (Photo courtesy of hooniverse.com.)

The design featured a special K-member, new motor mounts, a few modifications to the 440 Magnum block, 727 TorqueFlite transmission, bespoke exhaust manifolds, oil pan, and heat shielding. Dodge called this beast the Dart GTS. For internal dealer purposes, it was known as the M-Code.

The M-Code was a pure muscle car with no frills such as power steering or power or disc brakes. (Photo courtesy of Hemmings Motor News.)

What the car didn’t have was also notable – no four-speed, no power steering, no Dana rear-end, and no power or disc brakes.

The only option boxes one could tick on the car was for color (no special ones beyond the standard Dart hues were offered) wheel trims, and an optional rear-axle ratio of 3.91 instead of the stock 3.55. For a “loaded” GTS, one would pay a little over $4,000 in 1969.

On the outside, only an engine call out on the hood and a tame “Bumblebee” tail stripe betrays what the M-Code really was – a sleeper. (Photo courtesy of American Car Collector.)

On the outside, the car was a true sleeper, with only an engine call out on the blistered hood and a rather tame “Bumblebee” tail stripe betraying that it wasn’t a run-of-the-mill Dart.

The interior of the Dart GTS M-Code, with the 120-mph speedometer, bucket seats, and a floor-shifter, with center console. (Photo courtesy of Hemmings Motor News.)

The interior was similarly devoid of hyperbolic add-ons, with only a 120-mph speedometer, bucket seats, and a floor-shifter, with center console, giving the game away.

With a curb weight of less than 3,800 pounds, and a 440ci Chrysler V8 producing 375hp and more than 440 lb-ft of torque, performance was stout, to say the least. 0–60 times were in the low five-second range and quarter-mile times were a tick over 13 seconds, at a trap speed of 107 mph.

Although Dodge went on to produce a 426 Hemi version of the Dart, that car was for track use only, leaving the 1969 Dodge Dart GTS M-Code 440 as the hottest street-legal variant of this compact car. Only 640 examples of the M-Code 440 were ever produced.

Owing to these paltry numbers, and the fact that less than a year later Dodge and Plymouth released their big E-Body monsters that overshadowed the diminutive Dart, the GTS M-Code 440 has been relegated to relatively forgotten status. But for those who know what’s what, it’s indeed a car to remember.

About the author

Rob Finkelman

Rob combined his two great passions of writing and cars; and began authoring columns for several Formula 1 racing websites and Street Muscle Magazine. He is an avid automotive enthusiast with a burgeoning collection of classic and muscle cars.
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