1969 Dodge Dart Custom Sedan Slant Six, Father-Son Project

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Interior Complete
Sometimes it’s word-of-mouth that serves as the best advertising. After hearing our struggles with non-existent off-the-shelf upholstery options, and sticker-shock from local top-shelf custom shops, a neighbor (who owns a 1966 Dart Custom sedan) recommended a guy in north Seattle who works out of his home shop/garage.

He semi-retired from the upholstery business, and was happy to hook us up. His work was very professional, and it looks and feels great. At less than half the cost! We dropped off the seat frames, a partially-fitting upholstery kit, and some foam we’d bought (plus the seat heater kit), and after a visit or two to consult us on material and style options, he got it done.

The rear seat back frames were modified to include added internal structure and mounting sleeves for head rests, too (why protect only front occupants from whiplash?)

Also, the trunk was quite frankly a disaster that required numerous hours to clean, re-seam-seal, prime, and spatter-paint. It turned out looking 900% better.

Next up were the seat belts.
Modern vehicles have self-retracting / lock-up 3-point belts for an incredibly good reason, and there was no way this car was going to go without those, at least for four of the occupants. Being a transportation safety engineer, I have seen a lot of crash damage in my day. Yes, the front and rear middle spots have lap belts, but there’s no way around that. I suspect the car will seldom be driven with its full capacity of six people anyway – but the option is there. In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re not aiming for a show-car/authentic/stock-only restoration ;-) (In case you’re wondering, yes, I have even looked into what it would take to have airbags installed)


Retrofitting 3-point modern belts required research and a little bit engineering. Luckily there are DOT-approved seat belt kits you can buy. The tricky part is the attachment points.

Starting in 1969, lucky for us, it came stock with front seat (manually-adjustable) 3-point belts. Clunky, but effective. Something of an ordeal to harness yourself in and pull in all the slack, which then kind of pins you to the seatback. We vetoed the primitive stock design.

Ever heard of “Rivet Nuts”? What a cool design! and they come in big ½” diameter size even, which is what was used to create the lower attachment point for the seat belt retractors for the front seat. YouTube taught us how to make our own rivet nut installation tool for $8.

The retractor mechanism is fairly bulky, and would not fit in the factory hole down by the floor, so a rivet-nut went in the proper spot a few inches aft, on each side (photo below). The chosen spot still allows the front seat to slide fully aft, and doesn’t get in the way of a rear passenger’s footwell, either.

Rear seat belts used the stock holes behind the lower bench, but the retractor mechanism and upper pivot points needed new anchor points created. For those we used DOT-approved nut plates and grade-8 fasteners.
 

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The front windshield was fogged and bespeckled a bit from its age, so I wasn't too bummed out when it cracked upon removal. Oh, and good luck finding a 4-dr sedan windshield (finally via eBay).

The windshield frame had some of the only rust damage to the car, which was painstakingly repaired. Then the frame surround was primed, painted, and clearcoated, to keep future rust at bay. Lotta hours went into that.

The windshield installation was surprisingly simple! The gasket is a kind that has a clever locking-tab design that I'd never heard of before. The easiest way to install the glass was to first put the gasket in position (with some butyl sealant on the 'fence' edge of the frame first), slip & pry in the glass (there's wiggle room enough, and we lubed the channel where the glass fits with foaming window cleaner to keep it slippery), then fold/press in the locking tab portion of the gasket.

It took us less than an hour to be done. :cheers: After letting it dry out for a week, we adding a perimeter caulking of 3M 08509 Auto Bedding and Glazing Compound so that there'd be no worries ever about leaks.
 

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Upon test driving the car before purchase:

“Think it’ll need new suspension?”
“Nah, it seems fine. Maybe new shocks.”
“Okay.”


So of course new KYB shocks were installed on all four corners, but along the way we went ahead and installed new rear leaf springs and new torsion bars.

This forum coached us on what’s good and what’s not.
-PST provided the 1.03” diameter torsion bars (got the ‘master kit’). (Shout-out to PST! They gave me a 10% discount for being a member of this forum – thanks, guys!)
-Hotchkis supplied the leaf spring kit, despite some opinions on this forum that they maybe are not the best choice.

Everything installed without issue, after learning exactly how to do it all. Torsion bars were so easy to swap out at the same time as doing the front shocks. The old (puny 0.83") ones tapped right on out, and the new ones tapped right in.

Sure enough, getting the front stock ride height was a non-issue; the adjustment bolts under the lower control arms easily give you wiggle room on adjusting ride height, if needed.

We were worried that such BIGGER torsion bars would lift the front end too high, but after doing math on the new versus old spring rates, plus an e-mail query to PST, there was no more concern. Enough forum members have recommended these PST bars on Darts to the point that I stopped worrying they'd end up being too stiff-riding.

For the rear leafs, we chose NOT to use the newly-supplied forward brackets. The Hotchkis front bracket has the through-bolt hole positioned 1” vertically different than the stock bracket (which will lower the car by 1”). We heard that this A-body-specific kit may drop the car too much, so the original front brackets were simply re-used as a preemptive measure to keep the rear from being too low.

Back on its feet, the rear of the car actually sits about half an inch higher that it did with the original leaf springs. Both sides are within 1/8” of each other. Perfect. Know that the u-bolts that come with the kit are not for a 7.25” rear end (which needs 2.5” u-bolts, which we got from Mancini).

The car feels rock solid now, front and rear, and we're anxious to drive it to see how well it handles. It was a squeaky marshmallow before; what a difference.

The only glitch was the seized-on nut for the right side shock mount, which sheared the threaded part of the shaft off upon removal. Even after a soak in PB Blaster. Thank you again, eBay, for finding a New Old Stock replacement for a reasonable price.

Also, I painted the tips of the left hand axle studs red to remind us that they're left-handed threads.
 

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The lackluster 9” drums on all four corners gave us the original notion to upgrade to power brakes. All new cars have it, so it must be ‘better’, right? But the more advice I read, it seemed that a 2800 pound A-body with an excellent brake system needs no power boosting.

And given how a power booster will no longer fit under the hood – thanks to the looong aftermarket intake manifold – this was good news for us.

Wilwood offers a kit that upgrades 9” front drums to 11”, 4-piston-caliper disc brakes that (hooray!) utilize the stock control arms and spindle (only very minor grinding needed for clearance on spindle casting).

Also they offer a master cylinder upgrade that utilizes a smaller-than-stock 7/8” piston bore diameter, which adds lots of line pressure at the tradeoff of a little more brake pedal travel. Sounds good – a perfect recipe for a strong, effective braking system with great pedal-feel! Everything installed incredibly straightforward. Good instructions were included.

And although 9” drums in the rear may not need any reduction in line pressure to balance with the front discs, we went ahead and got an adjustable brake proportioning valve to install in line with the rear hydraulic circuit. Cutting that line got a little messy - always wear eye protection!


Easy to bleed the air out of the lines, right?

Nope. Ha! Just because you bench-bled the master cylinder doesn’t actually mean you properly bench-bled it. Are you sure you bottomed out the piston? Guess again. Then learn how to properly bleed each wheel. It took us 2 hours, but we were rewarded with a fabulous-feeling brake pedal. Our first attempt at all this had a pedal that would mush straight to the floor, regardless of ZERO bubbles coming out of the bleeder screws.

Man, they are NOT kidding when they say you have to be meticulous when you bench-bleed the master cylinder.

If you count up the number of fittings in the whole braking system – 34 fittings!! (including the bleeder screws) – there’s a LOT of room for leaks to manifest. Especially at the new proportioning valve, where we got to make out first-ever double-flared fittings after hacking into the stock rear line. We touched 20 of those 34 fittings during the installation/modification/bleeding process, and sure enough one of them had a tiny leak. Tightened it up, and all was good.

Oh, one other thing. The 1969 stock master cylinder had the aft reservoir feed the front brakes. Its reservoirs were equal-volume. The Wilwood master cylinder has the larger volume in the forward reservoir, so we did make the brake line adjustments to give the front brakes access to the larger reservoir.
 

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Wheels. Now I know why there’s a dedicated forum just for them. We ended up getting the polished versions of the wheels we waited on back-order for 9 weeks for (which had grey-painted centers). At first we thought the polished ones would be a bit too fancy for a 4-door sedan, but now that they’re on, I gotta say ...we like them a lot. 16" wheels were the choice, due to vast tire selection and not being 'too big' for a sedan (you 2-door coupe guys may be able to pull that off, though!).

The short version of the story for selecting and installing big-bolt pattern wheels is:
-Measure the room you’ve got to fit ‘em in. Carefully. Measure your stock wheels, and pay attention to backspacing.
-Realize that the advertised wheel width is NOT the actual wheel width. There’s an extra inch that sneaks into there (tire bead width versus edge of metal rim)
-Wheel adaptors are awesome and easy for the rear axles. The front disc brake kit we installed has 5x4.5 big bolt pattern studs, and we wanted four identical wheels, so the rears needed ‘converted’. We installed ¾” thick wheel adaptors from FTWadapters.com.
-If you trim the inner wheel lip for clearance like we did, grind everything smooth and radiused, then solvent clean and seal it up right to prevent future corrosion. Wheel wells are notoriously tough places to keep from rusting. Primer, buller-proof urethane, plus two layers of rubberized undercoating sealed everything up on this Dart’s inner fender lip.


There’s one finger-width of gap between the tire and the rear lip. Not much, but hopefully enough.

Photos below:

1-Stock wheels, 14x5.5 with 3.5” of backspacing, wrapped in 205/70/14 tires. 5 x 4” small bolt pattern
2- Trim about 0.6” off of the inner fender lip
3 – Cut three threads off of the stock studs to ensure they don’t protrude beyond the wheel adapter. (note: they’re still long enough to reattach the stock wheels). Ends were heated and blued with oxpho blue.
4 – Install the adapter using the stock lug nuts to mount the adapter. New studs are 12x1.5 metric. Which don't match the front, but oops happens. Let's just call it one of the car's quirks.
5 – New wheel installed, same view.
6 – Showing the finger-width gap that remains. The shadowing makes it look smaller than it really is. It is close, and hopefully good enough. Otherwise we’ll end up having the axles redrilled for BBP studs.
7- New shoes. :D

Can’t wait to see this car painted some day - soon. In fact, the wish is to have it done by early April, in time for my son to be able to drive it up to his college for the start of his Spring quarter. All that's left now is body and paint.
 

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A904 Transmission sticky governor Stalling the Motor

The car had one quirk that was pretty annoying. Sometimes, at least once per trip,, when decelerating quickly from a stop, it seemed like the transmission would refuse to downshift from 2nd-to-1st gear. Maybe it was the torque converter misbehaving, the more I think about it?

Whatever it was, the engine would be forced to lug down into the realm of 500 RPM as it came to a stop. Which is so low that it would stall the engine. Months ago, we’d drained the transmission, added new fluid, and changed its filter. But that was the extent of the attention the transmission got. I convinced myself the problem was with the governor sticking from varnish build-up.

So did we rebuild it? Nope! Instead, we added a full can of Sea-Foam Trans-Tune, and crossed our fingers. And you know what, after about 50 miles of driving, it stopped doing that! After a few more trips to confirm it was truly no longer misbehaving, we pulled a transmission cooler line off the radiator, and completely flushed out the semi-new fluid (which looked pretty darn cloudy), replenishing it with 5 qts of Dextron IV plus 2 qts B&M Trick Shift, plus a 1/5 can of Trans-Tune.
 
Body Work
Doing automotive body work is a kind of an art form - it takes a certain finesse and skill-set to pull it off. Very humbling to attempt on one's own. Lotta sanding is involved for us rookies.

The project budget dictated that the dozen or so minor dings and dents needed to be fixed by us. By the time the last one was worked over, it wasn't too tough. Wide drywall taping knives, and using contrasting guide coat go a long way to doing it well. The body shop would be stripping most of the original paint off anyway, so at least we didn't have to worry too much about trying to feather our repaired areas into the surviving paint.

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Paint

After calling a few body shops around town, I visited one that was recommended and really liked what I saw coming out of their booth. The price quote was one of the more reasonable ones, and the cost difference between dropping it off that day and having them complete the remaining body work and bringing it to them with all the body work complete was small enough to make it a deal. Besides, the smell of Evercoat fiberglass was finally starting to make the official list of Things I'm Starting to Dread.

Here’s some in-progress photos of bodywork. The paint shop ended up taking most of the car down to the (amazingly rust-free) bare metal, prior to epoxy-priming it.

The photo on the bottom is what it looked like when I dropped it off.

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Electrical Charging System Woes

The day before the car was ready for its maiden voyage up to my son's college hometown, the voltmeter started showing less than 12.8 volts. Normally it was about 15 volts. We still had the old alternator and old voltage regulator on the car, so who knows how old they were. Sure enough, the tester revealed that the car's battery was no longer getting charged.

Surprised that the local auto part store was open on Memorial Day, it was even more surprising that they had the parts we needed ... in stock!

We decided to upgrade to the post-1970 charging system, whose alternator has two field wiring connectors, plus utilizes a solid-state voltage regulator. Some minor wiring revisions were needed to accommodate this upgrade, but the internet is awesome for teaching what needs to be done.

An Optima gel-cell battery got installed, too, to ensure that the new-looking car had a totally new-performing electrical system.

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Door Jambs and Trunk

So it can be a cost-saving to go ahead and paint the door jambs and trunk interior yourself. Since the goal was to keep the costs relatively low, it made sense to give that a try.

But let me tell you: it's not a simple thing to do right. The effort to prep and mask off those areas is waaay bigger than you think, if you're truly intent on doing it well. It saved on the paint job for sure, but if there's a "next time" then I bet the paint shop will be given this job!

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Back from Paint: Time for Stainless Steel Trim Installation

The "Custom" trim level of the Dart sports a good amount of side moulding. Including the roof rail, windshield, trunk, and hood, there are 25 pieces of stainless-steel trim that have to go back on the car, along with the door handles and door locks. Last year we picked up a (hard to find) passenger-side mirror, too, which could now be installed.

Along the way, I picked up a new skill: refurbishing beat-up stainless steel trim pieces. This car had so many dings and dents in the fender and door moulding when it was purchased, and I'm glad to say that all of the original pieces were able to be re-worked to at least 90% of their original integrity. The toughest part actually is getting a uniform satin/shiny surface finish on everything. It's not that hard to mirror-polish this stuff, but if you do that then every little imperfection stands out.

As far as re-installing it all, so glad that we ordered lots of those spring-clip fasteners of all sizes, in advance! There were a few fasteners that my son had to fabricate with some spring steel, since some of the original spring-clip style ones had rusted out and no replacements were to be found.

A whole weekend was spent methodically installing all of this. This is entering the home stretch of this project, which started 10 months ago, and my son and I were so pleased to be finally at this stage.

Time to brag a bit: my son has become quite a mechanic over the course of this project, and I gotta admit that he has brought quite a few ideas to the table that his "seasoned" mechanic dad wouldn't have thought of.

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This summer we'll install air-conditioning into this car, as well as do some nit stuff like EFI tuning tricks, and adding some firewall acoustic insulation. Maybe even modify the exhaust, as the way the local shop made the custom Y-collector just seems like an inefficient-flow design.

But for now, the Dart has officially driven off to its new home, with my son wearing a huge smile as he heads north on I-5 out of Seattle up to his college hometown, to go wrap up the Spring quarter of classes. He's been driving my Volvo station wagon for the past few months while the Dart gets the final steps completed, and it sure is weird seeing that Volvo back in my garage!

That Dart's B7 Medium Metallic Blue color - the original color of this car - looks great. It really changes hue on you, too, between direct sunlight and overcast lighting, and even at night.

It's definitely going to be a memorable First Car to have for him!

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Wow, the dart turned out super nice. I looked at the info for the seat belts. My 67 cuda came with lap belts only. I will need to add mounting lugs for the shoulder restraint part. Every set of belts i have looked at so far had been a compromise. Repop lap belts are ok, but they dont protect your head, the shoulder belts i have found so far until now required the retractor to be mounted on the side wall, and not the inner rocker panel. I think the wesco seatbelts you have found offer the best compromise. I will more than likely go with these in the front, and 3 lap belts in the back.

Question, does the stock anchor point for the shoulder belt make it cut across your neck? Reason i ask is i have a 69 barracuda i will be measuring for the anchor points on my 67. I know these 2 cars are a bit different, but in 69 the shoulder belts though required by law were hastily put in production not sure if any thought was given to this or not.
 
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The stock anchor point does not cut across your neck.

The section of belt that drops down from the ceiling towards your shoulder has a sleeve that guides the belt downward before allowing it to come forward towards your neck/shoulder, so it ends up being comfortable. True for both me (5 ft 11 height) and my son (5 ft 9).

Here's a photo showing the belt from the front. You can see the black sleeve at the upper right.

Front Belt Details.jpg
 
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