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First Peek with Joe Kelly Edition Date

Supercar Collectibles’ 1968 Dodge Hemi Dart


Supercar Collectibles’ 1968 Dodge Hemi Dart
Joe Kelly
Joe Kelly

Welcome to the latest First Peek. It’s been a while.

You hear a lot about matches made in heaven. And, indeed, some pairings truly do seem steered by the divine. Like the joining of Highway 61 with Supercar Collectibles.

I had chance to break bread – actually, a few lobster shells – with these guys in Chicago last year. The conversation at the table was revelatory. We should have government that talks so cogently. We should have heads of state that understand their constituents, and each other, like these guys do.

The excitement about shared ideas and the level of pure passion about cars and models of cars was palpable. Points were driven home with laughter and the occasional waving of a claw. Air pictures were drawn with small forks. Hands slick with butter sculpted imaginary fender lines, turned whimsical handles, and explored things that existed only in the minds of those who had turned an ear.

It was glorious to see. May it be so for a very long time.

Click thumbnails to see larger images





  Supercar Collectibles’ 1968 Dodge Hemi Dart

Out of this mind trust comes an image from the far side; a model so focused in its concept and purposeful in its execution that it must be seen. It’s a 1:18 diecast of the 1968 Dodge Hemi Dart.

Not one of the many beautifully painted, brightly liveried racers that will surely soon fill the shelves of enlightened drag fans, mind you, but a painstakingly researched, beautifully bolted-together image of the mighty A-body brawler as it appeared fresh off the trailer from Hurst Manufacturing.

God, is this thing ugly. And god, is it cool.

For those who question the dichotomy, Hurst-built Hemi Darts were sold through select Chrysler dealerships as part of a factory-backed drag program first instigated by Rick Maxwell of the Ramchargers racing team. Both the Dodge Dart and Plymouth Barracuda shared the mid-sized A-body platform, and designs were drawn up to install the Chrysler Corp’s big gun, the race Hemi, into these mid-sized packages in order to kick ass and take numbers at the track. It would prove to be the ultimate incarnation of the time honored "really big motor in a really light car" formula that had put factory flyers like Ford’s Thunderbolt, Pontiac’s Super Duty Tempest and other purpose-built machinery into the history books.

But first, a few had to be made for sale. This task fell to Hurst.

The cars were stripped of every item that would impede forward thrust. Even the window cranks were doffed, and fabric pulls installed, to facilitate window raising and lowering. The front clip of the car was pitched, and in its place, Hurst bolted on fiberglass fenders and a wide-scooped hood. The balance of the car’s body, including the bumpers, was acid-dipped, a process that shaved precious thousandths off, in order to leave even more avoirdupois behind.

Gone were the seats – front and rear – and in their place, lighter Dodge van buckets were attached to the front floor with special aluminum brackets. So dedicated was the weight loss program that only the driver’s side was re-equipped with seatbelts. Special lightweight glass from Corning was popped in, and the master cylinder was removed, equipped with purpose-built high pressure flex hoses, and reinstalled to a location that would allow the Hemi’s broad shoulders to fit beneath. The sheer size of the motor dictated the special hoses; they allowed the hydraulics to be unbolted temporarily for valve adjustments in the tight engine bay without having to bleed the system between events. A like massage was worked on the shock towers, which were hauled outward, and the frame’s "K" member was fortified for a substantially increased load. Then, in went the Hemi.

In bullfighting, the dagger is hidden until the moment of truth. In drag racing, that dagger is horsepower. Chrysler claimed a figure of 425 Percherons for the race engine. And (as it was for all of the other teams) that was a reverse fish tale; the twin-carbed motor has been estimated to have developed somewhere north of six hundred-fifty horses and untold torque. Whether their purchases had come off the trailer equipped with the Torqueflite automatic – modified for manual shifting – or a four-speed, Hemi Dart pilots could wink, launch, and blast down the quarter mile in around ten seconds.

Realizing your dreams of winking and blasting cost around $4500.00 in 1968, and many a boy racer with a fat pocket was turned away. Favored teams got their Darts (and Barracudas) first, and even the most noted had to agree not to spin a tire on the street. Shipped in primer with radiused rear wheelwells and a bare, gel-coated ‘glass front end, the cars arrived two-toned, rolling on skinny tires. Though it hasn’t been verified, it’s said that just over eighty of the Darts were ultimately made. Many still compete.

What has been verified is that there will be 1998 of the models of the Dart made by Supercar Collectibles, and that as of this writing, there are fewer than two hundred left unspoken for. These numbers don’t surprise me. Hey, these guys know what guys like us want. In the case of the Hemi Darts, we’ll not only get these as-delivered models, but beautifully-liveried copies of the "Drag-On Lady" and a "Red Light Bandit" – for starters – this year. It’s Hemi heaven.

Man, what a model. For the uninitiated, a couple of things make themselves apparent right off the bat. First: you need to be of a certain Mopar bent, or at least a big fan of drag history, to appreciate the effort that’s been made here. Second: you need to be ready to tell everyone who isn’t at least one of the former just what the hell this thing is.

For those of us who dig the preamble, it doesn’t get better than this. Here’s a slick car to park in your factory drag section – or, even better, to start one. The primer on the body is dead even, and seems just the right shade of drab gray. That’s an improvement over earlier show versions with a too-light primer on their shells. Taken alongside the black fenders and hood – cast in plastic, to replicate not just the look, but the feel of fiberglass – the model strikes the right chord right off the bat and carries the tune as details show themselves and "wow" becomes "whoa".

Though much of the model is patterned after H61’s Dart (duh!) the tricks and tweaks all over are cool. Every panel opens, the doors are on "real" angle hinges, and the scooped plastic hood lifts off from locating pins. Though you’ll see five holes on this sample’s hood, only the correct four will make it into production. The grille is photoetched, and the lensing and bezels are neat, detailed castings. Foil constitutes the trim around the windshield and backlight, and though I’m not sure if any foil will be added to the production models to replicate the thin drip rail trim around the side windows, the sideviews, trunk trim, and all of the fender, hood, and trunk badging have been sent packing.

On the windshield, Supercar has added one of the model’s more interesting details. The "HOT" tag and shipping instruction label are pages torn from the history book, alongside a mysterious "SB" tag attached to the upper right corner. It’s easy to imagine the car going through its paces at the Hurst-Campbell shops with these stuck to its face, and the detail adds much to the model’s aura.

The interior has gotten all kinds of renovation, and the tossed rear seat, van front seats – and even the not-so-mysteriously missing passenger-side seat belt – join the fabric window pulls and modified door panels to bump up the gotcha factor. These guys really did their homework; I got a kick out of the seat mounts, complete to the huge lightening holes. This is a Torqueflite-equipped car, and should you be so inclined, you can whonk the shifter back and forth and pose the vent windows. Hey, it’s a Highway 61. Go for it.

The trunk houses the battery, and it’s cabled in and detailed about as much as a battery can be, with a cool old-style Mopar label and white caps. I’d give real money to be able to read that label without breaking out the Ben Franklins, but from what I can see, it’s just another sweet detail in an unexpected place. That’s what cool models are all about.

The Hemi is wired and plumbed – as much as a drag motor is plumbed – and I’m sure we’ll see some tweaking in here before production. Not that the motor needs a lot of that – short of a bark and rattle from the twin pipes and glasspacks beneath the car, there isn’t a whole lot more that could be done to sell this as a great engine mold set. They’d do well to sell the finalized engine as a kit, for the diecast bashers and detail hounds out there to build and slip into models that could use a well-wrought mill like this. I can think of a few. Anyway, true to life, the motor’s been wedged between this sample’s fenders with not an eyelash’s worth of slack to be found.

As far as chassis and drivetrain, what you see is what you’ll get. The model, which has a flexing suspension, will ship on skinnies with steel wheels. The headers and twin downspouts tell the tale of the crushing power being churned out upstream. And don’t look in the box for shiny, pretty wheels to change your ride - there won’t be any, due to the model’s historical accuracy.

They won’t be missed. This is one from the vaults. Supercar is living up to its name, and Highway 61 is right behind them, spinning wrenches. Hell, I wouldn’t want to change a thing.


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