–If you look through past editions of Rare Rides, you’ll note that the muscle cars we have covered were scarce owing to a fairly small array of reasons.
Some were produced in low numbers because buyer demand was not there for what the car offered.
Others, by virtue of the cost of the high-performance options that made the car special, simply exceeded the price point that muscle enthusiasts could afford at the time .
Still more became victims of a regime change at the manufacturer that resulted in the model being canceled before a sizeable volume could be produced.
A modest amount of our subjects though, such as the 1966 Chevrolet Biscayne L72 427 and the 1966 Ford Fairlane XL500 427 R-Code, were never intended to be built in large numbers, as they were cars designed for a special purpose.
That purpose was not to cruise the highways and byways of America like an average car, but instead to achieve glory at the drag strip by maxing out the car’s design via a program of horsepower and weight loss. As such, these beasts appealed to a very limited group of buyers and consequently became the rarest of the rare.
In this edition of the column, we’re going to have a look at another one of these drag-strip warriors, indeed the fastest in a straight line built during the Golden Era of muscle.
The car? The ultra-rare 1968 Dodge Hurst Hemi Dart LO23 Super Stock. So let’s get to it!
The LO23’s lineage stretches back eight years and three prior design generations.
First introduced for the 1960 model year, the Dodge Dart was a low-price, downsized large car that was based on the Plymouth unibody platform, and rode on a 118-inch wheelbase.
Offered in four-door sedan, four-door hardtop, four-door wagon, two-door sedan, hardtop, and convertible configurations, the Dart was available in increasingly expensive Seneca, Pioneer, and Phoenix lines. Engines ranged from a standard 225 cubic-inch slant-six, up to a range-topping 361 cubic-inch four-barrel V8.
Sales were spectacular, with 306,603 Darts manufactured. Despite this, Dodge went ahead and gave the car a fairly extensive aesthetic update for the next model year, and upped the power stakes by adding the 383 cubic-inch V8 to the engine roster. Perhaps Dodge should have left things alone, as sales dipped to 142,708 cars for its sophomore frame.
In 1962, Dodge completely redesigned the Dart, downsizing it by incorporating the intermediate B-body platform. Trim lines were completely new as well, now consisting of Dart, Dart 330, and Dart 440 models. Styling was svelte, in keeping with the burgeoning “jet-age” trend, though the front end was decidedly odd-looking, with a pair of main headlights situated in the leading edge of the front fenders, and another pair housed, at some distance, in the grille.
Chrysler’s mighty, 415 horsepower, 413 cubic-inch Ramcharger V8 replaced the 383 at the top of the Dart’s optional motor slate, and when fitted, marked the first occasion in which a Dart was purposed for the drag strip.
The third iteration of the Dart came just a year later when Dodge made the unorthodox decision to rechristen the forthcoming, next generation, compact Lancer with the Dart name. Now riding on a 111-inch wheelbase (five inches shorter than the gen-two cars) the Dart would utilize the suspension shared by the Plymouth Valiant and now-defunct Lancer.
Once again, the Dart was available as a two- or four-door sedan, two-door hardtop, convertible, and wagon, and there were three trim levels: 170, 270, and GT. Power came from a choice of an anemic 101 horsepower, 170 cubic-inch slant-six, a 145 horsepower, 225 cubic-inch slant-six, or a 273 cubic-inch V8 capable of churning out 180 ponies. Late in the model run, a four-barrel version of the 273 was released that was good for a solid 235 horsepower.
With sales up markedly, Dodge made the wise decision to stick with this spec Dart for three more model years, with aesthetic upgrades for the exterior and interior the sole major modifications.
For the 1967 model year, Dodge started with a clean slate for their Dart. Although retaining the A-body platform from the previous Lancer generation, virtually nothing else was retained.
Only available in two- and four-door sedan, hardtop, and convertible versions, the 170 trim level was replaced by “Dart” nomenclature, while the 270 and GT would remain. Late in the model year, a range-topping GTS trim would be introduced.
Completely new styling, now featuring a noticeable dearth of curves, was handsome and compact. The front featured a dual-plane treatment, in which the center portions of the bumper, grille, and hood leading edge were set back from the other front-end surfaces. Twin headlamps resided on the outermost sides of the car’s face, flanking the grille.
Curved side glass, a first for a Chrysler compact, minimized the perceived volume of the greenhouse, while a compound curved rear window made for the car’s most indelible styling statement. Back-end styling featured corner-mounted, angled taillights.
Inside, the latest Dart was spartan but attractive and functional. A horizontal gauge cluster dominated the driver’s side of the dash, and bench or bucket seats could be optioned, as could a center console and other niceties.
For get-up and go, Dodge offered a variety of motors. A tweaked version of the 170 cubic-inch slant-six, pushing 115 horsepower, was standard, and the 225 cubic-inch version was the other selectable six.
As for V8s, the party started with the 180 horsepower two-barrel 273, and graduated to a four-barrel version, packing 235 horses. For GTS buyers, a 280 horsepower, four-barrel 383 cubic-inch V8 really got things rocking. Three- and four-speed manuals as well as a three-speed TorqueFilte auto could be chosen.
1968 was a carryover year for the design, and changes were subtle and evolutionary. The front turn lights were redesigned as round units and side lights were added to comply with a new federal mandate. Additionally, rear differential ratios were changed, and the steering linkage was revised.
That is not to say that 1968 would be uneventful for the Dart though.
Seeing Ford and Chevy dominate the streets and strips with Shelby Mustangs and the Yenko edition Chevrolets, Dodge brass became desirous of having their own speed demon. Within the company, it was felt that the A-body Dart would be the prime candidate for transformation into a race car, as its diminutive size and weight would hold advantages over the competition.
In February 1968, corporate headquarters issued a press release to all American Dodge dealers stipulating that they wanted to create a factory drag racing version of the Dart GTS hardtop specifically for NHRA Class B Super Stock competition. The intention was to equip the car with the race-spec 426 Hemi V8 and outfit it with bespoke lightweight elements and high-performance parts.
Enthusiasm for the proposition was high, and Dodge engineers quickly set to work. They forged an agreement with Hurst, a company with considerable racing know-how and pedigree, to modify the Dart into a fire-breathing race car.
Dodge shipped stripped GTS bodies to Hurst’s facility in Ferndale, Michigan for their conversion. The cars arrived without engines, transmissions, exhausts, driveshafts, interiors, batteries, and all accessories, as these items would be replaced by race-spec parts.
Hurst started with the most difficult task: cramming the huge 426 Race Hemi into an engine bay it was not intended to live in. This engine, featuring a massive iron block, had a bore and stroke of 4.25” x 3.74″, a .484/.475-inch lift camshaft, and sported a 10.25:1 compression ratio. Breathing was courtesy of dual, 735-cfm, four-barrel Holley carbs residing atop an aluminum cross ram intake. Hooker headers and lightweight, side-exiting, glass packs handled the exhale.
To make the “elephant motor” fit, Hurst engineers reportedly had to bash the inside of the car’s shock towers with sledgehammers to provide the necessary room.
Next to be installed was the buyer’s choice of transmission – either a synchronizer-less A833 four-speed with a heavy-duty clutch, a steel bellhousing, and a Hurst Competition shifter, or a modified A727 TorqueFlite three-speed with a high-speed torque converter, and a Hurst shifter. Manuals came with a heavy-duty driveshaft and a Dana rear with 4.88 gears. Slushbox cars packed a 4.86:1, 8.75-inch differential.
Owing to the tremendous speed the car would be pulling at the end of a quarter-mile strip, the stock front drum brakes were tossed, replaced by four-piston police-issue discs.
Other performance gear included a special radiator with a seven-blade fan for maximum cooling, a high-capacity oil pump, a roller timing chain, a transistorized distributor, a Prestolite ignition, heavy-duty rear shocks, and a trunk-mounted, enhanced-performance Mopar battery.
To keep weight at an absolute minimum, Hurst made extensive modifications to the Dart’s body. A fiberglass hood, with four hold-down pins for full removal from the car, featured a huge “dustpan” scoop that fed fresh air to the Holleys. The fenders were likewise fiberglass.
Acid-etched doors lacked mirrors and had strap-operated manual windows manufactured from .080-inch thick, Dow-Corning Chemcor instead of glass.
The rear wheel openings were trimmed back, and, as with the method used to fit the Hemi in the engine bay, sledgehammers were used to increase the size of the rear wheel wells to accommodate oversized drag tires.
The ultra-stripped-down interior had thin-pile carpeting, and non-adjustable, bucket seats taken from a Dodge A100 van that were fastened to the floor via aluminum brackets.
So obsessive was the attention to weight savings, that the cars were delivered unpainted, with the black fiberglass parts contrasting with the rest of the body.
When all was said and done, the Hemi Dart, internally known as the LO23, weighed a mere 3,020 pounds. The 426ci engine, while publicly rated at a laughable 425 horsepower, was actually capable of roughly 110 more ponies than that. This yielded an extraordinary power-to-weight ratio and helped the LO23 to be the fastest factory muscle car built at that time.
So prodigious was its performance though, that Dodge ultimately issued the car with a disclaimer that it was only to be used for drag racing or “supervised acceleration trials,” despite the fact that the cars were, indeed, street legal. Just how prodigious was the performance? How about a low ten-second quarter-mile at roughly 130 mph straight from the factory?!
LO23s immediately began to rule the NHRA’s SS/B and SS/BA categories, setting increasingly better record times throughout 1968 and beyond. In 1970 they were reclassified into SS/A, and today have their own NHRA class, SS/AH, (for A-Hemi).
Only 80 1968 Dodge Hurst Hemi Dart LO23 Super Stocks were ever made, and most lived very hard lives. Today, the exact number of survivors is unknown. LO23s come up for sale very rarely though, and when they do, fetch very dear sums, especially for a car that originally sold for less than $5,000. In fact, two have changed hands for in excess of $300,000 at auction within the last ten years.
Pretty understandable for one of the world’s fastest Rare Rides. Don’t you think?