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Mention the words “muscle car” to most enthusiasts and they conjure visions of Tri-Power GTOs, Hemi Road Runners and 454 Chevelles. True, the big block pavement pounders did make up the majority of the market, but they were also the favorite targets of insurance companies. If the engine exceeded 400 cubic inches, it was a sure bet a hefty surcharge was added to the premium. Many an under 21 consumer was faced with insurance premiums that outstripped the monthly payments. Uncontrollable insurance payments in the late 1960s were one of the contributing causes of why the muscle car market literally imploded in less than two years.
There were however, alternatives to the mega cube monsters that provided more than adequate performance and cost considerably less. These were compacts with smaller, high performance engines that remained under the insurance company’s radar screens. Chevrolet had enjoyed great success with their SS Novas with their small block high performance engines. The L79 Nova was the hottest of the Chevy II lineup. Loaded with the Corvette’s 327, it pumped out 350 horsepower and provided plenty of performance.
Dodge was paying close attention to this “Junior Muscle Car” market and was ready to dive right in with their compact Dart model. Late into the 1967 model year, Dodge released the GTS. The GTS was offered only with the 383 Magnum engine in both hardtop and convertible models. The only way to distinguish the GTS from GT models was a “GTS 383 FOUR BARREL” badge on the front fenders. Since the model was a late release, production was low — only 457 units were built of which 229 were four-speeds and 228 were automatics.
In 1968 Dodge re-introduced the model as the Dart 340 GTS, a nicely packaged junior series muscle car that had the right looks and adequate suds under the hood. Dodge had learned a valuable lesson from arch rival Pontiac—a muscle car— even a junior variety— has to look the part, and the GTS had all the visual goodies, starting with a “power bulge” hood similar to the big Coronet Super Bee. Around back was a wide “bumble bee stripe” similar to those found on the Charger and the R/T models. GTS emblems appeared on the front fenders and hood and on the rear deck lid. Inside, the GTS had the top of the line interior, with deeply cushioned, vinyl-upholstered bucket seats standard on coupes. Convertibles received a bench seat, however buckets were optional.
The GTS underpinnings provided a taut, nimble ride thanks to its 111” wheelbase and wider track (58.5” front and 56.3” rear). Standard fare was the Rallye Suspension, with heavy-duty torsion bars, slightly stiffer springs and Firm Ride Oriflow shocks with stiffer rebound. At the rear, six leaf, asymmetrical leaf springs were used with Firm Ride shocks. E70 wide tread tires were standard on 5.5J stamped steel wheels. Six-inch cast road wheels were optional. The GTS also boasted standard brakes bigger than the GTO’s 9.5-inch binders, with 10-inchers all around and front disc brakes available. Coupled with the optional 16:1 fast ratio manual steering, the GTS was an above average handling muscle car.
In the muscle car era, it was all about the power, and the GTS was no slouch there. Standard was the new “LA” code 340 cubic inch V8. Instead of adapting a mundane small displacement engine and glomming on some go-fast parts, the LA 340 was built with serious high performance in mind. The LA 340 boasted big valve (2.02” intake and 1.88” exhaust) heads, free flowing exhaust manifolds, high lift camshaft, forged crank, Carter AVS four-barrel carburetor, 10.5:1 compression and dual exhaust with chrome tipped extensions. The 340’s displacement was derived from a bore and stroke of 4.04 x 3.31. That short stroke made the 340 a high revver, producing a maximum of 275 gross horsepower at 5,000rpm and gross torque of 340 at 3200rpm. Standard transmission with the 340 GTS was the high shift, three-speed TorqueFlite automatic, with rear ratios ranging from economical 3.23:1 to 3.91:1, offered with the optional Sure Grip limited slip differential. The A-833 four-speed manual was also offered, stirred by a standard Hurst shifter.
To illustrate just how well the 340 GTS ran against the big boys, Car & Driver tested a 340 GTS with 3.91:1 rear cogs in their September 1968 issue and recorded 0-60 acceleration at six seconds flat and the quarter-mile in a rather brief 14.4/99mph. They also recorded a top speed of 114mph and 80 – 0mph braking in 288 feet. With 3.23:1 rear gears, Car Life tested a 340 GTS and clicked off 0 – 60 in 6.3 seconds and the 1320 in 14.68/96.2mph.
For those who wanted more power, the 383 Magnum was offered. Rated at 300 horsepower at 4400rpm, the 383 wasn’t offered with power steering (because of the engine’s large dimensions, there was no room for the pump). While the idea of the bigger engine was appealing for drag racers, the extra weight of the big motor really skewed the Dart’s excellent cornering abilities.
While the GTS was standard with the 340 and offered the 383 optionally, buyers could also special order the 375 horsepower 440 Magnum. Shoehorning these monsters under the Dart’s small hood required significant alterations to the engine compartment. As with the 383, there was no room under the hood for power steering. The exhaust headers were crammed into the compartment and specially designed front suspension components were required to handle the additional weight of the 440. The 1969 440 Dart GTS models were equipped with the 727 TorqueFlite transmission only.
The GTS returned for 1969 with a few minor changes, including the base price, which rose to $3,209 for the hardtop and $3,402 for the convertible. The front grille was toned down and blacked out, with a bright center horizontal bar and parking lights. A bold, paint-filled GTS nameplate was located in the center of the hood. The tail lamp panel was also blacked out, and the wide Bumble Bee stripe was now broken in the center and model name callout was part of the stripe.
While the 340 remained much the same for 1969, the Dodge Boys did some heavy massaging on the 383 Magnum to make it competitive with the new 396/325 horsepower Nova. The 383 received the 440 Magnum’s heads, intake and camshaft, bumping the engine’s output to 330 horsepower. The front suspension was beefed to handle the 383’s extra girth.
Both engines shared the same transmissions and rear axle gear ratios as in 1968. Other minor revisions included changes to the side marker lamps, head restraints became standard equipment after January 1, 1969 and the automatic drum brake adjustors were revised for more consistent operation. Late in the model year, the 440 Magnum engine was offered.
While the 340 GTS didn’t achieve the same kind of sales volume as the Chevy Nova SS, it did sell in respectable numbers and has a loyal following today (the 340 GTS Registry is an excellent source of information at www.geocities.com/gtsreg). Mopar enthusiast David Leverock of St. Petersburg, Fla., has always appreciated the 340 GTS. “The first car I ever drove was my sister’s 1969 Dart GT,” David said. “I fell in love with the car back then and hoped some day I would own a GTS.”
David ran across this Medium Green Metallic ’69 340 GTS at a classic car dealership in Florida. It had been initially purchased in Virginia and had a solid body and matching numbers drive train. Darts were known for bulletproof drive trains and chronically rotted sheet metal. “I was lucky to find a car that was totally solid and rust free,” David said, “requiring only cosmetic restoration.” David’s well versed in Mopars. He currently owns a restored 1963 Dart GT convertible, 1969 Dodge Charger and a low mileage, all original 1976 Chrysler Cordoba.
David handled the interior restoration, replacing the seats, carpet, headliner, dash pad, and door panels with reproduction parts. All of the painted interior surfaces were also refinished. David also did a complete restoration of the engine and engine compartment with a keen eye for correct factory check marks and decal placement. Every component in the 99,000 mile car was repaired or replaced, including the brakes and metal brake lines and hoses, fuel tank, front and rear suspension, and a correct exhaust system was installed.
David’s 340 GTS is loaded with options and accessories like power steering and brakes, lamp package, wood grained steering wheel, console, tachometer, AM/FM radio, rear window defogger, bumper guards, vinyl top, road wheels, rear speaker, and three-speed wipers. David drives the 340 GTS at least once a week (one of the privileges of living in the Sunshine State) and takes it to a number of shows. His best outing so far has been a second place at a Florida regional AACA show.
Dart GTS 383
383cid V-8 1×4 bbl.
Dart GTS 440
440cid V-8 1×4 bbl.
Dart GTS 383
383cid V-8 1×4 bbl.
Dart GTS 440
440cid V-8 1×4 bbl.
by Paul Zazarine
© Car Collector Magazine, LLC.
(Click for more Car Collector Magazine articles)
Originally appeared in the December 2006 issue
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