Moving Target – Ron Michels Hit a Bullseye With His ’70 Dodge Dart
Rolling with changes is a part of everyday life, even more so when you’re building a hot rod. Hurdles come up and sometimes you work with them, sometimes around them, and other times you just choose a different path entirely. When Ron Michels set out to build a Dodge Dart, he dealt with a number of changes early on – and the result earned him a Gazette Pick during the Autumn Get-Together last fall.
The original plan was to locate a ’68 Dodge Dart to build into a Dick Landy tribute SS/A drag car, but after a lengthy search for a starter car, that plan was sidelined. Even when he answered an ad for a ’70 model that had been in taken apart and shoved into two storage bins at the Mare Island Navy Shipyard, he figured he’d simply assemble the car and flip it to make a buck but that plan also changed.
That Dart, and all of its original Dart parts, were all there, but the salty coastal air had taken its toll on the body. Noting how far the body was gone, Ron hatched a plan to build a car with a modern driveline and accessories. He ended up paying $2,500 for the Dart and sold all of the parts, including the driveline, exhaust, interior and wiring, for $2,700, keeping only the body.
Ron brought in Dan Freitas of Chassis Design to help with the long list of metal fabrication. To accommodate a modern Hemi engine, the firewall was moved back 3-inches, the master cylinder was moved to the left and the wiper motor was placed inside. The tunnel received copious work to allow for the larger five-speed automatic and the floor was lowered a couple inches to position the comfy Lexus buckets at the right height.
The car’s unibody structure was stiffened with a set of subframe connectors and additional braces to handle the power of the late-model driveline. The rear leafs were moved a couple inches inboard and complemented with a set of CalTrac bars. The front suspension was gutted in favor of a tubular setup along with modern coil-overs and heavy-duty strut bars. A fresh rack-and-pinion steering setup was installed along with a complete Wilwood brake system.
The thought of an LS swap never crossed Ron’s mind, as it was all Mopar for his Dart. He selected a 500-horsepower 392c.i. Hemi backed by a 595RFE five-speed transmission. Power is transferred to the original 8¾-inch rearend filled with 3.55 gears, sending the torque to a pair of 18×10-inch Budnik wheels with 285/40 Nitto rubber (17x8s with 225/45 rubber guide things up front).
The interior has been updated to modern standards, yet still possesses some classic Dart vibe. Ron designed a new instrument panel and filled it with gauges from Classic Instruments as well as a set of HVAC vents. A custom console was fabricated to house the Jeep Cherokee shifter and mount the power window switches, Vintage Air controls and keyless starter button. The door panels were custom made by Finish Line Interiors, where the bucket seats were also stitched and square weave carpet was added to tie it all together.
The entire body was stripped to bare metal by Precision Stripping, then sent off to Tony Parker at Crown Auto Works. Tony worked the body over, tightened the gaps and got it all aligned perfectly before applying the PPG Vibrance Punaluu Stone color. The center section of the dual-scoop Swinger hood was finished in satin black and the factory rear striping provides a nod to the original factory option.
A few changes occurred early in Ron’s plans for a Dodge Dart, but in the end, it resulted in something truly distinctive. He now has a great-looking muscle car with serious power that can be driven anywhere at any time in comfort, with modern power and handling and cool looks.
Photos by Steven Bunker