There has been a push for the last twenty or so years to make your car be and do just about everything. It’s the essence of Pro Touring: classic looks, modern performance, comfy cruiser, brutal performer. Just one problem comes up with the whole deal: have you seen what it takes to turn a Camaro into the all-singing, all-dancing superstar that shows up to autocrosses and straight-up demolishes everything in sight? It costs a mint, and that’s not counting support, breakage, concrete poisoning, or anything like that. And that’s just one facet of the automotive culture right now. Drag cars have to be twin-turbocharged or ProCharged monsters that better be all-steel and capable of hooking up and running single-digit quarter times on some shit backroad in B.F.E., America before they get any kind of respect whatsoever. Even cars that look like they were dragged out of a field and prepped for racing get hammered with cash…and a couple of stages of clear coat just to make sure that perfectly used appearance stays perfect doesn’t hurt either.
Cubic dollars fund the automotive world, but does that always have to be the case? Hell no, it doesn’t. All you need in order to stretch your budget as far as it will go is to be knowledgable about what your car is, know what you need and what you don’t, and make good decisions. You don’t need to buy a ton of parts from a catalog to make a car scoot. And if you play your cards right, you can even make a coin or two while building…it’s not impossible, but remember what I said about knowing what you need and what you don’t? Prepare to make some sacrifices.
Meet the car known on the Internet as the “12.99 Plus $1,299” Dodge Dart that you might have seen on Cars Illustrated. The build plan for the Dart was simple: Run 12.99 or better, while making $1,299 or better on the project. Not spending money, making money. Seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Look at what the Dart doesn’t have, and you’ll start to see where the money came from. Bumpers, chrome, interior, lights…all of that and more sacrificed at swap meets to build up a budget for the Dart. So where, exactly, does this story start?
To be fair, Tony DeFeo has messed around with building a brawler on a budget long before this particular 1969 Dart was selected as the unwitting base for the project. If the name isn’t familiar, consult your Google-fu…there’s a lot of history there, but for the sake of brevity, let’s leave it at the man knows his shit and knows exactly what he’s talking about when he’s speaking. He’s got automotive range, from street hustler Mustangs and Buicks to nitromethane by the jug full in the big time, but get him around something that has the Pentastar stamped anywhere on it and watch the man go to town. It’s incredible. The Dart has been a group effort, a down-to-earth build performed on a concrete slab next to an apartment using hand tools, a Harbor Freight welder, and whatever implement was needed at the moment to severely lighten up the car.
The meat and potatoes of the 12.99 Dart sits right before you: a howling, cammed 225ci Slant Six. It’s a 1976 short block with ground counterweights on the crankshaft (weight reduction and for windage), on stock rods and pistons turned backwards in the bore. The deck is stock, the head is an early “drool tube” type with stock valve sizes that has had .0010 shaved off with stock rockers. The valves have been back faced and there has been extensive bowl porting and blending (note: not enlarged) and the ports are cleaned up. The camshaft is a Comp Cams that has .440 lift and 264 duration. An Offenhauser intake and a 600CFM Edelbrock AFB sporting hand-drilled jets that are toned “way down” feeds the beast through a spacer adapter that mounts the carb north-south instead of the more common east-west method. A Holley blue pump and regulator keep the fuel flowing, and when the mood is right, a 175hp shot of nitrous is on standby…though it hasn’t been used yet. Ignition is courtesy of a stock single-point kit with the weights locked out, running 28 total degrees of timing. An Accel coil fires through 7mm solid core wires, there’s no alternator, and the cooling system is easy: a stock radiator with a loose-fitting belt on then water pump handles everything that doesn’t involve the run…the belt is greased before a run to reduce parasitic loss. And the noise is funneled out via Hooker long-tube headers. And this is just the mule engine…another Slant is in the works to replace this one. The Slant lays down power via a light-duty three-speed manual that replaced an A904 automatic, and power is funneled out to a 7.25″ rear axle with a 4.10 ratio and welded spider gears. The shifter is homemade, as is the clutch pedal…which was made from a spare brake pedal.
As you look through the photos, take note of every missing part, every drilled hole, every possible scrap of weight shed from the car. You can grab any corner of the Dart and lift on it like nothing is there. You can see the “swiss cheese” method all over the front end and interior, the M.I.A. trunk floor, the skinned doors, hood and trunk lid. The marker lights were deleted. One fiberglass bucket seat is the Dart’s luxury offering. Gauges are limited to a tachometer and an oil pressure gauge. DeFeo even cut out six pounds by modifying the door hinges. The side windows are strap-style, like a real-deal LO23 Hemi Dart.
The suspension is simple: a homemade adjustable pinion snubber, hand formed rear leaf springs in the rear, six-cylinder A-body torsion bars up front. 13×4 wheels support the car up front while 14×5.5 rears handle the Slant Six’s anger, and nine-inch drum brakes at all four corners are tasked with bringing the Dart back down from speed. With fuel and battery, the car weighs in right around an even 2,000 pounds. And if you’re willing to remove the blue bottle of happiness from the interior, you essentially have a 1970 H/Gas machine, ready to rock.
So, the Dart is built, is undergoing testing, and is still waiting for the real-deal engine. That’s a lot of work, and as good as he is, DeFeo had help from a group of folks who are imbued with the same sickness we all have. His wife Kathy dove into the project, while Scott Beagle, Grant Huber and “Mopar Kris” pitched in. The Dart was built outside of Kris’s apartment over the course of two months, and the total net profit on the Dart’s build as of writing is $850. Official times are in the works, but for now, DeFeo has his hands busy with a new project: Mid-South Mopars, a shop in Tennessee that specializes on customer builds. Making money on a drag car that can be built easily enough using parts most people would have cosigned to the parts bin…not many do it, far fewer do it this well. And you’d better believe that we will be there when the 12.99 Dart makes it’s first strip passes.