The Ugly American: This Hotchkis Built 1976 Dodge Dart Lite Was Completed To FIA Specs Because It Is Going To Need Them

The Ugly American: This Hotchkis Built 1976 Dodge Dart Lite Was Completed To FIA Specs Because It Is Going To Need Them

The name Kevin Wesley is no stranger to BangShifters. Wesley is the guy who owns and drove the famed “Autocross Taxi” 1970 Plymouth Satellite. The car has transported hundreds of passengers in glee around autocross courses all over the country and it did so in a manner that made people question the laws of physics once they got out of the huge machine. While all of that was fun and exciting, Kevin decided that his next Chrysler needed to be a much sharper tool than the big Satellite was. Enter the team at Hotchkis Performance East and one unsuspecting 1976 Dodge Dart Lite.

The Dart Lite was Dodge’s answer to the Plymouth Feather Duster. Using aluminum components and deleting any shred of luxury from the car, a flyweight machine was created that was EPA rated at a pretty astounding 36mpg on the highway. Being a Mopar guy to the core, we think it is cool that this is the body shell Wesley and crew started with. Keeping with that Dart Lite ethos, this is not a pro touring car that has a lot of luxury built in. The car is as ragged edged a handling machine as we have seen and as mentioned in the title, the cage and other aspects of the car were constructed to FIA specifications. Why? Places like the Pikes Peak require them and Kevin plans on going there along with Optima events, the Targa Newfoundland, and other hardcore competitions that will put every inch of the power and engineering behind this car to the test.

It should be made clear that the true intention of this car is to be a very versatile racer for tarmac and gravel rally events, ice racing in the winter, maybe some drag racing if the spirit moves Wesley and great pains were taken to make the car adaptable. What do we mean? Wesley told us that the entire drivetrain and suspension can be pulled within an hour by two people with no air tools so in the event you need to get something fixed during a race, you’ll have a fighting chance. The planning and execution elements are what really make a car like this cool to us. LOTS of thinking here.

Recently we had occasion to drop by Hotchkis Performance East, a multi-purpose wing of the Hotchkis Sport Suspension company that does everything from manufacturing of components to upgrading customer cars for safety, to full pull builds like this one. The two guys who have poured their time, blood, and sweat into this car and the men who operate the shop are Kevin Bryde and Ron Thiel who both have extensive background in the NASCAR world and who have the skills necessary to pull off the work you will see below. Later this week we’re going to give you a full tour of the Hotchkis Performance East facility but for now we’re concentrating on a car that is going to hurt some feelings, both home and abroad.

Chrysler fans will be happy with how this car was built because it isn’t a Dart shell with a bunch of “stuff” stuck under it. The bones of this machine are all Pentastar. The power plant is a late model hemi backed with a manual transmission. The Hotchkis suspension still has torsion bars and leaf springs and even the headlights are from a late model Chrysler product.

Maybe the best part of the whole deal? Kevin and Ron told us at the shop that Wesley is so amped up to drive this thing, he isn’t worrying about a paint job for now. You know beauty isn’t something that we focus on around here so when we heard that Wesley is of the same attitude (about this car anyway) we were stoked. The true fun will begin when the Dart starts to show up at some autocross events and track days so we can see this bad boy in action. The lack of frills, the lack of pretense, and the overall feeling of all out attack that this thing gives off is what we really love about it. Now, let’s explore a little closer up!


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As you’d imagine, anything that has to do with moving, turning or stopping her been replaced. The big slotted rotors and multi-piston calipers will haul this thing down well. A Dart Lite weighed 2,910lbs when new. With all the new tubing and stuff this one may be up a little but still a low 3,000lb pro touring car is gnarly.

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Here’s the 6.4L late model hemi engine that is now nestled in the engine bay. The guys at Hotchkis Performance East massaged the engine bay and made the mounting hardware to get this baby in. Word is that Arrington Performance may be laying some tune magic on this bad boy. More powah!

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The fabrication work starts to show itself immediately on the car with the looks of the roll cage down bars and the beautiful removable cross brace. Artwork!

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Not exactly the sign you were driving a powerhouse in 1976 but it meant you were getting good mileage. Pretty much flop that backwards now and you have the current state of the car.

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One more look across the top of the engine bay to give you another angle on that awesome brace. Remember that shape. It will show up again.

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The bumpers are ‘glass and mounted the same way that bumpers get mounted on NASCAR racers because Ron and Kevin Bryde come from decades of experience in that world. Note the removable towing eyelet that slides into a ready made slot in the bumper. Lots of slick stuff happening here. Oh, and the headlights are late model Chrysler pieces that throw way more light than the stockers.


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The Hotchkis tuned shocks by Fox live on all four corners as well as the Hotchkis components that anyone and their brother could buy today. This car will be a great proving machine to the Hotchkis TVS system for these A-bodies.


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Due to the fact that stiffness and rigidity was a paramount concern when putting this car together, pains were taken to tie everything together. This upper shock mounting setup is proof of that. In talking to Kevin Bryde, they wanted to make sure that the car was completely stiff so that the suspension would be able to act as it should without being compromised by distortion of deflection.

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We’re dorks for this stuff but really, touches like how this air inlet piping was run get us all geeked out. The finish here is really, really nice. The fact that it is not all covered up by paint and you can see welding marks and all makes it cooler.

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Again, just look at the finish here, the billet mounts and how it is all tied together. Yes, those cannisters say “Roush” on them because Hotchkis Performance East is in Mooresville, North Carolina and that’s mecca for NASCAR fans due to the fact that virtually every major team is based there. LOTS of parts flying around from the NASCAR realm.

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Remember that air tube we showed you running into the fender? It is hooked to the filer that is in this awesome custom air box and Kevin Bryde made. The panel has been removed from the rear so you can see it but this is in the front of the wheel well on the driver’s side. So where does it get air from?

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Right here! The box is tucked a couple inches above the lower edge of the bumper, away from water, rocks, and junk. It is actually in a nice area to scoop air down there while bring protected as well.

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You can see the Hotchkis upper and lower control arms and the Hotchkis sway bar as well. This is componentry that you can bolt on your Mopar, too. Oh and those front brakes? Yeah those are what you would find on a late model Viper. 

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This offset shifter struck us as cool. The transmission is a Legend SS700 five speed and it will be given a thorough work out when Wesley is behind the wheel on the autocross course, road course, or even at places like Targa Newfoundland. That red knob? Brake bias adjuster.

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Cool touches here. This plate was crafted to keep someone’s feet IN the footwell if things ever get rough out there. The tubing it is attached to is the conduit that the fuel line is running through. All the lines are mounted inside the car for maximum protection from debris at mixed terrain rally events like Targa Newfoundland and others. If we made this piece it would look like something from a prison license plate stamping line.


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More protection! This time it is a plate to keep the ECU for the computer from getting bashed with anything on the right side of the passenger area.


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The metalworking skill again comes to the surface when you look at how nicely made the transmission tunnel is. The forming of it, the small bracing you see down near the lower left of the photo, all of it.

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What? Did you think it was going to have factory door panels in it?!

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So remember that shape from under the hood and the bracing? Looks like the door bars in this FIA spec roll cage that the car was built to conform to. There’s a bunch of tubing in here and it serves the purpose of protecting Kevin in the event of trouble but also it makes this car as stiff as a petrified log.

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Things we cannot do: create anything with a welder that looks like this!

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These door bars are interesting because they provide good protection but also allow for seemingly easier ingress and egress than the traditional style ‘cage we are used to seeing.


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While we did not hear the hemi fire up during our visit, Kevin and Ron report that the thing sounds absolutely awesome through the little Magnaflow race mufflers that are tucked down at the end of the system. We can imagine!


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Wait…are those? Yes, those are leaf springs! Why didn’t the guys throw coil overs and all the stuff at this car? That isn’t how Wesley wanted it. This is where the hurt feelings will start. If the leaf spring guy owns your zooty coil sprung car you may have some emotional damage. Recognize the rear brakes? Mustang Cobra pieces!

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The same basic design that Ma Mopar put under the car in the 1970s but greatly refined in execution. Note the steel box that the fuel cell is in.

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There’s said fuel cell and the twin down bars at the back of the cage. The twin bars are 100% necessary to meet the letter of the FIA law but the guys all agreed to add them for stiffness and frankly extra tubing isn’t a bad thing if the going gets weird. The fuel cell also has some “twin” to it in the form of twin pumps for redundancy. There is a switch on the dash Kevin can throw to switch between them in the event one fails. 

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This aluminum trunk hinge is pretty slick. Because racecar.

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These Falken tires will be the final piece of the grip puzzle to keep the Dart planted to the asphalt as Kevin Wesley works his hardest to get the car around corners, hills, and whatever other obstacles he will see at tracks across the country.

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Here’s another look at the cage from inside the car looking over the Sparco seats. In typical roll cage fashion, it is a jungle gym back there!

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These are pretty slick! Far more robust than the typical thin sheet metal discs you normally see with hood pins. Another nice finishing touch.


We didn’t want to leave you without a shot of the sweet looking factory grillwork in the car. These middle 1970s Darts are growing on us the more that we see them. Typically everyone is looking at the late 1960s stuff so there may still be deals out there on these cars and they make a great base for several different styles of car builds.


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When I was at the shop there was some final finishing work to do like the installation of the windshield, some interior/dash stuff, and and best we knew Kevin Wesley was planning on getting his mitts on this thing soon. The car had been driven on a shakedown cruise (sans windshield!) a few days before we got there. Obviously the real shakedown will come when the hammer gets laid down and the engine, trans, and suspension all get a workout. Chrysler fans, you have a new hero to cheer for in the pro touring world. What do you think?


A quick look at the machine sitting on terra firma after Kevin got back from a quick shakedown run. Note the lack of windshield. They were plugging it in the day I was there and Kevin was down to get the car picked up just a day or two ago. Stay tuned, we look forward to following the exploits of this Mopar killer!



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18 thoughts on “The Ugly American: This Hotchkis Built 1976 Dodge Dart Lite Was Completed To FIA Specs Because It Is Going To Need Them

  1. ColoradoKid

    Hey .. if this lunatic wants to give it a go with this Dodge(y) thingy in the spirit of ‘ Duffy ‘ Livingston’s ‘ Eliminator ‘ .. I say go for it .

    Personally … I think the guy is going to have his head handed to him on a plastic oil tray by the competition … especially at Pikes Peak .. [ and for the love of god …. gravel rallies ???? Seriously ? … That boy’s go some issues ] … but hey … let em have at it .. lets see what happens … keep our fingers crossed … while expecting the absolute worst

    1. Kevin Wesley

      Guess I fail to see the drama here, American V8 RWD cars have shown to be quite competitive at Pikes Peak over the years. Now that it’s all tarmac, not sure why you would think it wouldn’t be competitive. Hellcat will bolt in nicely to bring it’s own atmosphere for the cause. Is it going after overall, of course not. Can it be competitive in Time Attack? Absolutely…

      Gravel Rallies have been the stomping grounds of RWD 2wd crars in G5 and G2 forever. Mike Hurst was showing great speed in his Fox body Mustang in G5 when he was running. Again, fail to see the drama here. Will it run the 6.4 for gravel? Probably not. More like a 5.7… or maybe I’ll swap to my A4 aluminum block with a P5 Hemi head and run G2.

      Also a little A Body Mopar gravel rally history might help…

        1. Kevin Wesely

          I’ll just say we can agree to disagree, but if you think that “Buffum & Co” did not really rally… I’m not the one smoking the Colorado Tobacco.

  2. Ryan H

    Love it. They have created the Jason Bourne of racing. Not as suave or snooty as James Bond, but probably even more dangerous! If it ever shows up at an embassy I would not try handcuffing it. Very nice build!

  3. 75Duster

    Badass Dart Sport Kevin, as the former owner of a ’73 Dart Sport, I like the craftsmanship and time you put into this one and I am looking forward to seeing future videos of it.


    Oh my…..I am uh…I am gonna need a minute…excuse me….

    Can anyone picture a big C-Body done like this? Anyone….oh good Jebus…

    I gotta go….call me in 15…….

  5. Chevy Hatin' Mad Geordie


    It’s a shame that Hemi has lost its traditional valve covers though – it even looks like a stinking LS – so come on – adapt some old parts to suit this new engine!

    Plus there could be a thriving market for them.

    Please enter this car in rallies in the UK so we can get to see it on our forest and asphalt stages. The Roger Albert Clark memorial rally would be an ideal opportunity as its held near my home!

    1. Kevin Wesley

      I have to finish sorting out the UK rules, but the plans are to try and enter something over there. Digging through the rules it looks like UK limits to 6 cylinders in Rallies, unless Vintage something or other, but I haven’t sorted it all out yet.

      I’d love to do an Irish Tarmac event,,, very high on my priority list.

      1. Chevy Hatin' Mad Geordie

        Vintage rallying in the UK has V8 cars such as the Sunbeam Tiger and Triumph TR8 already competing – but I think the Irish tarmac stages have too many tight corners for a car of this size though. Be sure to add plenty of underbody protection if you want to take on our forest stages – and please do something about those valve covers!

        Good luck mate – I’m looking forward to seeing you and your awesome car!

  6. Matt Cramer

    Very cool build – I’ve been going over it for inspiration for my ’66 Dart.

    One thing that had me wondering – I see they reinforced the shock towers. Were there any similar mods made to the K-member to reinforce the upper control arm mounts? The shock towers carry way less load on an A-body than on some suspension setups.

  7. ratpatrol66

    That is killer, don’t see many of these being done. I remember riding in my brothers dart going see Convoy at the drive in back in the late 70s, then cruising Colby. Great memories!!!

  8. Madman

    @ Matt — The upper control arms on A and B-body Mopars bolt with eccentrics to the frame/body — NOT the K-member. The car’s weight is borne by the lower controls and T-bars — uppers basically simply stabilize the wheels.

    Which leads to an engineering question for Kevin: for those of us slightly less serious about our autocrossing, is there any need to reinforce the frame where the upper controls and shocks mount? Since those uppers don’t bear any real weight, is flex likely to be a problem (or noticeable) in A or B-body cars? I am building a B-body for cruising and autocrossing (NOT FIA) and wonder if any stiffening is needed for this larger car.


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