DAY 2 DART

STORED IN A BARN IN 1981, RON MERKEL’S ’68 DART GTS GOT A SEC­OND LEASE ON LIFE 31 YEARS LATER WITH A FULL DAY TWO RESTORA­TION.

Mopar Muscle - - Contents - BY JOHN MACHAQUEIRO PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY THE AUTHOR

Stored in a barn in 1981, Ron Merkel’s ’68 Dart GTS got a sec­ond lease on life 31 years later with a full day two restora­tion.

In previous decades, get­ting your driver’s li­cense, like buy­ing your first car, was a rite-of-pas­sage into adult­hood. It rep­re­sented free­dom, and in many ways be­came ex­ten­sions of who we were. It was es­pe­cially nice when your el­ders em­braced that rite and en­cour­aged it. That was the kind of en­vi­ron­ment that Penn­syl­va­nian Ron Merkel was raised in, so in 1980 when he hit the ripe age of 16, he notes, “My dad sug­gested that I needed to buy a car, and my re­sponse was that it would have to ei­ther be a ’69 Road Run­ner or a ’68 Dart GTS.” While Ron­ald Sr. was agree­able to a point, he did say,

“No big-block.” That wasn’t a deal-breaker be­cause Ron had a soft spot for Darts in gen­eral and the ’68 GTS model in par­tic­u­lar. “There is just some­thing about those side marker lights, those body lines, and that car that en­am­ored me, he ex­plains.” It didn’t take long for him to track down what he was look­ing for, and back in the cy­ber-free days that meant look­ing in the lo­cal pa­per and comb­ing through the car ads. Two weeks and $900 later, he had found the Dart of his de­sires not far from where he lived. It was a ’68 Dart GTS decked out in Bright Blue with a black in­te­rior and backed by a 340 small-block and a Torqueflite trans­mis­sion.

The Dart was daily trans­porta­tion for the guy sell­ing it. It had suf­fered the usual in­dig­ni­ties that hap­pened back then, like air

shocks, alu­minum slots, and side pipes — oth­er­wise it was bone stock. The paint was start­ing to show some signs of age and the ha­bit­ual rust spots in the lower rear quar­ters were there as well. At that point Ron­ald Sr. stepped up to the plate and told

Ron that he’d have the car re­painted by a friend who owned a paint shop, so it didn’t make the trip home the day it was put in his name. It was taken to a friend’s shop for a re­paint. A few weeks later the Dart was wear­ing a fresh coat of blue — not ex­actly Bright Blue, but a generic shade that was close enough. It was at that point that it be­came his daily driver, which was around the middle of 1980. A big win for Ron right af­ter get­ting the Dart on the road was that he was fi­nally go­ing to be able to use it to take his new girl­friend Brenda on their first date to the lo­cal Burger King — which later be­came one of the most defin­ing mo­ments in his life.

In De­cem­ber of 1981 Ron backed the Dart into the fam­ily farm as a new chap­ter in his life be­gan when he en­tered into ac­tive duty in the mil­i­tary. His dad didn’t think that driv­ing it across the coun­try was a good idea. That meant buy­ing another car, so he kept it in the Pen­tas­tar fam­ily with the pur­chase of a ’75 Road Run­ner for use while he was sta­tioned in Colorado. Af­ter a stint in Ger­many with the mil­i­tary, he re­turned home to another Mopar. His dad was us­ing the Road Run­ner, so he bought the ’74 Cuda his sis­ter was sell­ing, and that be­came the daily driver while he was in school. Af­ter the E-body, there were a num­ber of other Mopars in his sta­ble over the years while the Dart sat dor­mant in the barn. Ron freely ad­mits, “I al­ways just as­sumed that I would come home, fire it up, and drive it around town. There was noth­ing wrong with it beyond just be­ing dirty.” As is the case with many cars that get parked, the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of life take prece­dence, and they get put on the back­burner in­def­i­nitely. In his case that span would last 31 years.

The spark to get the Dart mov­ing again is a tes­ta­ment to Ron’s sup­port­ive fam­ily as it was his mother, Carol, who planted the seed in Den­nis Kohr’s ear to nudge

Ron to bring the car in. Den­nis is the owner of Kohr’s Kus­toms in My­er­stown, Pennsylvania, and at his shop the only lan­guage spo­ken is Mopar, so that was the right place for it to go. Also step­ping up on the mo­ti­va­tional pul­pit was his wife, Brenda — yes, the same Brenda. She en­cour­aged him to “do it right” with a no­ex­pense-spared at­ti­tude. With that bless­ing in place, in 2012, Ron pulled the trig­ger and sent the Dart off to Den­nis for the ro­tis­serie restora­tion he felt was over­due. The goal, how­ever, wasn’t to bring it back to the day it rolled off the as­sem­bly line. He was look­ing for a taste­ful pe­riod-cor­rect Day Two mix that re­flected his tastes as a teenager.

Once Den­nis started rip­ping into the

Dart it be­came clear that all those years spent in hi­ber­na­tion gave the car a life­line. As the paint was peeled back and the bare body ex­posed, all that orig­i­nal sheet­metal proved to be in ex­cep­tion­ally nice con­di­tion with very lit­tle rust — a rare oc­cur­rence on an A-body. As the months passed and the body came to­gether on the ro­tis­serie, Den­nis even­tu­ally took it into the spray booth to lay down the two-stage basecoat/ clearcoat QQ1 Bright Blue PPG paint.

Af­ter that it was a slow process in put­ting the car back to­gether. For the in­te­rior, the plan was to keep it stock so he cracked open the Le­gendary Auto In­te­ri­ors cat­a­log and or­dered a fresh set of seat up­hol­stery, door pan­els, and a head­liner, while Auto Cus­tom car­pets sup­plied the car­pet. The only de­vi­a­tion on the stock theme was the in­stal­la­tion of the oblig­a­tory col­umn mounted Sun Su­per Pro tach.

Day Two car­ried over to the 340 as well when it was torn down for a full re­build. It was all orig­i­nal right down to the late 1967 date-coded bear­ings. For the re­build on the 340 mill Ron had Ham­maker En­ter­prises in Grantville, Pennsylvania, lined up to do all the ma­chine work. Since

the vi­sion was Day Two, that meant some changes would be tak­ing place. Once they had the block ready for the re­build, the plan in­volved uti­liz­ing the stock forged crank and stock rods with a .030-over­bore to make sure every­thing was round and true, along with the in­stal­la­tion of a set of Speed-pro 10.35:1 forged pis­tons. The camshaft would also de­vi­ate from stock with a health­ier COMP Cams unit spec’d at .488-inch lift, 274/286 du­ra­tion. Mov­ing to the up­per end of the en­gine, the X heads were resur­faced and given a new set of Fer­rea 6000 se­ries valves and COMP Cams springs. Those heads use a 2.02-inch in­take valve and a 1.60-inch ex­haust. A vin­tage Edel­brock LD340 in­take man­i­fold sits atop those X heads and a 600cfm Edel­brock Per­former carb dis­trib­utes the fuel, while the Mickey Thomp­son valve cov­ers are vin­tage pieces Ron stashed away decades ago. The ex­haust side of the re­build saw the stock man­i­folds give way to a set of TTI head­ers run­ning back to 2.5-inch TTI H-pipes and Flow­mas­ter muf­flers with Yearone re­pro tips. Keep­ing it close to home, Allen Kohr did the re­build on the orig­i­nal Torqueflite with the ad­di­tion of a 12-inch torque con­verter with a 1,800-stall speed. The same at­ten­tion to de­tail car­ried over to the sus­pen­sion. It was given a full re­build but was kept bone stock right down to the drum brakes at all four cor­ners. One change that was made was the re­place­ment of the 3.23:1 open-end rear with 3.55:1 posi.

As the pieces for the car came to­gether, most of the ex­te­rior trim was re­stored and used, how­ever, the front and rear bumpers, along with the front grille didn’t make the grade, so new qual­ity replacements from AMD were sourced. Visu­ally, one of the defin­ing el­e­ments on the ’68 Dart GTS is the Bum­ble Bee stripe, so that was also reap­plied, but it wouldn’t be a proper Day Two restora­tion with­out the right set of vin­tage-look­ing wheels and tires. For that cor­rect look and im­proved per­for­mance, Ron chose Cra­gar SS wheels and Bf­goodrich Red­line ra­dial tires. The front wheels mea­sure 14x6 and wear P215/70R14 rub­ber. At the rear, 14x7 wheels run on P225/70R14 tires.

Bring­ing his Dart back to life took al­most three years to com­plete, and he was fi­nally able to drive it home again in Oc­to­ber of 2015, how­ever, it was hid­den un­til July of 2016 when it was un­veiled at the Carlisle Chrysler Na­tion­als. “The Dart is an old friend,” Ron ex­plains. “It rep­re­sents my youth, my com­mit­ment to my wife, fam­ily, and job. It has de­fined me for nearly four decades.” It’s no longer a barn res­i­dent, and it has also made a re­turn trip back to Burger King.

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