A MODERN GEN III TRANSPLANT UNDER THE HOOD OF A SLANT-SIX ’74 DODGE DART SWINGER MAKES THIS THE STEALTHIEST Q-SHIP WE’VE SEEN
A modern Gen III Hemi transplant underhood of a Slant-six ’74 Dodge Dart Swinger is the stealthiest Q-ship we’ve seen.
One trend was undeniable at this year’s Mopars (rebranded as Muscle Cars) at the Strip in Las Vegas: Third-gen (2003 and newer) Hemi engines are now found under the hoods of an ever widening number of classic Mopars, from ’50s station wagons to ’90s front-wheel-drive Dodge Daytonas. One reason for this is that Mopar offers a wide variety of third-gen Hemi crate motors marketed as an alternative to their non-hemi and Gen II counterparts.
But for cost-concerned builders — since 2003 when it debuted in the Ram, and then in 2005 when the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Magnum were introduced — millions of Gen III Saltilo, Mexico-built Hemi engines have found their way under the hoods of various Chrysler vehicles. Many of those vehicles now languish in wrecking yards from coast-to-cost and are a lowcost source for modern drivetrains suitable for transplantation. In many instances, the drivetrains (engine, transmission, and associated engine computers) from wrecked early Rams and LX cars can be purchased for $2,500 or less, much less than the cost of a Hemi crate motor.
For the Mopar faithful, will the Gen III Hemi be the small-block Chevy for the 21st century? Karl Krohn, hailing from Sandy, Utah, says the answer is yes. And the car in which a Gen III found a new home is an unlikely choice, an unassuming ’74 Dodge Dart Swinger that was originally equipped with the venerable 225 Slant-six backed up with a three-speed Torqueflite automatic transmission.
Karl isn’t your typical, dyed-in-the-wool Mopar guy. His first car was a ’64 Chevelle SS, a 283 car with a two-speed Powerglide transmission. “My older brother Jon had a ’65 Chevelle SS with a 327 fourspeed,” says Karl. “We had this brotherly rivalry thing going on, and we were always trying to outdo each other. I had a parttime job after school at a wrecking yard in
Burlington, Iowa. One day our tow truck driver hauled in a wrecked ’69 Impala SS 427 with a TH400, a pretty robust combination. I begged and pleaded with my boss to sell me that engine/trans combo until he finally caved in and let me have it. I installed that setup in my Chevelle, and then I was King of the Hill for a while. One day, he was talking trash about Fords. Well, I figured they couldn’t be all that bad so I went out and bought my first Ford, a ’69 Torino GT. Needless to say, the rivalry has continued for all these years.”
Karl’s owned other notable cars, including three ’66 Buick Gran Sport Skylarks, one of which was an “AH” Convertible with a Dual Quad 401 automatic and a 4.33:1 Max-trac rear differential. His first Mopar was a ’69 Dodge Charger R/T 440 Six-pack with a Dana 60 3.54:1 Sure Grip with bucket seats. Karl notes that it was unusual in that it was an automatic with a column shift.
Some time ago, Karl landed the job of prepping and tuning newly delivered cop cars for the Utah Highway Patrol. He continues to do that service today. And over the years his company, Absolute Performance, has become one of the major forces of the Salt Lake City and Utah performance car scene, upgrading modern muscle cars as well as transplanting modern engines in classic American muscle from the ’60s and ’70s.
How this particular Dart came into his possession is a bit of a story. Karl explains, “I went down to the Pick-n-pull, a salvage yard in Salt Lake City to look for some parts for a project I was working on. When I walked in the door, a customer spotted me and said, ‘Hey Karl, You’ve got to check out that Swinger out there, it would be a good project for you.’ Going on, I was informed it was a brown ’74 Dart Swinger, and I wasn’t impressed by what I heard and politely went about my parts hunting. Then, I saw the Swinger sitting not far from the yard’s office and
curiosity got the best of me, so I went over to have a look. At first glance, the reason it was there was obvious: The car had recently been wrecked and the driverside wheel was torn loose, and the fender was wrecked. Aside from that, the car was simply dusty, so I looked inside and saw a surprisingly clean amber gold bench seat interior — seriously clean, in fact. The odometer showed 32,000 miles, so I logically assumed it was 132,000 miles, but after a moment’s looking at the pedals and everything else, it was obvious the 32K showing was actually 32K. Knowing the yard’s staff, I went in the office and asked them for the keys to the old Dart.
“Back outside, I flopped behind the wheel, curiously turned the key, and the little 225 Slant-six sprang to life immediately and settled into a smooth fast idle. Astonished, I clicked the AM/FM knob, and the radio started playing perfectly. By this point, completely excited, I pushed the A/C controls, and the factory compressor kicked in and freezing cold air poured out of the vents. What was this thing doing in a junkyard? With already too many projects just sitting, I couldn’t leave this little Dodge to a grim fate, so I bought the Dart. They literally lifted it with their giant forklift and placed it onto my trailer — amazingly without causing any further damage to the car. Naturally, when I arrived back at the shop, my guys gave me a bit of ribbing, but they too could see the car had no business being junked.”
When asked what prompted the installation of a Gen III Hemi, Karl explained it this way. “As with many shops, the shop owners [Karl owns Absolute Performance in Sandy, Utah] are usually so busy working on customer’s cars that they don’t have time to build one for themselves. I was having this same problem, with two half-completed project cars having sat dormant for ages at the back of the shop. So I saw the little Dart as a quick way to bolt together a fun car for myself that wouldn’t require much time or expense.
“And believe it or not, this Swinger project began, literally, as an air cleaner — no joke. Among my cache of parts, there was an oval Hemi air cleaner assembly that just kept bugging me, and I became obsessed with the notion of having a plain vanilla stock-looking Dart with that giant oval air cleaner smacking you in the face when the hood went up. I like ‘sleepers,’ and I like machines that pack a lot of shock value, so combining a Hemi with a grandpa brown ’74 Swinger had increasing appeal as the days went by. So, during the winter of 2013, I took stock of what I had lying around the shop and realized I had a window of opportunity during the slower part of the season. The Slant-six was yanked, the Dart was placed up on a jig, and the subtle transformation began.
“Being able to work my magic on new generation Hemis, I knew the Dart would have a 6.1-based powerplant, and as
fate would have it, I had a 6.1 Hemi core lying in the parts pile that had come out of an SRT Grand Cherokee I’d built for a customer about a year before. I punched that engine out to be a 7.0L Hemi, performed a bit of head work, then grabbed up one of the Mopar dual-four carbureted intakes, because, after all, I wanted that big air cleaner under the hood. This set into motion an unexpected comedy of trialand-error work to get the right baseplate and carburation combo that would fit under the stock flat hood. After modifying a couple of reproduction baseplates, I hit upon a combo that worked with the Edelbrock AFB carbs, but it also necessitated modifying the K-member and lowering the whole assembly an inch for more clearance. Wanting my creature comforts too, I went with the pulley drive setup off a 5.7L Hemi Ram pickup, and I modified a modern Cadillac rear discharge A/C compressor so everything fits neatly underneath an uncut retro Hemi air cleaner. I fabricated the A/C bracket between the alternator and the A/C compressor in-house, and then I stamped a part number on it so the thing would look like an OEM piece.”
In the weeks that followed, Karl found the front suspension parts needed to fix the Dart at the same yard and soon had it rolling around again under its own power, having just changed a few minor mechanical pieces for safety’s sake. Karl notes that the remaining paperwork indicates the Dart was sold new in Salt Lake City to an older gent, who had it serviced religiously at a local dealership for the first years of its life, then the records just stopped in the late ’70s. “From all indications,” says Karl, “it looks like the Dart must’ve been put away and garaged after only a few years on the road, then it likely remained there until a grandson or some heir got the car a few years back and promptly wrecked it. With the front suspension damage, and being a ’74 Dart, the insurance company simply totaled the car out, and it ended up
being sold for junk. Within weeks of laying eyes on it, the brown Swinger was cleaned up, the six was running like a watch, and I was using this thing as a daily driver. I found a Swinger fender to replace the wrecked original, and my friend Mack Mcbride at Mack’s Restorations in Murray, Utah, scuffed down the body and reapplied some fresh brown metallic paint. And from there, things quickly snowballed.”
The biggest upgrade, after the drivetrain, is the Hotchkis suspension. Working with John Hotchkis, the car received their A-body TVS Suspension package. The upgrade also included QA1 front lower control arms, Fox tuned shock absorbers, 1.5-inch front sway bar, and reproduction 1.030inch Super Stock torsion bars from PST. In the rear, the leaf springs are reproduction Super Stock springs arched to maintain a factory stance. A 1-inch Hotchkis sway bar and Fox shocks round out the rear suspension upgrades. The result is a suspension that’s firm like a modern muscle car — a far cry from the way this and all other Swingers (and Chrysler A-bodies) rolled off the assembly line back in day.
Karl drives the car almost every day the sun is shining and enjoys trolling for late-model victims. Karl explains, “I know there are a lot of fast cars on the road, but the fun part is surprising someone in a car that looks like ‘grandpa’s grocery-getter.’ The main goal is to make sure that person will never forget the day he took on grandpa’s plain brown wrapper! The overall comfort is a bit firm, but that was to be expected. Now on the other hand, the handling characteristics are unbelievable. This car handles as good as any new ponycar, tire limiting of course. The car is mainly all original — the factory spare tire is still in the trunk. Outside of the engine/transmission upgrade and the suspension upgrade, the rest of the car is original.”
When asked what’s the most unusual attribute of his car, Karl added, “I think the most notable attribute of my car is the fact that the first impression is so refreshing to see an old car that looks new and then to discover that it has a Hemi in it — that really creates some huge smiles.”