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.”

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