EVO­LU­TION­ARY DART

BUILT TO “GO FAST AND LOOK GOOD,” CLIN­TON GRELL’S DART IS THE STORY OF SUPREME PER­SE­VER­ANCE.

Mopar Muscle - - Contents - BY CAM BENTY PHOTOGRAPHY BY GRANT COX

Built to “go fast and look good,” Clin­ton Grell’s Dart is the story of supreme per­se­ver­ance.

This is the story of one man’s dream be­com­ing re­al­ity. Like so many other en­thu­si­asts, it’s a story of pa­tience, vi­sion, and tak­ing ad­van­tage of those op­por­tu­ni­ties as they oc­cur. Clin­ton Grell, like so many of us, got the per­for­mance bug while in high school. His first ex­pe­ri­ence came while help­ing his buddy pour a con­crete slab for his garage. In that garage was a 1970 440cid 6-Pak Chal­lenger. In ex­change for his la­bor, the Chal­lenger owner took Grell to the Mopar Na­tion­als in Colum­bus in the sum­mer of 1999. That’s all it took to set the hook.

While it would’ve made sense for Grell to be an E-body fan, Grell went an­other way and de­cided that he would build a late 1960s Dart, since A-bod­ies were more af­ford­able than the more pop­u­lar E- and B-bod­ies. They also, due to their lighter weight, re­sponded well to per­for­mance mod­i­fi­ca­tions. Through­out high school and col­lege, he set out men­tally de­sign­ing the per­fect A-body. It had to be a stro­ker small-block, and it had to be fast. Hon­ing his skills through the cus­tomiza­tion of sport mo­tor­cy­cles, he grad­u­ated from two wheels to four shortly after get­ting mar­ried. Now a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer by trade, but still re­stricted by a lim­ited bud­get at the time, he de­cided to in­ten­sify the search for his elu­sive Dart project. It was an ad­ver­tise­ment in Craigs-list that was to turn things around.

“In Novem­ber 2011, I came across a Craigslist ad for a 1969 Dart in Sedalia, Mis­souri. I called and spoke with owner Rex Mor­rill,” said Grell. “The way Rex talked about the car’s per­for­mance could make any­one feel to­tal ex­cite­ment about the car. This Dart was the cul­mi­na­tion of all his years of rac­ing and build­ing cars. He told me that he’d built the car to ‘go fast and look good!’ and I be­lieve that I had al­ready made up my mind that I was go­ing to buy the car re­gard­less of what I found when I looked at it.”

So Grell bor­rowed a pickup truck from his friend, Clay, and the two drove from his home in Wi­chita, Kansas, to Mis­souri. From his first ride in the car there were warn­ing signs, but Grell had stars in his eyes. A first warn­ing sign should have been the com­bi­na­tion of a high­horse­power 416-cid small-block en­gine (13.9:1 com­pres­sion) and four-wheel drum brakes. On a test­drive down a de­serted street near Mor­rill’s home, the take off pressed them both deep in their seats. Un­for­tu­nately, the land­ing wasn’t smooth, as the Dart nearly took out a stop sign and came to rest in a neigh­bor’s front yard. It was an in­aus­pi­cious start to be cer­tain, but re­gard­less of the ad­ven­ture, that Dart was com­ing home with Grell.

Said Grell, “Since I’ve owned the car, the Dart has had a to­tal en­gine re­build, two dif­fer­ent trans­mis­sions, three sets of wheels, three dif­fer­ent rear ends, three front ends, three torque con­vert­ers, and three dif­fer­ent steer­ing boxes. It’s hard to be­lieve that I’ve changed so many com­po­nents mul­ti­ple times and to think of all the frus­tra­tions I went through try­ing to find the per­fect com­bi­na­tion — not to men­tion the fi­nances and willpower it took to see it through to the end.”

But those frus­tra­tions were broader than sim­ply driv­e­train and sus­pen­sion deep. Upon his ar­rival home, Grell no­ticed bub­bling un­der the paint in the rocker pan­els. Re­moval of the fuel cell and in­te­rior car­pet­ing re­vealed a huge amount of rust not only in the floor­ing but in the rear cross­mem­ber, rear fram­erails, and in­ner quar­ter-pan­els. Tak­ing care not to dis­turb the ex­te­rior paint, he cut out the rusted pan­els and re­placed them with new. He re­paired the fram­erails and in­stalled a new rear cross­mem­ber from Auto Rust Tech­ni­cians. He coated the un­der­side of the car with POR15 and filled the frame with East­wood in­ter­nal frame coat­ing.

From there, things were to evolve in a not so ter­rific way. To gen­er­al­ize, Grell has re­built most of the car, much of it due to rust and gen­eral cor­ro­sion. As noted he’s made an as­sort­ment of changes to the driv­e­train, none more no­table than the en­gine re­build. Hav­ing di­ag­nosed en­gine dam­age due to metal­lic flakes on the spark plug elec­trodes, the en­tire en­gine had to be re­built by Head­way En­gine Ser­vice (owner Stu­art Go­ertzen) in nearby Buh­ler, Kansas.

Go­ertzen rec­om­mended drop­ping the com­pres­sion down to a more man­age­able 11:1 after dis­cussing Grell’s de­sire to run on 91-oc­tane pump gaso­line. Many of the orig­i­nal en­gine in­ter­nals were reused, in­clud­ing the Ea­gle crank­shaft, Edel­brock Vic­tor W2 in­take, Chrysler W2 hears, Har­lan Sharp rock­ers, and splayed main caps. Tak­ing the bore out to 4.035-inch and in­sert­ing new JE cus­tom pis­tons and us­ing the 55cc W2 hears made the com­pres­sion a lot more man­age­able. Chad Speier at Speier Rac­ing Heads com­pleted the mild flow work get­ting the ports up to 300 cfm at 0.700-inch lift re­worked the heads. REV cus­tom valves were re­spon­si­ble for 5 cfm of ad­di­tional flow all by them­selves.

To­day, the car’s best run, after all of Grell’s per­se­ver­ance, is 10.49 sec­onds at 128 mph. While that was plenty grat­i­fy­ing, he never for­got about Mor­rill, the Dart’s orig­i­nal owner, who came down with can­cer not long after Grell hauled the Dart down to Kansas. The two had stayed in touch over the

years with Mor­rill clearly liv­ing vi­car­i­ously as Grell told him of each change he had made to the car along the way.

Grell fi­nally hit his tar­get of dip­ping into the 10-sec­ond range on his sec­ond pass ,re­sult­ing in a 10.994 run dur­ing an event in Tulsa. At the event, he recorded the land­mark ac­com­plish­ment and posted it on Youtube for Mor­rill to see, since he could no longer travel due to his health. Mor­rill was elated at the per­for­mance of the Dart. Said Grell, “I was happy to know that he was able to watch the car again be­fore he passed. I think it was some­thing he wanted to see be­fore he went.”

To­day, Grell con­tin­ues to mas­sage the Dart in a quest for even faster time slips. Yet he de­lights in tak­ing the car on cruise nights with his fam­ily, the rollcage spe­cially built by Holz­man Race Cars to al­low pas­sen­gers into the rear seat­ing. A la­bor of love, this Dart rep­re­sents one man’s ded­i­ca­tion to see­ing a dream come true — one that he shares with all who will buckle up and take a ride.

Con­cludes Grell, “Stu­art [Go­ertzen] once told me that the en­gine builds that fought him the most usu­ally turned out best in the end. I al­ways kept that in the back of my head and when things got rough with one part of the build, that it would be all that much bet­ter in the end. Once it was back to­gether, all those headaches seemed a lot less sig­nif­i­cant than when I was deal­ing with them in the mo­ment. With­out the tremen­dous sup­port from my wife, help from friends, and the mass bor­row­ing of tools that I needed along the way, the com­ple­tion of the car wouldn’t have been pos­si­ble.”

Clin­ton Grell could hardly have imag­ined that some­day he would own a Dart as cool as this. To get to this level how­ever it took amaz­ing lev­els of ef­fort to res­ur­rect this rusty A-body into a 10.49-sec­ond quar­ter-mile per­former.

This high-tech in­stru­ment panel is more so­phis­ti­cated than you may think. After re­work­ing the wiring sys­tem of the Dart, Grell in­stalled Speed­hut’s Evo­lu­tion Se­ries Pro­gram­mable gauge sys­tem, which uses a GPS speedome­ter. This IP is far be­yond the fac­tory ana­log gauge pack­age and the owner, Clin­ton Grell, fab­ri­cated the dash­board.

Com­mand­ing the GM 200-R4 over­drive trans­mis­sion is this Pre­ci­sion Per­for­mance Prod­ucts Kwik-shift II shifter bolted to a Race­craft shifter mount.

Pow­er­ing the Dart is a 417-cid small-block Mopar en­gine that puts it solidly in the 10-sec­ond quar­ter-mile club. The en­gine com­pres­sion was set at 11:1 so that Grell can use his Dart for dragstrip or cruise night duty.

The man­ual brak­ing sys­tem avoids the is­sue of con­fig­ur­ing a power brake booster, which would re­quire en­gine vac­uum to op­er­ate. The front Wil­wood brakes and rear disc sys­tem re­place the fac­tory drum brakes — which pre­vi­ously al­most ended the Dart’s — and Grell’s life.

What self-re­spect­ing Dart would be caught dead with­out its deck graphic? This black stripe is a clas­sic Mopar Mus­cle adorn­ment found on all up­scale high-per­for­mance Darts.

The Dart’s orig­i­nal TTI head­ers were too far gone to be re­placed. As is stan­dard faire with Mopar guys, an­other set of TTI stain­less steel head­ers were in­stalled, fea­tur­ing 1 7/8-inch pri­mary tub­ing and 3-inch col­lec­tors. Elec­tric cut-outs help please the cruise night crowd.

This CSR elec­tric wa­ter pump al­lows Grell to cool down the en­gine by cir­cu­lat­ing coolant even when the en­gine is off. These are very pop­u­lar with rac­ers who need to cool down the en­gine be­tween runs.

The over­sized ra­di­a­tor and twin elec­tric cool­ing fans en­sure that the “big” small-block runs cool re­gard­less of the task.

To feed the “big” small-block is an Edel­brock Vic­tor W2 in­take man­i­fold and a Hol­ley 950-cfm car­bu­re­tor.

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