1971 DODGE DART
We went along on this barn find in search of a muscle car. Here’s what we found. “I never looked to see what it really was,” Bill Butler said as we moved closer to an old tin shed. Inside was a 1970 or 1971 Dodge Dart that he had dragged from a tenant’s parking lot 10 to 15 years ago in West Texas.
Truth being stranger than fiction, Butler was about to pull a barn find out of a barn that belonged to him. The vehicle would prove to be a surprise in more ways than one.
He pried open door of the shed, and we pushed our way into the small space to see dust covering what looked like, at first glance, either a Dodge or Plymouth A-Body.
“The people rented the body shop. This car was in that body shop. They closed down, left town, and left this car outside in the parking lot.” Butler had expected the owner to retrieve the vehicle one day. But days turned into a year, then two, then five. The car deteriorated, mostly due to people scavenging parts off what looked like an abandoned car. Finally, Butler had dragged the car to this tin shed on his property, “to get it out of sight” of thieves.
“It’s a rough, thrown-together tin barn,
“Butler was about to pull a barn find out of a barn that both belonged to him”
or shed, and not a very good shed. It kept the hail and rain off, but didn’t keep the dirt off.”
Dirt was thick. The old tin barn had acted as a filter to deposit a fine layer of dust on the old Dart. Butler had never even opened the hood to check out the engine, which we were about to do.
“Since I didn’t have a title, there was no reason to. It wasn’t mine.”
After the car’s decade or so of storage, Butler went through the long process to claim it and get a title in his name.
“Now, I’m going to open the door and see what I got. It’s almost the same as a barn find, like finding a new toy,” he said.
Under the hood was a small-block
V-8 with a four-barrel, which looked 100 percent stock other than the missing air cleaner. It had obviously been stolen while the car waited five years in the parking lot for an owner who never showed. Was this a high-performance 340?
Butler dragged the car back to his shop and pressure-washed the body and engine. He was delighted to find a rust-free 1971 Dodge Dart—a Swinger—with original orange paint. Now where was that engine code?
Editor’s note: Watch the video of this story on YouTube at youtube.com/ watch?v=WcrE9C2Jzpk.
Readers can contact Jerry Heasley at jerry[email protected] and follow him on Twitter @jerryheasley. He is looking for rare finds, the “ones that got away,” and stories of cars with provenance. He will travel to significant rare finds to document them as they are pulled out.
n A fine layer of dust covered most of the Dart, stored in this shed for 10 years. The rear bumper was gone, and the back glass had been pulled because the body shop was repairing the rear quarter and had removed the vinyl roof.
n The driver-side front fender came with a Swinger Dart badge; the passenger-side badge was gone. Right away, Mopar experts would have realized the 340 status was possible, but not probable.
n Bill Butler opened the hood for the first time on October 2, 2018. At first sight he thought he had a 340 four-barrel that made the little Dart into a muscle car.
n Butler pressure-washed the Dart to discover a car that corroborated its 18,000-mile odometer reading. This Dart is a nice original and, with the rear wing that he found in the trunk, looks like a muscle car.
n The interior was intact with white vinyl bench seats that had no rips or tears. A Sun tach was positioned oddly at the lower left of the instrument panel.
n The front bumper and valance had been stolen while the car sat in a parking lot, before storage.
n Washing off the fender tag revealed the VIN, LH23G1R151563. The letter G in the fifth spot decodes as a 318 twobarrel, not a four-barrel 340. The Dart Swinger did not come with a 340 in 1971. There were two dealers in Canada that demanded and got 340 Dart Swingers for 1971. This car was not one of those rare Darts.
n The odometer read 18,537.