MUSCLE CAR REWIND
The Mr. Norm Rebellion
“The Dodge Rebellion isn’t entirely limited to the factory this year.”
You remember the Dodge Rebellion, right? The mid-1960s ad campaign encouraging people to demand “more ‘hot’ in their hot cars”?
Dick Scritchfield, writing in the Feb. 1967 issue of Car Craft magazine, was talking about a different insurrection, one taking place at a dealership on Grand Avenue in Chicago. “An enterprising young performance-minded dealer by the name of Norman Kraus (better known in the Chicago area and drag racing world as Mr. Norm)” was doing “some rebelling of his own.”
Kraus had been trying to convince the powers-that-be at Chrysler that there was an untapped market for “their big V-8s . . . in the small cars of their compact and sports-personal line.” But 1966 came and went with no such model, and in 1967 the factory bypassed Dodge and put a 383 in the 1967 Barracuda instead (which the company felt “would compete more strongly against the Mustang,” Scritch explained). So Mr. Norm took matters into his own hands.
The Barracuda was redesigned for 1967, but so was the Dart. “The more Norm looked at the new Dart’s engine compartment, the more he became convinced that the 383 cubic inch, 325-horsepower Coronet engine would fit,” wrote Scritch.
“It was now that Mr. Norm’s rebellion got underway full bore.” Grand Spaulding Dodge’s racing specialist, Frank Oglesby, performed the swap, using a sixcylinder/automatic Dart GT as his guinea pig. As it happened, Dodge was also working on a V-8 Dart, which would be called the GTS. But Kraus and Oglesby got out of the gate first, with a Dart that had the Coronet’s 383, TorqueFlite, and rearend, with 4.11s swapped in for the stock 2.94 gears.
The swap was relatively simple, though some custom fabrication was required. Headers replaced the stock exhaust manifolds that wouldn’t fit the Dart’s engine bay, the shift linkage was revamped, and the frame required a new boxed centersection to hold the transmission.
The engine itself received a
fairly mild tune—enlarged carburetor jets, new spark plugs, distributor adjustment—but it was enough to show 390 hp at the rear wheels on Mr. Norm’s chassis dyno.
In the mid-1960s, Car Craft had a unique take on new-car testing: It would place the subject car in the hands of a car club to get input from real enthusiasts. To evaluate Mr. Norm’s 383 Dart, Scritch enlisted three members of Mr. Norm’s Sports Club, a group totaling 1,500 members who qualified for the club by buying “a new or used high performance Dodge.”
On a rainy and cold fall day, Scritch, along with club members Bill Piner, Bill Roman, and Al Smith, made the most of the conditions by giving the Dart “a good run covering city streets, as well as the highway, without any clocked dragstrip runs.”
“The car really performs, even on wet pavement,” Roman said. “On the highway there is little or no tendency for the rearend to get squirrelly, which surprised me since small cars are often hard to keep on the road.” Roman, who owned a 383-powered “street/drag” 1966 Coronet, felt the Dart “would give my Coronet a lot of trouble!”
Piner, who stood 6 feet 2 inches, was “amazed” at the room in the new Dart, particularly in the back seat, which gave him a lot more headroom than he had in his own Hemi Charger.
Al Smith, who Scritch said was “in charge of the Sports Club,” called the 383 Dart “an exciting combination. I wouldn’t have believed the GT could have handled the 383 engine, but it acts like it was made for it.”
As for Mr. Norm, he quickly realized that if the 383 would fit in the Dart, then the 440 would, too. He told Scritch he planned to offer Darts with both engines. “The fellas on the strip are demanding the lightest type cars with big engines, but not the maximum in a radical engine which consumes a lot of money adjusting valves and carburetion. In my opinion, if you want to sell volume, you have to build for the guy who drives on the street, not the half dozen guys who race on the track. The 426 in a heavy car is definitely not the answer. We figure the 383, properly set up, should pull the Dart into the low 12s. It’s an excellent engine and has a lot of potential.”
By Drew HardinPhotos: Dick Scritchfield, Petersen Publishing Co. Archive