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Rebuilding a 71 Dart

It has always been my passion and desire to rebuild a classic car. I don’t know how classic a Dart is, but I am going to do it. The problem is, I don’t know where to begin. I am mechanically inclined and can do almost every repair that is in a Chilton’s manual, but I just don’t know where to begin. Any advice…the car doesn’t run, and it should be arriving in a couple of days. Any help would be great!

Depends VERY much on why the car doesn’t run, and what exactly you mean by “rebuild”.

If you mean rebuild it to original specs, you’re in for a long hard road. You’ll have to dismantle everything on the car and evaluate it’s worthiness.

If you mean you want to make it run, that’s very different.

With a manual, time, and some persistence you can get through most mechanical problems on these cars without much of a problem. If it’s a 2 DR Dart then lucky you! These are starting to become collectible.

The one really aggravating and time consuming repair would be if the car has serious rust in the lower quarters, trunk, etc. In that case, if you’re going to DIY you might consider buying a small 110 Volt Mig welder and learn how to use it for replacing sheet metal.

Engine, trans, brakes, suspension, etc. is very simple on these cars and I don’t think you’ll have many problems at all. First step is battery, fresh gas, attempt to start it, and go from there.

Check the floor pan/chassis very carefully for rust damage. Since these cars are of the unibody design, excessive rust damage is actually structural damage which is expensive and time-consuming to repair properly. If there is excessive rust-through on the undercarriage, it may not be worthwhile to rebuild the engine and transmission.

Besides the floor pan you want to also check the front fenders. They are notorious for rusting prematurely. The Slant 6 can be a pain to work on, but it’s an EXTREMELY DURABLE engine.

It really depends on the level of a restore you want to do. If a complete restore I’d start by removing the engine and body panels, interior (carpet, seats electrical. Then go over the body and frame and cut out and replace what is rusted. Might even be worth having it sandblasted to remove all the paint so you can see the damage. These vehicles really rusted out easily. So just fixing the rust could take you a few months.

The seats will probably need a lot of work. Send those out. Replace the wiring harness and inspect or replace all the electronics. It’ll be easier then trying to trouble shoot later. Once you get all the rust fixed…spray on rhino-liner to all surfaces that aren’t painted. Saw this on one of the rebuilding shows. It makes a GREAT undercoater.

Good luck. Time and patience. This is going to take a while. Don’t get frustrated and give up.

You need to tell us more about the car - overall condition, engine, transmission, etc. You also might get a few books on car restoration at Amazon.com or Motorbooks.com. Here’s a book consisting of a summary of articles on the Dart: http://www.motorbooks.com/Store/ProductDetails_9444.ncm
Here are a number of restoration books:
http://www.motorbooks.com/Store/Products_4233.ncm

While a 71 Dart isn’t as cool as a 57 Chevy, it is a good choice. I used to drive a 69 Dart and it was a very reliable and simple car to work on.

I would start by evaluating the condition of the engine. I would try to get my hands on a cylinder inspection tool. It has either fiber optics or a little camera you can fit into a spark plug hole to see the condition of the cylinder walls. Check the seals/gaskets, belts and hoses for signs of age and wear.

I will caution you to get the brakes checked thoroughly. There were a couple times in dry weather that the manual brakes failed in my old 69 Dart.

What I would do is organize this by system: Intake (carb, fuel pump, gas tank, line), exhaust, cooling (waterpump, radiator, hoses, heater core), engine (big list), brakes, transmission, etc. Then go through each system and come up with a list of what needs to be done. I’ve heard a key to keeping the project going is to do something (big or small) every day. And I too think you’ve got a good car. I had a used '72 Duster with a 198cid slant six that took me for 70k miles through college and into my first job, crossing the country multiple times, twice pulling a (small) U-haul trailer!

What is all this slant and six talk? If he is lucky, it is a 318 or Demon 340.

How extensive a rebuild do you plan to do, a total restoration or a “sympathetic” restoration? A “sympathetic” restoration brings the vehicle back into safe and complete working order without a total teardown.

What shape is the car currently in?

Do you plan to make a hot rod out of it, bring it back to original, or just get it in good shape?

These are decisions you’ll have to make up front. A body-off restoration may take a very long time unless you’re retired, ambitious, and have a good shop, but the results can be mind-blowing. Just fixing one up is cool too, but you have to accept it for what it is.

By the way, I too like your choice. These are cool cars rebuilt. A fella in Merrimack NH has a couple on his lot, one a street rod and the other a funny car.

Do a Google web search for 1971dodgedart and have an interesting read and access to other related links.

A 318 or 340 would be great, luckily I didn’t have one, or my licence wouldn’t have survived!

The common theme among all of these suggestions is this: what condition is the car in currently?

You need to start at the front bumper, and work your way to the back with a fine toothed comb, inventorying what’s wrong. That includes putting it up on jackstands, crawling underneath it, and finding the parts that are rusted out.

It was suggested that you divide it up in to pieces to help get things organized. I would suggest that before you go so far as to divide up the individual pieces of the motor, you identify Interior, Exterior, Drivetrain, Powertrain, and Electrical systems as needing scrutiny, and work from there. It will get really overwhelming really quickly if you start dissecting it down to every nut-and-bolt right away.

Also, for the love of God, don’t just start removing pieces. You’ll regret it. Take pictures, document what you have and what you want and how it all came apart. I say this because that’s how I got my '72 Ford pickup, someone decided to “fix it up” and started taking it apart. Surprise, once they got a pile of parts stacked up in the bed, they realized that they didn’t know how anything went back together and had lost the will to sort through the confusion. It happens again and again and again, they’re called basket cases for a reason.

Good luck!

Yep, pretty much agree. I had a 68 with the 318, must have been about 1972. Not a bad car but had some quirks.

I would think you would want to start with the general engine, trans, drive train to get it running. If I remember right, the points were tough to get set right and the choke pull off was an issue. Carb was pretty basic. Then I’d think you’d want to do the brakes, front end and any other mechanicals. Then tackle the body and finally interior issues.

If there is significant rust though in the floor pans, you might want to get that taken care of first to make sure its even worth doing anything else.

Once you’ve determined that the body & frame is decent enough to justify the time and money . . . I’d start by making it a good and safe running car, going over all the necessary stuff to keep you interested enough to complete the restoration. Lots of folks start a project in the back of the garage and lose interest, throw a tarp over it and sell it at a loss years later. If you keep this Dart as a driver, taking it to shows and running it at least weekly around town, I think you’ll keep interested in it. Start? Let’s start with a basic tune-up, engine bay cleaning, oil change and maybe brakes. After that . . . go over the exhaust and suspension carefully, noting dry bushings and stuff like that. Get it safe to drive and tackle one thing after another . . say . . . a valve clearance check/adjustment . . . or a brake system rebuild. I think that’s a cool project that will fill years of time and teach you a lot about your passion. Rocketman

BTW . . what kind of Dart (did I miss this in the post?) What engine? Transmission? Overall condition? Good luck! ROcketman

The 318 was a good engine too. I always liked that Slant-6 though. Probably one of the most durable engines ever made. I’ve seen those engine last well over 400k miles without ever being torn into.

My first overhaul ,slant 6. The 273,318 suffered from a crank shaft that was rpm limited due to materials used (not so safe over 4800 rpm) don’t know if a upgrade was offered with the 340 (it would make sense)

Where are you, Gunk55? You’ve got us curious, with a number of folks with first hand experience with your Dart at the ready…

Yep, I’ve got a '79 slant 6 in my pickup and can help you a bit with that, if that’s what you’re running in it (hope its a 340 though). Rocketman