Darrin Westphal

Darrin Westphal
1966 Dodge Dart

In 1985, the summer before I was able to get my driver’s license, my Dad and I started talking about looking for a car for me.  I was thinking more on the lines of a late 60s Vette or one of the Tri-Five Chevy’s.  Dad, however, had other plans.

 At my Dad’s second job at Ford Aerospace in Colorado Springs, he met a guy, Slim, who happened to be driving his parents’ 1966 Dodge Dart 270, 2-door hardtop.  Slim told my father that he though his parents were looking to put it up for sale, but he had to confirm it with them first.  He did get back to Dad, and we went to take a look at it shortly after.

 My first impression (as a 15-year-kid, mind you) was that it was an “old grandma’s car”; and if I was going to drive it, it was going to need some serious improvements.  We did agree on a price and picked it up the following week.  Dad paid $400 for the car, but he informed me that I would be paying him $25 per week until it was paid off; showing up every Friday at my job at County Line Barbeque with his hand out waiting for the cash.

 The trip home was the first time I got a taste of Mopar Power.  I followed Dad home, him driving the Dart with the 273 three-speed two barrel and me driving Dad’s 1973 Grand Prix 400 automatic two-barrel (before any upgrades).  At the stop lights by the Greyhound Dog Track, I was leaning down fiddling with Dad’s radio (trying to change it from Country to Rock), when all of a sudden, I heard the sound of a revving motor and tires squealing.  Snapping my head up, I caught the sight of Dad peeling away from the lights.  Again being young, I thought for sure I’d be able to catch him.  To my surprise, I was wrong!  By the time I actually caught up to him, Dad was already standing by the Dart with a beer in hand. 

 I sat down with Dad, had a couple beers, and talked about how to make the car look like it was not driven by some old lady.  That was when we decided to put on chrome-reverse rims and baby-moon hub caps.  We figured that we could turn down the torsion bar to lower the front end and add a set of air shocks to the rear for a little lift. Different stereo system (which was a mistake). Over the next few weeks, we accomplished just that.

 Through my time at Palmer High School, I took three years of advanced auto mechanics. Our school had a very progressive auto shop.  Although we did not have a lot of money, we did have the equipment to do just about everything.  Other high schools in the area had to have local machine shops handle the technical parts of motor building, and after they would finish the motors.  Our class, however, was able to handle many aspects ourselves such as cylinder boring, engine decking, and three- or five-angle valve jobs. We also had the opportunity to play with blowers and NOS, duel fours, and three deuces.  While working on various projects, our instructor allowed us to choose what we wanted to do to a vehicle and how we were going to achieve the goal.  Each of these local high school mechanic shop classes would meet at Bandimere Speedway in Denver and drag race each other as well as local law enforcement.  Some schools would race their shop cars, but our school did not have their own shop car.  So I raced my Dart right along side of my friends and fellow classmates in their own personal cars.  Of course I did not realize then that some of the kids I was in auto shop with would end up working on my dart 20 years later.

 A lot of the girls at my high school, didn’t care for my car because it was either “not cool enough”, uncomfortable, too loud, or just too old.  Unfortunately for them if this was mentioned while they were in the car with me, they soon found themselves on the side of the road after I pulled over and told them to get out.

 In those early days, I was less than a perfect driver.  Not only did I have three front end collisions and one roll over in my Dart, I seemed to have a problem with obeying the driving laws.  To give you an idea, my driving record was eight pages long.    My infractions ranged from driving with a revoked licensed, driving with a suspended license, speeding, having no insurance, and defective vehicle parts.  One time, I was stopped for having license plates that were registered to a different vehicle.  More than once, my speeding tickets exceeded over 40 mph above the posted speed.  I would get picked up for one infraction and have my car impounded and of course, Dad would drive by the pound to find my car sitting behind the steel fence.  He would come home, make plans to get my car later, and let me drive his in the mean time.  I would drop him off at work with the understanding that I would pick him up when he got off.  More than a couple times though, I had to send a buddy to pick him up.  He would then find his own car sitting next to mine.  All these infractions occurred while I still had a driving permit.  Because of the number of infractions, I never actually did drive “legally”.

 It was 1989 when I finally parked my 1966 Dodge Dart in storage and moved to Virginia to go live with my brothers.  It wasn’t until 1995 that Dad pulled the car out of storage.  He tried to work on it when he could; but unfortunately, it was difficult for him as he was diagnosed with cancer in 1998.  In 1999, he went into remission and drove the Dart until 2002 when he had to park it once again when the cancer returned.

 In February of 2004, my wife and I purchased our home in Stewartville.  We were excited to be able to have Dad stay with us in our new home when he came back to Minnesota that summer.  We had huge plans for the house.  We told Dad about our five-year plan to build a shop on our property.  Dad never did see or stay in our house.  He passed away that May.  By August, our five-year plan became a “now” plan.  I went back to Colorado in October and put the Dart in a body shop, Muscle Car Metal Crafters, owned and operated by an old school mate of mine that I use to drag race with.

 In Colorado Springs, I had the shop (Muscle Car Metal Crafters) complete the metal work, rewelding the inner fender, redoing the rocker panels, pulling all dents and dings, and straightened the frame.  They also disassembled the vehicle, applied the epoxy primer, completed the block sanding, and sprayed the body the original stock white.  The owner of Muscle Car Metal Crafters happened to be an old school mate of mine, Rob DeMasters, who had graduated out of the same auto shop two years before me.  While my car was with Rob, he took it to American Sandblasting.  The owner of that shop, Nick Portaleos, lived in the same apartment complex as my family.  We grew up together, went to the same school, and generally ran around with me and my car through high school.  Surprised was an understatement when my Dart was sitting in his shop after 20 years of not seeing it.

 While it was still in Colorado, I started looking for restoration shop in Minnesota; hopefully, close to town.  I came across Mark Kraetsch of Kraetsch Restoration.  Finding Kraetsch Restoration was a blessing.  Talking to Mark, I shared the goals I wanted in the restoration while he explained the possibilities that could be achieved.  He laid out the entire process and helped put the restoration and myself on a schedule.  He was able to help me find the parts I needed as well as help me get the car and motor safely transported back to Minnesota.  The car along with motor and transmission were transported by Twin Ports Transport (Duluth, MN) in December 2007.  In the spring of 2008, Mark finished disassembling the underside of the car, sand blasting, and painting the front end K-member assembly.  He also rebuilt the rear end and fully undercoated it to stock factory specifications. 

 During the winter of 2008, the car was finally at my own personal shop.  I worked on the electrical harness replacing all fittings with correct ends including re-taping and heat shrinking according to factory specs.  I took apart the rest of the interior, removed and repainted all the dash, reinstalled stock gauges, bezels, and radio.  I also added after-market gauges as well. 

 While I was working on the interior and electrical, the motor went to Premier Machining in Brownsdale to rebuild the 273 c.i. motor.  Brian Shaw, owner, and I discussed exactly what I wanted done to the motor.  It was taken from a 180-horse, two-barrel motor to the 273 High Performance (Commando) motor then put on steroids.  The motor was also put through 10 hours of dyno time (500 miles).  

 After having the motor rebuilt and partially broke in, it was transported back to Kraetsch Restoration along with the body for final assembly where Mark painted and installed the motor and transmission.  He also painted the red stripe across the rear.  Together, Mark and I completed the interior, finished all exterior trim, polished and cleaned the vehicle.  Maiden voyage was June 2009.  Since then I have put on 2500 miles and am looking forward to many more.

 Current Motor Specs:

Bored .30 over

Balanced and Blueprinted

Magna fluxed block and heads

Edelbrock airgap intake

Erson Cam

670 Holley four-barrel carburetor

Engine quest Cast Iron heads

 DART 270 SERIES-(6cyl/V-8) –The Dart 270 was, once again, the intermediate trim level and included all the dart features plus carpeting.  Deluxe two-spoke steering wheel, full horn ring and vinyl trim on the convertible.

 Third generation Dart: A total of 35,100 Dart 270’s were built during the calendar year of 1966. Of these 28,500 were sixes and 6,600 were V-8’s.

 Production Number: 22,746

Production Sequence:  6,073

Assembly:  Hamtramck, Michigan

Shipping Order: March 3, 1966

Body: 2-door hardtop coupe

Platform: A-body

Engine: 273 cu-in (4.5L) V8 2-barrel “LA” Block

Compression: 8.8 to 1

Horsepower: 180 @ 4200 RPM

Torque: 260 lb-ft @ 2600 RPM

Transmission: 3-speed manual

Wheel base: 111.0 in

Length: 196.0 in

Width: 70.8 in

Height: 55.9 in

Weight: 2720

Price:  $2307.00

At the end of all of this, there are a few people I need to thank.

  First, my Father, for having the foresight to see the potential in this car, that as a teenager I never saw until I was able to complete the project.  After all these years, I finally understand what my Father was talking about and his vision. 

 Second, my step mother, Billie, for forcing me to do something with the car and questioning me why on God’s green earth would I do this anyway.

  Third, to all the folks and companies that walked me through this project (Muscle Car Metal Crafters, Kraetsch Restoration, Premier Machining, Legendary Auto Interiors, Mega Parts, Whynaucht Hot Rod Shop, Upholstery Wizard, and last but not least, my wife, for listing to me all these yrs about this car I had in high school,  and during the project all my agonizing, phone calling , dealing w/  scrap yards, and the cross country trips to get parts,  through the 5 yrs it took to get this done. To my kids who helped reach all the nuts and bolts that I could not. To all of you I owe a great debit and I thank you --- for the dream come true !!!!!!!!!!!

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