The term “spiritual successor” gets thrown around too often in the name of modern cars that don’t have much in common. But there are some concrete examples that are unmistakably related, whether that be through their platforms, designers, or badges. Cars like the McLaren F1 and Gordon Murray T.50 are perfect examples right next to relatives such as the Porsche 914 and Porsche Boxster.
But today, we’re honoring an American car from the 1960s whose spiritual successor has one of the most famed names in performance car history – Demon. Its literal roots could be traced back to Chrylser platforms from the mid-2000s, but a spiritual successor doesn’t require such acute accuracy, which is why the Demon’s grandfather is unmistakably the Dodge Hurst Hemi Dart, the first true Mopar factory drag car.
The Hemi Dart is a car so rare, its identity goes unnoticed by muscle enthusiasts and unseen by auctioneers and collectors alike. So, whether you are familiar or not, this is its story.
Brief History Lesson Of The Dodge Hemi Dart
If it wasn’t clear that this car was the product of the American horsepower wars, well, now you know. Chrysler was well into the mix by the late 1960s with cars like the Dodge SuperBee, Plymouth RoadRunner, and Dodge Coronet. But Chrysler had lacked the racing chops that both Ford and Chevy had established by then with cars like the Ford GT40/Shelby Mustangs and the Camaro Z/28.
They sure as hell weren’t going to build a road racing car because that was a stuck-up European pastime, so instead, they stirred up the idea for a street-based drag car. In 1968, the Dodge Charger would debut, and they couldn’t sign off on such a radical Charger model so soon, so they reached for the “practical” option to be their lab rat, the Dodge Dart.
The car’s small stature and light curb weight compared to other Mopar products proved to be a no-brainer for a race car. Chrysler then moved forward with the idea and brought some racing help with them.
In February of 1968, Chrysler sent press releases to Dodge dealerships saying they were ready to build a drag-ready Dodge Dart using the infamous power of the Chrysler HEMI engine. This new breed of muscle car was targeted at the Class B Super Stock drag racing series after it eventually went on sale and would be built by Hurst.
Hurst Enters The Scene
Hurst is a very well-known company that made drag racing parts for American companies back in the ’60s and ’70s and are most notable for their solid manual-transmission shifters. But they could do a lot more than that, which is why Chrysler recruited their help in the construction of the few Hemi Darts that were sold.
This was a serious operation of speed. Dodge shipped nearly completely bare Dart GTS bodies to Hursts performance facility in Madison Heights, Michigan where the real work began.
Before coming to the Hurst plant, these Darts were stripped of everything that a race car wouldn’t need. The engines, transmissions, shifters, exhaust systems, and driveshafts were all missing from these shells. In addition, the batteries and accessories were all left out along with interior bits like windows, consoles, seats, sound deadening, radios, heaters, and armrests.
Virtually nothing was left of the existing Dart GTS once it got to Hurst because everything that would eventually be added was race-specific. They started with the engines and transmissions as those were the hardest to fit.
The powerplant of choice was the legendary 426 Hemi, coming in at a comically large 7.0-liters of displacement. The Hurst engineers reportedly bashed the inside of the shock Darts’ shock towers with sledgehammers to fit the gigantic V8 and all its accessories. The mutilation continued with the cutting of rear wheel arches to achieve clearance for the drag slicks they intended to fit.
The Dart’s calling card was its light weight, and Hurst was charged with the task of getting as many pounds off the cars as possible. This resulted in replacing the hoods and fenders with fiberglass, installing acid-dipped doors, and getting rid of the heavy side windows in favor of Chemcor glass. The window cranks were also replaced for seatbelt material straps, and A-100 van seats were put where the OE buckets once were.
After it was all said and done, the Hemi Darts, also known by their internal code L023, were the most savage muscle cars in existence and weighed only 3,000 lbs, approximately. Just 80 individual L023s left the Madison Heights facility and were shipped to customers, who are now owners of the greatest $4,500 ever spent.
The Dodge Hemi Dart Offered Awesome Performance
The 426 Hemi engines weren’t just thrown together at Chrysler’s regular old engine plants. Instead, Chrysler hand-picked a set of engineers to construct these motors completely off the assembly line and with the highest of precision, one can only imagine.
The engines themselves had iron blocks sporting a 4.250-inch bore and a 3.750-inch stroke along with aluminum cylinder heads, a Hemi-specific cross-ram intake manifold, and a “mild” street camshaft. All these goodies gave the 426 Hemi Darts a ludicrous 12.5:1 compression ratio, nearly matching the current Lamborghini Huracan’s 12.7:1 ratio. Absolutely nuts.
The officially-named Dodge Hurst Hemi Dart L023 came from the factory with two transmission options: a 727 Torqueflite automatic or an A-833 4-speed manual transmission. There aren’t any period reviews we could find, but back then, the manual transmission was usually slightly quicker to 60 mph.
Speaking of numbers, the 426 Hemi was factory rated at 425 hp, and let’s be honest, that is a wildly false advertisement. They were rumored to put out nearly 540 hp from the factory, and while that claim isn’t proven to be true, the Hemi Dart’s sub-10 second quarter-mile times on prepped surfaces seem to be proof enough. And truth be told, there are rumors of lightly-tuned Hemi Darts getting into the 9s in the quarter-mile.
In the end, despite all the Boss 429s, Z/28s, and Charger R/Ts, the Super Stock-competitive Hurst Hemi Dart was unquestionably the quickest classic muscle car of all time. The modern Dodge Demon followed in the Hemi Dart’s footsteps as a factory-built drag car that could theoretically run in the 9s at the drag strip. The only difference was that the Hemi Dart did it 50 years prior.
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