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Chrysler revives Dodge Dart in bid for youth market

The marque, last produced in 1976, will be based on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta and compete in the compact-sedan segment, featuring four-cylinder engines in 1.4 to 2.4 liters.

December 06, 2011|By Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times
  • The 2013 Dodge Dart will be the first Chrysler vehicle based on a Fiat architecture, in this case the Alfa Romeo Giulietta.
The 2013 Dodge Dart will be the first Chrysler vehicle based on a Fiat architecture,… (Associated Press )

Chrysler is bringing back the Dodge Dart — Italian style.

The automaker's Dodge division last offered a Dart in 1976, when bell-bottom pants were popular and the angular Dart models had names like Swinger and Hang 10. This time, Chrysler says the Dart will be more curvy and stylish.

The new Dart, a 2013 model, will be the first Chrysler vehicle based on a Fiat architecture, in this case the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. Italian automaker Fiat owns Alfa Romeo and holds a controlling interest in Chrysler. All three companies are starting to share auto development and design.

The redesigned Dart joins a growing number of once defunct nameplates that are making a comeback.

Last year, Ford Motor Co. brought the Ford Fiesta compact car to the U.S. market after a 30-year absence. Chevrolet also reintroduced its sporty Camaro in the 2010 model year after last selling a version in 2002.

Automakers are playing off these older names on the belief that they still resonate with consumers or have good buzz overseas, said Brandy Schaffels, senior editor at auto information company TrueCar.com.

"Fiesta was not a popular car in the United States the first time it was sold here, but it has had a very good following in Europe," Schaffels said.

Chrysler introduced the Dart in 1960, and by 1963 it was part of a triumvirate of popular U.S.-built small cars — they would seem large by today's standards — that included the Chevrolet Corvair and the Ford Falcon.

Although the Dart was known as a smaller family vehicle, it also came in several muscle car trims that compared well to the other muscle cars of the early 1970s, giving it a vibe that might attract the youthful buyers Chrysler hopes will purchase the vehicle.

"They put some pretty big engines in them and made them pretty competent street machines," said Leslie Kendall, curator of the Petersen Automotive Museum.

The 1963 the Dart sold for $2,041, $1 more than the Corvair but $6 less than the Falcon, Kendall said. (Chrysler may announce pricing and availability of the 2013 Dart model at the Detroit auto show next month.)

"The Dart did pretty well. At the time, Chrysler was known for its engineering and they had one of the better engines of the day, the 'slant six,'" Kendall said.

Dart production peaked in 1974, when Chrysler built about 340,000 Darts, but the company quickly phased out the vehicle when import brands began to make inroads into the small-car segment of the U.S. auto market.

Kendall said that American consumers will probably be receptive to a sporty compact car that has "exotic" Alfa Romeo heritage.

In a review, Greg Migliore, news editor of AutoWeek, described the Alfa Romeo Giulietta as fun to drive, with "tons of power and panache in small packaging small car." He said it is comparable to the sporty Volkswagen GTI and the Mazda Mazdaspeed 3 compact cars.

The Dart will be Dodge's reentry into the compact-sedan segment and will be an important vehicle for Chrysler as it works to improve the efficiency of its vehicle line to meet more stringent federal fuel economy rules.

This latest version of the Dart will offer buyers a choice of four engines, all four cylinders and ranging from 1.4 to 2.4 liters.

It will be produced at Chrysler's Belvidere Assembly Plant in Belvidere, Ill. The company is pouring $600 million into the site to reconfigure the factory to produce a range of autos. Chrysler said it is building a 638,000-square-foot body shop at the factory and installing new machinery, tooling and material handling equipment.

Interestingly, the Dart previously had a touch of Italian heritage. In 1956, Chrysler showed a concept car called the Dart, which featured styling by Ghia, the Italian auto design house.

jerry.hirsch@latimes.com

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