Mining the Past

For U.S. auto makers, mining the past is profitable because their past includes some of the most glorious cars of the 1960s. The current generation Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro are modern versions of the first pony cars, but some say Chrysler started the trend when they revived the Hemi engine.

In 2003, everybody else was designing engines with multiple overhead camshafts, variable valve timing and exotic intake tuning. The Hemi is a two-valve pushrod engine. Old-school? Maybe, but it’s packed with modern technology like dual coil-on-plug ignition and variable displacement. First installed in trucks, the Hemi soon found its true home in the Dodge Charger, another revival from the Muscle Car days.

Next year Chrysler Group will dip from the well again when they launch the 2013 Dodge Dart. Based on a front-drive Fiat platform, the standard engine will be a 1.4L turbo delivering about 40 mpg. Also available with a 2.0L or a 2.4L engine, the car will include styling cues from other Dodge models, but like the others, only the name really comes from the past.

While Dart of the ‘60s and ‘70s was available with big V8 engines (they were raced in SCCA and NHRA), that last one I drove is the version most of us old enough to remember; a slant-6 with three-on-the-tree. I doubt that’s a memory Chrysler wants to evoke, unless they’re planning to tout reliability. Most of what’s been written about that old slant-6 includes words like ‘unstoppable,’ ‘indestructible,’ and ‘live forever.’ But today, when almost any engine is capable of that kind of service life, I really don’t understand what Chrysler has to gain by resurrecting the name “Dodge Dart.” Unless of course they plan to let some exciting Italian DNA show through.

This Chrysler/Fiat marriage could produce some very interesting off-spring.