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  • Writer's pictureJim Martin

The Dodge Dart Swinger with the Slant Six

Updated: Nov 17, 2023

The transition from smug car owner back to mere mortal was a rough one for me. Especially when it came time to head to Cape Cod for my next duty weekend. The pilgrimage would now involve a Greyhound bus ride home to the Boston area, then bumming a ride off anyone in the Air Force Band willing to pick me up early on Saturday morning.


Fortunately, Bob the trumpet player didn’t live too far away and was willing to give me a lift. You’ll remember Bob the trumpet player as the source of the excellent advice about how to start the Beloved Corona with a pair screw drivers. Because Bob the trumpet player was an interested party, I filled him in on the success of the screwdriver method (though I think I omitted the engine fire part), and the subsequent installation of the starter switch next to the doorbell. This had been several duty weekends ago. So, as we drove to The Cape, I filled him in on the demise of the Beloved Corona.


“Ah… timing chain,” he said sympathetically, “that’s a tough break.”


“Yeah,” I agreed. And we drove the next few miles in silence.


“You know,” Bob the trumpet player said, breaking the silence, “I have an old Dodge Dart I’d be willing to sell you. It’s one of the old ‘Swinger’ models. Slant six. It runs great and should last forever.”


I wasn’t sure I was ready for a rebound car. And I had no idea what a Slant Six was. But more than that, the bus ticket and some school expenses had burned through more than the $35 I’d been given for the Beloved Corona. I was smack out of money. I gave Bob the trumpet player some kind of polite, non-committal reply.


When your National Guard unit is an Air Force Band, a duty weekend can be interesting. The summer months generally consisted of things like evening concerts on the picturesque town greens in Massachusetts. Families would spread blankets on the grass, eat snacks, and listen to the concert band music. We musicians, in dress uniform, would play the music while swatting at the horde of mosquitos who had also turned out for the concert. During the fall and winter, our duty weekends would involve long rehearsals in preparation for the next year’s concert season. There were a lot of Sousa marches involved. Once you got the hang of it, it could be fun.


Bob the trumpet player drove me home again that Sunday. As he dropped me off, he reminded me that his Dodge Dart Swinger (the one with the Slant Six) was available. This time he added an all-important, new piece of information. “I could probably let it go for something like 50 bucks.” He said.


A moment’s reflection told me that while $50 was an exorbitant 43% more than I had paid for the Beloved Corona, it might also be a sum that I could scrape together before too long. “Thanks, Bob. Let me think about it and give you a call,” I said.


I left Bob the trumpet player and went into the little house. BOB! was there, which was a nice surprise as he’d just started attending Berklee College of Music that fall and was living in a dorm. Berklee was in Boston, and eminently reachable by public transportation from the little house.


Over a hearty spaghetti dinner (one of the meals our dad had learned to cook after the divorce) we spent some time catching up. BOB! filled us in on his new roommates at Berklee and their fascination with recreational drugs and shredding minor scales on their electric guitars in preparation for their inevitable heavy-metal rock careers. BOB! himself was a music education major concentrating on voice as his principal instrument. His heart’s desire was to become a jazz vocalist—which actually seemed within reach as he’d already achieved some notoriety throughout New England in this capacity even as a high school student. (Stick with me, this digression becomes important later.)


As we talked, I happened to mention Bob the trumpet player’s car offer to BOB!, who immediately expressed some interest. I have a sense that several wheels were turning in BOB!’s head at the same time. First of all, BOB! was sitting on a pile of money (at least compared to me). His notoriety as a promising high school jazz vocalist had won him a coveted scholarship that essentially translated to a $1,000 stipend that was sitting in his bank account. Second, while Berklee was eminently reachable via public transportation, having access to a car would, of course, be convenient in many ways. It would facilitate girlfriend visitation, for starters. And finally, I could only imagine that the idea of co-owning a car with his big brother, who had already demonstrated remarkable prowess in the art of creative problem solving was extremely attractive.


“What if we bought it together?” BOB! ventured.


I called Bob the trumpet player after dinner. We borrowed my dad’s car and went to look at The Dart. I’m not gonna lie. It wasn’t pretty. Google 1969 Dodge Dart Swinger and you’ll see what I mean.


Except in order to really see it, you have to imagine what all those cars in the google images looked like before they were restored. Rust—from all the winter salt, edge trim pieces falling off, ceiling liner sagging down inside, exterior paint seeming like it was probably green at some point, but had given up on the idea of “color” pretty wholeheartedly.


This is (a little) more like it:


It was a beast.


Bob the trumpet player greeted us with his characteristic kind smile. He unlocked the car and invited us to look around. He popped the hood revealing an engine as different from the Beloved Corona as a German Shepherd is from a Clydesdale. It was big and long and had six spark plugs rather than four. At some point it occurred to me that six spark plugs in a line sticking out the side of the engine at a rakish angle probably had something to do with “Slant Six.”


Bob the trumpet player jumped in the driver’s seat and cranked the engine. It cranked for quite a while—long enough for me to wonder if this was a good idea. Then, finally it caught. Bob smiled as he revved it a few times. This was no Beloved Corona.


My memory is foggy at this point, but what I like to think happened is that after a few more formalities, BOB! reached in his pocket and stripped a cool $50 off his comfortable wedge of music-scholarship cash, then, handing the cash to Bob the trumpet player, said something like, “Nice doing business with you!”


As BOB! drove The Dart back to the little house, we surveyed the splendor. After the snug confines of the Beloved Corona, The Dart’s bench seat seemed enormous—as if BOB! and I were sitting 10 feet apart. The expanse of windshield seemed endless. The back seat was huge. And the trunk! Plenty of room to store a Sousaphone, and and enough luggage for a barbershop quartet on summer holiday. (The barbershop quartet part becomes important in the next post.)


We were quite satisfied with ourselves. Eventually (I think) I repaid BOB! the $25 I owed him for my half of the car. And we decided that I would store The Dart with me out at school because of my duty weekends with the Air Guard, and because parking on Berklee’s inner city Boston campus was expensive and a real pain.


Worked for me.


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