Home » A Pair of Crusty Four-Doors: 1974 Dodge Dart vs 1968 Fiat 124

A Pair of Crusty Four-Doors: 1974 Dodge Dart vs 1968 Fiat 124

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Happy Monday, and welcome back to Shitbox Showdown! Today, we’re back to the back-row of the used car lot, after Friday’s trip upmarket. It was fun, but honestly, shiny cars aren’t as interesting to me, nor to you, from the sounds of it. And apparently, sometimes I don’t know shitbox from shiny-ola anyway. (Never rely on the Cliff’s Notes, kids). But for the sake of completeness, let’s take a look at the results:

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You chose the Toyota Land Cruiser, which, if memory serves, means you have to take the low road through the valleys, but make sure to stop and grease the suspension after the river crossing, and then use the garlic to chase off the vampire bat in the gold mine (wait, that last one might be Zork). Anyway, when you’re done, turn to page four to start the speed race. [Editor’s Note: I have no idea what Mark is talking about, here. -DT] [Editor’s Note: I do. – JT]

Our search today takes us to a pair of old sedans from very different backgrounds, but with some striking similarities. Both started out as just ordinary family cars, but both spawned much cooler and higher-performance variants, and both had lifespans beyond their home countries (far, far beyond, in one case). And both have a propensity for rusting, which is evident in these photos. Let’s take a look.

1974 Dodge Dart – $1,200

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Engine/drivetrain: 318 cubic inch V8, 3 speed automatic, RWD

Location: Battle Ground, WA

Odometer reading: 160,000 miles

Runs/drives? Surprisingly, yes!

The Dodge Dart and Plymouth Valiant used to be as common a part of the landscape as Fotomats and K-Marts. Unlike those last two, Darts and Valiants seem to have survived the digital revolution in surprising numbers, and while they’re no longer common, you still see one once in a while, gamely soldiering on. Rust seems to be what ultimately does them in, and it’s well on its way to killing this one off. The seller says it has a specific set of heavy-duty bits on it that they were going to rob for another project that never materialized.


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The seller calls this car a “Swinger,” but as far as I know, the Swinger models were all two-doors. That lurid green color and the bumblebee stripe around the tail look original, so it might be some sort of special version. Chrysler sold so many different special option packages that I doubt anyone can keep them all straight. Regardless, it’s a 4 door, it’s a V8, and it runs and drives, but it’s coming apart at the seams.

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It’s probably not worth restoring, even if it is something special. By ’74, the bumpers had gotten huge and the great horsepower reduction was well underway. This car with a V8 isn’t fast; it just isn’t as dog-slow as the Slant Six.

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If you’re willing to clean up the nasty interior, you could make a case for driving it as-is until the rust starts compromising the structure. These things are built like tanks, unlike the Aspen/Volaré that replaced them in 1976. (Though you could still get a new Dart/Valiant under various names in South America until 1981.) And it is still a V8 Mopar with a stripe around the tail, for whatever that’s worth.

1968 Fiat 124 – $1,200

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.2 liter inline 4, 4 speed manual, RWD

Location: Portland, OR

Odometer reading: 93,000 miles


Runs/drives? Nope

The seller’s reference to a VAZ/Lada 2101 in this car’s ad speaks volumes: the Fiat 124 was produced in far greater numbers in the Soviet Union than they ever were in Italy, upwards of 15 million total. But this particular 1968 model is indeed a Fiat, and an original US-market car, judging by the tacked-on side marker lights that would have been required starting in ’68.

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While this car may look like its more-famous Russian sibling, the 124 is its own machine under the skin. It’s powered by an 1197 cc overhead-valve engine; Ladas have their own overhead-cam engine. The Fiat also has 4 wheel disc brakes and a more sophisticated suspension, likely tuned more for Italy’s curvy mountain passes than for the mean potholed streets of Leningrad.

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This little Fiat doesn’t run, the seller says, but a pushrod four-cylinder isn’t a complex engine, and old Fiats enjoy a wide enough fanbase that parts should be available to get it going again. (And failing that, later 124s were equipped with the famed Lampredi twin-cam engine, which should drop right in.) Like all old Fiats, it does have some rust on it, but I don’t see any gaping holes. And it’s such a charming, earnest little car that it wears its age well. If there’s no structural rust, I’d be tempted to leave it as-is.

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That earnest charm continues inside, and it’s not in terrible shape in there. And whatever happened to color combinations like turquoise blue with a brown interior? We need to bring this aesthetic back.

So that’s our choices for Monday: a decrepit Dart and a forgotten Fiat. Which one will it be?


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1 year ago

In 1968, my wife and I were looking for a new car, and we ended up trying to decide between a Ford Torino fastback and the Dodge Dart with a 383. Unfortunately, we chose the Ford. I have wished a thousand times we had bought the Dodge. Hell, I might still have it. I think that era was probably the peak for that beautiful body style. Oh well, we all have bought the wrong car!
Of course, I chose the Dart.

Car Guy - RHM
Car Guy - RHM
1 year ago

When I was in high school, the Dart and Valiant four doors were the hand me down cars from the parents, those Mopar’s took whatever you threw at them and kept going. It was hard to look cool in a four door, but it looks like someone did try to make it look tougher by adding that bumble bee stripe. Probably had some type of mag wheels on it at one point too. My grandma didn’t learn to drive until she was about 58, her first car was a 72 Scamp with the 318. That car would get up and go and my grandma took full advantage of it.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
1 year ago

My vote is for the Fiat 124 and dropping in the Fiat Twin Cam into it.

I think it would be more fun and wouldn’t bankrupt me with the cost of fuel.

1 year ago

I don’t think I really have a choice in the matter, do I? The Dart. Though I might actually pick the Fiat if it were running.

74 Valiant was the first car I drove on a regular basis, and it seemed like a good avatar picture to match the user name.

Anyway, they are pretty much shit cars, but also cockroaches that will run forever, and as noted survive in surprising numbers, especially for an appliance car.

Mantis Toboggan, MD
Mantis Toboggan, MD
1 year ago

Assuming I don’t give a damn about getting where I need to go and all that stuff I think I’d go for the Fiat just to see if the Italian original can stand up to the Garage 54 treatment. Chaining the tires together, filling the crankcase with gasoline, replacing the piston rings with rubber O-rings, the whole Vlad Special. I bet the Fiat dies while the Lada keeps crawling forward even under the weight of Soviet automotive oppression.

Baron Usurper
Baron Usurper
1 year ago

The Dart.

As the owner of a 2013 Dart, I am the only one here who is worthy enough of giving it enough love and attention.

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