Some projects take longer than others. Some, need to work themselves out into what will eventually become the final product. In the case of Gavin Wollenburg’s ’72 Dart Swinger, both of those statements are true. Amid a field of Hemi Chargers and Six-Pack ‘Cudas, we spotted Gavin’s Hemi Orange Dodge and immediate recognized it as something special. And boy were we right.
“My father bought this car for me when I was 13 from an old lady that used to drive it to the store, but mostly sat in a garage in Newark, Ohio. I thought he was crazy when he brought it home. It was an all original Slant 6, auto on the column, Sea Mist Swinger, with just under 100,000 miles. The interior was very good shape, and the only rust in the whole car was rear quarters above the wheel wells. The problem is I was just getting into cars and wasn’t able to see the car for its potential, I was 13 and all I saw was an old ugly grandma’s car that dad got cheap.”
It wasn’t until a driveway paint job and swapping out a pair of ’70 Ralley wheels did a then 16-year-old Gavin recognize the potential in the Swinger. By the time he was 18, Gavin had scavenged the 8¾ rearend and V8 k-member with disc brakes from a ’76 parts car. Next came a somewhat lazy 340 that got the Swinger back on the road. Out went the old split bench seat for a pair of buckets out of ’67 Dart and a console from a ’70 A-body.
Never content to leave things alone, Gavin made the change from shifting the 727 from the column to the console, before finding a built 340 for sale. Running the warmed-over 340 required swapping to a 2,500 stall converter. As Gavin laments, “We never could get the transmission to shift correctly. We fought and fought with the set up for months.”
By this time, Gavin received the Dart’s pink slip as a graduation present. And with it came dreams of future modifications. “I always talked about changing the car over to a 4-speed but never thought it would happen because it would be too much work and too expensive. In the midst of trying to get the car running and shifting reliably, Dad surprised me one day with an A-body A-833 trans in his trunk, he told me the rest was up to me to figure out how to put it in and find the rest of the parts.”
So out came the motor and transmission. Gavin hunted junk yards and swap meets trying to find everything needed for the swap. As he recounted to Directly Connected, “I changed out the pedals, dialed in all shifter linkage, cut a shifter hole, mounted 4-speed hump, installed z-bar, etc. Amid our scavenging for parts we came across 3:23 center section with a Sure Grip that I also installed.”
The 340, 4-speed setup worked fine for a few years and kept the Swinger in motion, but the appeal of big wheels, modern suspension, and a 6-speed was too much to shake, but as Gavin admitted, “seemed way out of my budget and skill level” and was put on hold. In the fall of 2010, Gavin lined up a local shop to do the paint and bodywork, with Gavin disassembling most the car himself. In two days, he went from a completely running street car down to a shell. “I found out later this was the easiest part of the restoration.”
As is with many budget paint jobs, time ticked by allowing Gavin to put some money aside. “I decided to go ahead and upgrade to RMS suspension front and rear, have the car mini tubbed, and to go with a 6-speed. I only knew of three guys who had swapped a T56 into a Dart so it was a lot of learning and custom work getting this to fit and work correctly.”
“The car had the mini tubs finished and a hole cut out for the trans and work kinda came to a hold,” Gavin recounts. “Come to find out the shop that was doing work was taking money from multiple customers and not finishing their stuff. I was helping with what I could at this shop so I kept seeing results but when stuff slowed down I pulled the car from them and lost out on a little bit of money and lost a few parts. As easy as that sounds it wasn’t, the car came to a hold for about 4 months while fighting with the body shop.”
After some struggling, they got the car home and decided to go ahead and finish the paint job themselves. A friend down the road installed the quarters and finish the tunnel and helped weld in the US Cartool frame connectors, front frame tie, move perches on the rearend, and weld together the cross-member that Gavin came up with. The final results was a Dart that rode on a RMS Alterkation front K-member with QA1 adjustable coil overs, sway bars, power rack pinion, and RMS Street Lynx triangulated four-link holding the mini-tubbed rearend in place.
“In early 2012, we were able to get a friend’s paint booth and my father sprayed the car himself. We sent it off to have the front and rear glass and vinyl top installed. From that point on it was up to me to finish it. I wanted to make it to the Mopar Nats so the next few months were long: I had to get the motor installed, rewire the whole car, reinstall all the interior, installing Vintage A/C, get a custom driveshaft installed, install all the windows back into the doors, etc. I’ll never forget that week. I think I slept maybe 8 hours. I spent every night working out kinks, final installation of interior, etc. I didn’t even get to test drive it, the test drive was to National Trail Raceway Friday morning (lucky me that is only 10 miles away).”
Early this year I signed up for “Cruising the Smokies” event. We all left for the event, my father trailered his 1970 Super Bee “rust rod” to the show, my brother drove his 1976 Dodge panel van and I drove the Dart all the way down. My wife Anna and I got married in the morning then back to the car show activities. Taking the car a for a long trip like this was exactly why I built my car for. Not only did I get to marry my best friend but I also got to drive the car through the “Tail of The Dragon” which was on my bucket list since I first read about it few years back. The car ran great, the event was awesome and the wedding was perfect.”
Prior to this year’s Nats, Gavin fought with some engine troubles and had the 340 apart several times before swapping out the LA block for a 360 before the show. Topped with a pair of Edelbrock Performer RPM, an Edelbrock Air Gap intake, and Holley 650cfm double-pumper, the Magnum evacuates the spent gases through a pair of Doug’s Headers and Flowmaster 40’s. Gavin stated, “The next major upgrades is going to be fuel injected Gen III Hemi, and set of Recaro seats with some retro styling.”
After that, what does Gavin have in mind? “This is just the beginning of long drives and adventures for us in the Dart. I have future plans of becoming a [Power Tour] Long Hauler and one day drive all the way to the West Coast.” As 15 years with this Dart have come and gone, Gavin summed up his experience with this special Swinger best, saying, “Looking back I did a lot of things backwards and in the wrong order, but that is how you learn. Most people have a vision of the car or renderings of the car, and the whole time I had it all in my head. I wanted to keep to the originality, the lines, the interior, the vinyl top. Those are the things that keep the car a classic but I want something that out performed these newer Mustangs and Camaros.”