There are only a few muscle cars that are legendary. The earn that status, the cars needed to have broken new ground, changing the way people from all parties looked at them. The ’68 Hurst HEMI Dodge Dart – code L023 – is said to be the fastest muscle car of all time. Differing greatly from the base Dodge Dart produced for 1968, bare Dart bodies were shipped to the Madison Heights, Michigan, Hurst Performance facility for further outfitting.
Arriving void of an engine or transmission, the LO23 models were also missing their exhaust, shifters, and driveshafts. Also missing were a battery, cables, trays, or stock front bars or fuel lines. Inside, the Darts (and Plymouth sibling Barracudas) came without seats, brackets and tracks. The window regulators, consoles, carpeting, jutes, and all but the drivers’ lap belts were left out too, not to mention radios and heaters. All sound-deadening, armrests, and all but one of the horns were gone too.
Slated for the venerable 426 HEMI, Hurst literally sledgehammered the right shock towers for valve cover clearance and trimmed the rear wheel openings to accommodate for big slicks. Shipped from Chrysler’s Marine and Industrial Division, the unique 426 HEMI motors had been built offline by hand-picked technicians. The HEMI blocks were iron with a 4.250-inch bore and a 3.750-inch stroke, with a mild street cam, 12.5:1 compression, aluminum heads and a cross-ram eight-barrel intake.
Laughably, the cross-ram HEMI was rated at 425hp, but were more likely closer to 535hp. Hurst equipped the elephants with Hooker headers and either a TorqueFlite automatic or A-833 four-speed manual. To hack even more weight out of the Dart, Hurst installed fiberglass fenders, hoods and acid-dipped doors and thin-gauge front bumpers. Chemcor side windows were also added, secured by seatbelt straps replacing the heavier manual cranks. A pair of fixed A-100 van seats replaced the OE buckets and industrial-grade batteries were placed in the trunk.
When handed over to Dodge’s factory-sponsored racers, such as “Dandy” Dick Landy, the Darts immediately burst into the low-10 second range. It took very little time and tuning to push the A-Bodies into the 9-second range, unearthing a whole new level of Super Stock racing. In fact, these machines have become so iconic that more Darts and Barracudas have been cloned in their likeness than had been originally produced.
Today, Mopar enthusiasts enthusiastically praise this short-lived racing program as the final salvo in the factory drag racing wars. Since 1968, all factory-built race cars have been measured to the Hurst Darts and Barracudas, and understandably so. Even Dodge’s Super Stock ’70 Challengers were bested by racers still campaigning the ’68 L023 cars.
As a final nod towards the audacity of these machines, Chrysler placed a sticker on the L023 cars that stated, “This vehicle was not manufactured for use on Public Streets, Roads or Highways, and does not conform to Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.” While is car was not a “street car” there where still a few that drove them on the street and took them to the track on the weekends. In 1968, this HEMI sold for $4,500; what do you think it’s worth today?