Another Measure of How We've Been Gypped (and Fooled)

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by Eric Peters

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Before I write a new car review, I like to do some background research — which helps provide context and hopefully makes the published review informative. Well, I found some interesting information while doing some background research on the new Dodge Dart. Actually, the information concerned the old Dodge Dart — last sold new in 1976.

That year, Dodge offered a high-mileage version of the Dart called the Feather Duster. To be precise, it was an option package that included a specially tuned version of the famous “slant six” 225 cubic inch engine, teamed up with an overdriven four-speed manual and a mileage-minded 2.94:1 rear axle ratio (vs. the standard car’s 3.21:1 ratio). Also included were lightweight body parts such as an aluminum hood and trunk lid bracing — which cut about 200 pounds of deadweight off the already-lightweight car. The result was 36 MPG on the highway.

The Feather Duster package added $51 to the cost of a ’76 Duster — which had a base price of about $3,300.

Now for some context:

The new Dodge Dart — a much smaller car, equipped with a much smaller four-cylinder engine — gets exactly the same 36 MPG on the highway as the ’76 Feather Duster Dart. This is startling, given the new Dart has the benefit of almost four decades of engineering advances — including such things as a six-speed manual transmission, direct port fuel injection and vastly better aerodynamics. Yet the 2013 car only manages to match the mileage of the 1976 car — a much larger car, with a much larger engine fed by a carburetor and without even an Atari-level computer running the show.

This is seriously sad. Tragic, even. It’s also a measure of how much progress hasn’t been made since the mid-1970s as regards vehicle design. Or rather, a measure of how much progress in engineering and design has been obviated, negated or otherwise rendered “net zero gain” (or loss) by government diktats. Everything from weight-adding “safety” diktats to thou-must-burn-corn-alcohol-laced fuel diktats (which have reduced the fuel efficiency of new cars by 3-4 MPG, on average, relative to what they’d otherwise achieve if they were fed 100 percent gas).


The old Dart — a mid-sized car by modern standards — weighed about 2,700 lbs.

The new (2013) Dart — a compact-sized car — weighs 3,186 lbs.

That’s about 500 pounds of additional deadweight — in a car that’s more than a foot shorter overall than the old model (183.9 inches for the ’13 vs. 196 inches for the ’76) and which is FWD and four-cylinder powered vs. rear-drive and six-cylinder powered.

The new Dart also has a starting price of $15,995.

Let’s call it $16k to make the math easier — vs. $13,554 (and change) in inflation-adjusted terms for the 1976 Dart.

So, to sum up:

For about $2,441 more — the price of a new Dart vs. the cost-when-new of a ’76 Dart — you get the exact same 36 MPG.

Ah, progress!

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Eric Peters [send him mail] is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his website.

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