Dart Story #5

Mrs. Dog and I were headed into Athens today to do a little running around. Errands (we’re making red beans and rice tomorrow, so we had to go buy some boudin, and I wanted to run buy a carburetor rebuild kit for the Dart, etc) and we came to the 1st traffic light on 441, whereupon the Dart idled down to a halt and wouldn’t start again. It has done this more than once on cold, wet days, and today was the coldest and the wettest….

I pushed it to the side of the road, stood on the accelerator and kept cranking it until it started. This is the same symptom that I earlier took to mean “bad fuel sending unit” because it happened at just under a quarter of a tank, and it mimics the behavior of a car that has run out of gas. However, today I knew I had a nearly full tank.

After cranking it for a very long time with the pedal on the floor, it finally buh-buh-buh-buhrumbled back to life. Mrs. Dog said “Let’s take it home,” and I said “Nah, it does this every now and then, and then it runs ok after that.”

And it does, but she was skeptical.

I realized it was getting late, so we went straight to the NAPA store, and I told the guy there (a transplant from Long Island, by the way, which is where I guess all the best mechanics come from) that I needed a rebuild kit, and he said “What’s the number on the carb?”

I said “2 barrel Carter factory for a V-8 318, and that’s all I know.”

This (as readers Fixer, Gordon, Darren and Mike -but not me- know) is not enough information. He asked me if the car was there, and I told him it was, and we went outside. Now remember that this is minutes before closing time, and we pulled the air-filter can off so that he could look at the carburetor, whereupon he said “Oh, shit, pal. Your choke is stuck closed.” And so it was.

Talk about your forehead-slapping moments. How many things does this explain…? Let me count the ways: 1. The rough idle, conking out at stoplights in the morning? check. 2. Running rich? check. 3. Bad fuel economy? check. 4. Flooding out? check. 5. Strong gasoline smell/gas on the outside of the carb? check (This means that the carb and the fuel sending unit are both probably fine. That’s a savings of almost $150 AND all of my Sunday.)

So, it needs a new choke thermostat. I was told this would be very hard to find and very expensive, so the nice guy at NAPA just disconnected the choke, used a zip tie to hold the choke plate in the open position, told me to give it a little extra gas before starting it in the morning, and he told me to start hunting for the thermostat. It ran better as soon as I cranked it. I mean, the car already ran pretty well, but now it’s running like a freaking CHAMP. (And, to Mrs. Dog’s delight, we discovered that it’s got a HECK of a lot more pep. Not that we tested this too thoroughly with the streets full of rain and traffic, but we did do a nice zero-to-sixty on the way home.)

He also told me to check and see if I needed to replace the choke pull-off. At this point, I thought, “How do I tell him I don’t know what that is?” I just didn’t. I ordered a Chilton’s manual off of eBay today. Nine bucks, ppd! Two mechanics both recommended the Haynes manuals (and one friend recommended against- sorry, Ben, I had to go with the mechanics) but I couldn’t find a Haynes book for the V-8 Dart, only the V-6. I imagine I will discover the secrets of the choke pull-off in the Chiltons book, if I don’t find out in the comments here.

Additionally, I found a choke thermostat for my car on eBay, as well. The auction ends in two days, and I will most assuredly buy it, UNLESS you guys think I should buy a manual choke kit instead and install that. Opinions?


  1. Even Long Island mechanics (heh…) overlook the ‘basic engine principle’ (check air, fuel, spark first) sometimes, especially in this age of ‘compucars’. I had a ’68 Dart GT when I was young (16) and the story brings back memories. I wish you all the best with her.

    I’m a manual choke guy myself. Just make sure the cable operates freely when you install it. And put a goddamn grommet in the hole through the firewall where you run the cable. You don’t need the cable wearing itself in half on the firewall.

  2. Choke pull off: works with engine heat and vacuum to let the butterfly open all the way when the engine is warmed up. Usually a vacuum diaphragm type setup on the side of the carb.

  3. And the reason for being a manual choke guy is because of all the shit to go wrong like the fucking heater pot in the intake or the choke pull off, or all the other bullshit that can go wrong. Now you see why I’m a fuel injection guy. 😉

  4. And just thinking back, a little customizing tip. If the Dart has the little vent pulls down at the kick panels (I’m going from memory here), you can use one of those positions for the cable and make one knob do both vent options. I’ll show ya how to do it if you decide that’s the way to go.

  5. And thinking some more, Edelbrock used to make a manifold and carb setup for the 318. It was called the Economaster series and it was a matched set. A small 4-bbl (390cfm) and a dual-plane intake that’s really good on gas (for a 40 year old V-8) and builds great low rpm power. It might be better (and cheaper in the long run) than dicking around with that old 2-bbl.

  6. Patrick, change your oil right away. All the extra gas might have washed the cylinder walls and diluted the oil.

    Actually, dumping raw gas in the crankcase oil was the military ‘cold-start’ procedure on F4U5A Corsairs. They had more money and spare engines than you do.

  7. Fixer knows lots more about this stuff than I do, but I can’t help myself.

    I recommend checking for vacuum or air leaks caused by ancient cracked vacuum hoses. Spray some WD-40 under the hood around the engine and see if the idle changes, up or down, and look at the last place you sprayed. Some guys use propane to do this. They’re the ones with no eyebrows.

    Also might be useful to fire the thing up in the dark with the hood open. If you have any ignition misfires or high tension leaks, you’ll be able to see them.

  8. How to insure a long thread:

    Have a pretty girl leave this comment first-
    “My only opinion is that all this car talk is sexy. Not very helpful, I know, but there it is.”

    It’s going to be “all Dart, all the time” around I Speak Dog for a while… LOL!

    Gordon, I will change the oil the day that I get paid. Need some money to buy a box of light sweet crude, air and oil filters. Might as well do plugs and wires while I’m there. The engine is firing just fine, so I may just leave the distributor alone.

    Would you guys run 10w-40 in this old beast?

    I am researching the Economaster. Wondering of the kickdown linkage is the same… or…?

  9. The 10w40 will lubricate it just fine. The only problem I see might be leakage, either through the petrified gaskets or past the rings. Then again, the rings might need to reseat a little from the stuck (for years?) choke and the lighter grade might help.

    This is fun!

  10. I don’t know if this will affect that answer, G-Man, but it is probably worth mentioning that (so far, first oil change is just around the corner) there is NO VALVE NOISE (even under load!)… I know it’s crazy.

    But wait, there’s more-
    there’s also no smoke!

    So, either the thing has an entire crank case full of Marvel Mystery Oil OR it’s not in THAT bad a shape. There is a little ticking in the top end, right side when it’s first started in the cold. Not even every morning, so I am trying not to obsess about it.

    I had a guy at the Mopar site tell me that it was likely that my theory about the car being toodled along by Ma Kettle was probably correct, and that it was not just the chamber under the choke thermostat that was full of carbon deposits, but probably the whole intake manifold. This made me a little dizzy.

    How am I gonna get that gunk outta there?

    He suggested that I just come get one of his 2 bbl 318 intakes and slap it on there, clean the one I have and wait until someone else needs one. Apparently all these guys follow Fixer’s lead and go 4 bbl, so they have stacks of old hardware for the 2 bbl just, y’know, lying around.

    Starting to feel like it’s likely that I would be a fool not to do the same.

  11. The clicking noise is probably a little pushrod/valve train noise while a lifter pumps up. Nothin’ to worry about as long as it goes away pretty quick. New oil might clean it out enough that it will stay pumped up like it should.

    Really, it sounds like you got a jewel in the rough, just needs a load of TLC.

  12. Erik

    New Dart owner/convert here…

    I replaced the factory 2BBL on my 72 Dart 318 with a manually choked Holley 4412 and 14″ air cleaner soon after I bought it. A Mr. Gasket adapter allowed me to retain the original 2BBL intake manifold. The car was leaking fuel from the throttle body shaft and not holding adjustments reliably before the swap.

    Way too many hours spent before I admitted I couldn’t fix what I had. New Holley carb from Jeg’s in 2 days. Subsequently put 2000 miles on it the next week driving from NY to GA and back. It ran beautifully! Blue Ridge Parkway and I-95.

    I was reading about the carbon build up earlier in the thread but I would guess I took care of driving 11-12 highway hours at a stretch for a week. Any opinions on that?

    I had installed a cheapo NAPA manual choke kit years back on an 84 Nissan 4cyl truck and turned it into the most reliable vehicle during the winters in central NY. The Dart’s 318 (5.2L) does take quite a bit longer to heat than the Nissan (1.6L). I just need to open the choke a little slower now. Taking the guesswork out from under the hood and putting the adustment in front of driver has eliminated another layer of confusion that was interrupting my driving fun. Reason # 156 why I prefer old cars.

    Now I get to figure out where my cowl / dashboard leaks are. The floor was rusting from the topside down! Cleaned, treated and painted the entire floorpan. Now I’m driving around with no carpet until I find the leak. Gives it that hot rod feel for the summer anyway. (as long as nobody looks under the hood)

  13. Erik

    Forgot to clarify the the Holley I put on the 318 is also a 2BBL. Fuel prices / old car. There’s still a big market for this carb because they’re required for certian circle track racing. Thank you race fans.

  14. nathan

    I have a 71 valiant, and I have never ever used the choke, even when i got below 0!, you dont really need it, get a manual choke, and just let it be, youll never have to use it, i promise

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *