Matt Magnino, courtesy of Mecum Auctions
  • M-code Dart GTS, one of 640 produced in 1969
  • Frame-off restoration completed in 2010
  • M-code 440-ci 375-hp engine
  • 727 automatic transmission
  • 8.75-inch rear end, 3.54 gears
  • B5 Blue with black interior
  • White tail stripes
  • Copy of a Texas title from 1982

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1969 Dodge Dart GTS 440
Years Produced:1969
Number Produced:640
Original List Price:$3,871
SCM Valuation:$69,300
Tune Up Cost:$350
Distributor Caps:$12.97
Chassis Number Location:Plate on driver’s side instrument panel behind windshield
Engine Number Location:Pad located on the right side of the block to the rear of the engine mount
Club Info:The GTS Registry
Alternatives:1969 Plymouth Barracuda S 440, 1969 Chevrolet Chevelle COPO 427, 1969 Ford Mustang 428 SCJ
Investment Grade:C

This car, Lot S55, sold for $81,400, including buyer’s premium, at Mecum’s auction in Houston, TX, on April 8, 2017. It was offered with no reserve.

A big 383 in a small Dart? Chrysler Engineering said it couldn’t be done. Of course, Norm Kraus and the Mr. Norm’s Grand Spaulding Dodge dealership in Chicago — a beacon of Mopar performance in the 1960s — didn’t agree.

“Dodge was supposed to give us a high-performance Dart (Dart GTS) to be competitive against the Malibu or the Camaro,” said Norm Kraus in a 2007 interview with, “and they said they had a high-performance engine for us. When we got the car in, the car came with a 273. Right away I called up Dodge and said, ‘I thought we were getting a 383.’ ‘Our engineers said it couldn’t be done.’ That was the challenge.”

That was in 1967. Norm continued, “I wanted the same thing that Ford and General Motors had. Put a 330-horsepower engine in a car that’s under 3,200 pounds, you got a little performance, if I could get it to the ground. And we knew how to get it to the ground.

“I called Denny (Hirschbeck) back in Parts, and I said, ‘Let’s get a Dart in, and let’s get a 383 engine, let’s put it in a Dart, let’s see what it takes to get it there.’ The next morning, he comes in and says ‘it’s done.’”

Now what to call the Dart? Back to the Parts Department: “The only ‘S’ was this red ‘S’,” recalled Norm. “I said, ‘Fine, it’ll stand out. Now it’ll be the GSS, which stands for Grand Spaulding Special.’”

From big to bigger

Dodge’s General Manager, Bob McCurry, saw the supposedly impossible car and told his engineers, “Look at what the kids from Chicago built.”

From there, the 383-powered Dart GTS became a factory option for 1968, based on Mr. Norm’s ’67 GSS conversions. Some concessions had to be made, since power steering and air conditioning would not fit in the cramped engine compartment, and a 4-speed jolted the drivetrain on launch and could have shredded the differential. But with the power-to-weight ratio of a motorcycle, who cared about being limited to an automatic and having no a/c or power steering?

By 1968, that 383 just didn’t seem quite as hot as some of the new cars from GM and Ford. So Norm Kraus got Hurst Performance to build 50 of the Dart GSS cars, this time powered by Chrysler’s brutal 375-hp 440 Magnum V8. Externally, the engine was the same size as the 383, so why not?

Hurst already had experience with Chrysler’s A-body compacts, building the 1968 Hemi Dart and Hemi ’Cudas for Super Stock drag racing — at least with the 440, Hurst didn’t need to sledgehammer the inner fenders to get the engine to fit.

Grand Spaulding Dodge was the exclusive dealer and sold them for $3,788 — hundreds less than many performance cars of the era. Mr. Norm’s ad called it “The mighty midget that’s got what it takes to take what they’ve got!”

The GTS 440

A year later, Chrysler took over the 440 A-body project, now calling them Dart GTS 440s. Dodge built 640 M-code 440 Darts in batches, rolling through production every few weeks from Sunday, December 1, 1968, to Sunday, May 18, 1969. These cars were no longer exclusive to Grand Spaulding Dodge, but many of them were sold by Mr. Norm.

So how fast was this little exercise in excess? Drag Racing Magazine, in its June 1969 issue, found out. After changing their test car’s original E-70×14 tires to something wider, they ran a 12.7-second 112-mph quarter mile. That’s a shocking figure for even the most exotic of 1960s performance cars — but don’t ask about handling or braking capabilities, because this thing was made for one purpose — point straight and hang on.

While it is possible to build a “tribute” (aka fake) GTS 440 the same way Mr. Norm’s crew did, the M-code in the fifth digit of the VIN identifies the real thing. That’s what we’re looking at here.

Big money for a small rocket

Enthusiast Frank Remlinger runs the GTS Registry for both the Dodge GTS and Mr. Norm’s GSS Darts, and is a great resource for owners of these cars.

According to the GTS Registry, code F8 Dark Green and B5 Bright Blue Metallic were the most popular colors in 1969, and our featured Dart is one of those desirable “B5 Blue” cars with a black vinyl interior and standard white “bumblebee” stripe.

That, and the Dart’s overall excellent condition, may explain why it recorded the highest sale price we’ve seen for a GTS 440: $81,400.

This sale was not this Dart’s first rodeo, though, as the same car was sold by Leake in 2013 for $69,300 (ACC# 231545), which then set the benchmark for a 440 GTS price. That suggests that Mecum’s sale was not an anomaly, but the minimal appreciation in price over four years also tells me the GTS 440 is still a rather unknown performance machine outside hardcore Mopar circles.

Manufacturers rarely turned to outside contractors to build a special model unless it was a very exotic, very low-volume model. You could spend up to $550,000 for a Boss 429 Mustang built by Kar Kraft, or over $200,000 for a Plymouth Superbird built by Creative Industries, both of which were manufactured in higher numbers. Yet these mighty midgets pack the unique combination of Mr. Norm’s innovation, Hurst Performance influence and mighty Mopar 440 power.

All that considered, suddenly this top-market Dart GTS 440 sounds a little more like a well-bought bargain. Even at a big-money price, I’d call this one both well bought and sold.

 (Introductory description courtesy of Mecum Auctions.)

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