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Dodge Dart/Plymouth Valiant

walterchanwalterchan Posts: 61
edited March 2014 in Dodge
Hi, I heard a lot of good things about Dodge Dart and the sister, Plymouth Valiant. The Slant 6 engines are great and made me feel of buying one used. Right now I'm confused on which classic American make car I should get. I'm looking for a classic American car right now that is the most reliable, never let me down, can go on to Guiness Worlds of Records as a world's longest lasting car, and can last up to 1,000,000 miles. I don't really mind the brake change and paint rust. Is the Dodge Dart or Plymouth Valiant the best car reliabilty in history? If not, is Ford Falcon, Oldsmoblile Cutlass Supreme, Ford Fiesta, Ford Torino, Chevrolet Chevelle, Plymouth Duster, Plymouth Barracuda, Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, Chevrolet Bel-Air, Chrysler Imperial, or others better than the Dodge Dart or Plymouth Valiant? Anybody reply to this message is greatly appreciated.


  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,595
    If you mean by modern standards, no old car is reliable as a new one.

    What you can gain by driving these old cars is a certain self-reliance, since you can fix them yourselves most of the time, which you cannot do with modern cars.

    So the only advantage of old cars is their fix-ability, not their supposed reliability, which doesn't hold up to a real test.

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  • ghuletghulet Posts: 2,628
    ...even the nicest of old cars will likely be cramped inside while being too large outside, will lack safety features, and will use lots of gas compared to almost any newer car.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,040
    ...the reliability of a new car with one that's 30 years old. The new one is usually going to win by default, simply because it hasn't had 30 years to age, wear out, get abused, etc.

    Still, Darts and Valiants are probably among the best. I've had two of them, a '69 GT with a 225 slant six, and now a '68 270, with a V-8. I hate to admit it though, but I don't know if it's a 273 or 318! According to the VIN #, if I'm reading it correctly, it originally came with a 273. But it had a rebuild (or a rebuilt engine put in) around the 242,000 mile mark. The guy who sold it to me said it had a 318, but I honestly don't know.

    Both of my Darts were 2-door hardtops, and the closest modern car you could really compare them to, in terms of size, would be a Grand Prix coupe or a Monte Carlo. In general, old cars aren't that space efficient, but Darts were among the best of their time. Believe it or not, the sedans actually had more legroom in them than the Impala of the time, and the Impala was a full-sized car!

    Compared to something like a modern Monte or GP coupe, they're a little narrower, both inside and out, but have more legroom, better headroom, and more trunk space. At least going by my perceptions from sitting in them.

    I only had my '69 GT for about 29,000 miles, until it was totaled when I got run off the road and hit a traffic light. The only real problems I had were brakes and a water pump. It only had about 48,000 miles on it when I bought it, and around 77K when it met its untimely death.

    I bought the '68 with 253,000 miles on it, and it currently has around 338,000 miles. The only thing I've ever had to do with the engine was change the valve covers, and regular tuneup stuff. The tranny has only required regular fluid changes, although I somehow crimped one of the cooling lines to the radiator shut once, and it built up pressure and blew a seal. This car has required a lot of other work though, such as front suspension, exhaust, brakes, radiator, power steering, a/c, starter, alternator, etc. It's also been run into a couple times, although whatever hit me always fared much worse than the Dart!

    Still, it's probably been more reliable than what most cars would be when they get to the 253,000 mile mark!

    If you do get a Dart or Valiant, the first thing I'd advise is to change the tires. Some of the basic models actually came with 13" rims! I had 205/70/R14's on the '69, and the '68 has 205/70/R14 up front and 225/70/R14 in back. Going from whatever was the norm in the late '60's to a 70-series tire makes a world of difference in handling.

    As for fuel economy, my '69 got around 15-18 mpg city, and maybe 22-23 on the highway. Running the a/c had no noticeable effect on gas mileage.

    The '68 gets maybe 12-13 city, and 16-17 highway, and almost 18 if you're r-e-a-l-l-y gentle on the pedal.

    As for brakes, I went through front shoes around every 10-15K miles, and rears around every 15-20. The V-8 didn't seem to wear 'em out any quicker, but then the V-8 also had larger 10" drums, whereas the slant six only had 9" drums.

    I think ball joints were one of the known weak spots on Darts and Valiants. Also, you have to clean out the cowl drains regularly, or else water will accumulate up in there and get into the passenger cabin.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,595
    Slant sixes are also prone to sludging up for some reason, so frequent oil changes would be a good idea with that engine.

    If you don't mind the old-fashioned slow steering and you like to fix cars yourself, an old Valiant might be fun. But don't expect to get any more use out of it than the cheapest Honda. No old car can outlast a new one in my opinion, given the same amount of care of course.

    Really the only gain I see in driving an old car is that you can readily repair it and pretty cheaply, too. I am often tempted to buy something like an old Volvo 544 for this very reason, that I can keep it running forever because I can keep fixing it myself--not because it's better than a new Volvo. I just wouldn't be the captive of the Volvo dealership.

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  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,040
    ...which might lead to sludging if you don't change the oil. I know a few people who never changed the oil at all in them...simply added whenever it got low!

    I changed mine pretty religiously every 2000-2500 miles. I had that ingrained into my head from my grnadfather. He worked on a farm about 2 miles from home for most of his life, and the roads around weren't even paved until the '60's or '70's, so with all that dirt and dust, it was probably a good idea back then.

    If the standard steering is too slow, I think there's a quick-ratio steering box available. At least it was in the B-bodies, but I'm sure it would've been an option in stuff like the '67-69 Barracuda and the Dart GTS.
  • ndancendance Posts: 323
    I can see a few additional advantages to an older car (I'm thinking late '60s/ early '70s here).

    . In California, you are free of the smog guys. Most of the time, people sail through this (if throwing away an hour or two can be considered 'sailing')...but if you get caught up in their nets, you will be *very* sorry. The hassle factor can be pretty high.

    . Cheapness of repairs. It just blows me away sometimes how much modern cars can cost to fix. Once again, I've got to draw the health care analogy...infrequent but expensive (warranties) will become more and more important.

    While I really can't draw conclusions from single cases...a friend of mine with a late model pickup has spent over 10k in repairs in the last couple of years. Things like transmissions (which seem to me to be the weak point in new cars) can easily cost 3k to fix...try spending that on a C6 or T-400. While I sort of expect ongoing smallish fixes in old cars (and lower times between overhauls, assuming you own the car that long), I would probably take a hostage the first time a real bill came due on a newish Volvo or Mitsubishi or something.

    To be fair, in over 25 years of owning American high performance cars, I've only had a handful (a small one at that) of things that needed to be fixed. The main ongoing hassles, points/plugs and setting lash, can easily be fixed with a Pertronix unit and a hydraulic cam.

    I expect that in the final analysis, the single most important thing is the amount of miles you put on every year. I only drive 5k or so, but if it were 25k, a new Honda would look pretty good.
  • ndancendance Posts: 323
    It seems to me it would be really interesting for one of the national car clubs (I assume there is a Dodge Dart club...if nothing else, where else can you buy the 'F' so you can turn the car into a Dog F... oh, never mind) to take a reasonably together car and crash it with modern telemetry.

    Honestly, I'd love to know how bad a 1970 Chevelle (for instance) really is when hitting a barrier. Has 30 years of some sort of work hardening made the sheet metal brittle? Would improved seat belts make a huge difference? Should you replace old windshields? Damned if I know.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,040
    ...but there is a Slant Six club, and numerous Mopar clubs. There is a web site dedicated to the Dodge Dart:

    About a year or so ago, I went to one of the local junkyards, a place that specializes in Mopars. They had a '67 Dart 4-door in there that looked like it had gone through the offset impact crash test. I don't know what speed it had gotten hit at, but it looked pretty high. It actually did crumple up like how a well-designed car should. The front took most of the impact and folded up, without any intrusion into the passenger cabin. A newer car would still be safer, as there is more soft stuff to break, air bags, less hard material in the passenger cabin, etc. Still, I'd say this Dart was hardly a death trap!

    Darts and Valiants were unitized, which gave them a bit of an advantage. Often with a body-on-frame car, the frame will buckle under the passenger compartment instead of up front, so what happens is the whole front-end clip of the car gets pushed back into the passenger cabin.

    As for seat belts, I don't know if newer ones would make much difference in an old car or not. Both of my Darts had the separate shoulder belt that had no tension in it. If worn properly, there was no way in hell you were going to hit the dash or the steering wheel in an impact, unless the crash was so bad that it drove them back into you. In contrast, those "window shade" type seatbelts that started making their way into cars in the '70's wouldn't always tighten up when they were supposed to. As a result, it was easier to hit the dash when you stopped suddenly.

    Oh yeah, on the '67 Darts, the name "DART" was spelled out on the rear quarter panel, each letter being a separate piece. I've heard that the "F" to a Ford Fairlane will fit there and blend in very well!

  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,595
    I think the old car would "look" pretty good after a crash compared to a modern automobile but that can be deceptive, as new cars are designed to fold up, to be sacrificial, or "written off".

    But definitely the occupants would suffer more in an old car. I would choose a new Honda to get smashed in rather than an old Chevelle, given I'd be hit by the same size car.

    But you know, you never know--accidents have very unpredictable dynamics.

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  • ndancendance Posts: 323
    if nothing else, I can see upgrading (or at least replacing) for a couple of reasons...

    - To get a reasonable shoulder belt.

    - To get rid of the now semi-useless lap belt. My understanding is that belts loose their ability to stretch properly through the years...I wouldn't be suprised if they were UV sensitive. In any case, I'll bet that modern belt materials are superior.
  • ndancendance Posts: 323
    I'd be the last to assume that a new Mini is somehow less safe than a GM A-body just because it's small (though it *is* a wonder to me how many SUV people make this same assumption of size being equal to safe) would be fascinating to have real experimental data rather than the typical internet 'facts' about this whole matter.

    If nothing else, it would be interesting to see how aging effect collision behavior (if at all).
  • speedshiftspeedshift Posts: 1,598
    I found out how strong seat belts are when I saw a guy using them (instead of a chain) to hoist an engine. Or maybe that was more a comment on him.
  • I'm currently driving a 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme 4 door 3.8L V6 engine. I know the engine is reliable. Can anyone tell me the difference between a 3.8L V6 engine in my Oldsmoblie versus the 225 Slant six in Darts and Valiants?
  • ndancendance Posts: 323
    I think what matter isn't so much strength, but how they stretch when stressed. I suppose it's like climbing rope...throw it away after a fall. You obviously don't want belts that are brittle (and break) *or* don't give during a zillion-G accident.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,595
    I don't see how a Chevelle or Dart could be safer than a modern car with air bags and shoulder belts and padded dash and collapsible steering wheel, etc. The occupant of the old car is just under more dynamic stress and well as pointy little things to perforate him.

    You want the car to "give". You don't want rigidity. Think of you in a tank hitting a wall. Tank no give, tree no give, YOU all give. (splat!)

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  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,040
    ...with the 3.8 V-6. I know when the fuel-injected 3.8 came out around 1984, it was a much more reliable engine than the carbureted version, but unfortunately that engine only found its way into FWD cars.

    My '82 was a piece of junk. However, I bought it when it was 11 years old and had 61,000 miles on it, which is more than enough time for the original owner to abuse it. I lost all oil pressure around the 72,000 mile mark. I was able to kind of salvage it by replacing the oil pump gears, which are actually pretty easy to do on that engine, as they're up front and easy to get to. Basically, something in the engine was self-destructing and spreading metal bits throughout the oil passages. These shavings tore up the pump gears, so they weren't pumping.

    I ended up selling the car about 1-2,000 miles later, so I don't know what ultimately happened to it. I've heard plenty of horror stories about those 3.8's, but I don't want to scare you. If yours is still running well after this many years, it may very well run on forever. Just stay up-to-date on oil changes, tune ups, etc. I think the 3.8 also has a timing chain gear that's prone to early failure, but I don't know what the replacement interval is on them.

    IIRC, a slant six weighs about 100 lb more than a Buick 3.8, so it's a pretty chunky motor. I want to say the slant six weighs around 475 lb, and the 3.8, around 375. Horsepower for the 3.8 2-bbl was always around 105-110, whereas the slant six varied from year to year. Up through 1971, the 225 was rated at 145 gross hp, and 110 net. In Canada there was a 2-bbl option that boosted that to 160 gross/120 net.

    In 1972, there are two ratings for the 225: 100 and 110. I think 100 was for California cars and 110 was for the other 49 states. Around 1974-75 they hit a low of 85-90 hp. In '77, a 2-bbl was made available in the U.S., but the Dart/Valiant were gone by then. It put out 110 hp. I think the 1-bbl was back up to around 100 by then, too.

    Comparing my '82 Cutlass to my '69 Dart GT, I'd say the Dart was a bit quicker from 0-60, but really started to shine above that. At higher speeds, I was surprised to find out that the V-8 Dart, which I got after the slant six got totaled, wasn't that much more responsive. That V-8 would blow the slant-six's doors off from 0-60, but if you started them both off at 60 and punched it, I don't think the V-8 would've pulled away that much quicker.

    The Cutlass would get to higher speeds, eventually. It never seemed to be straining, just took its time getting there. I don't know what gearing the Cutlass had, either. Both Darts had 2.76:1 rear ends. The Cutlass might've been a 2.41, or it might've been something even worse. For instance, I think there was a 2.14:1 rear available back then!

    Ironically, about a month after I got my Cutlass, I saw a nice '73 Dart Swinger at a used car lot. I stopped to look at it. The salesman actually asked me if he could do an even trade, would I take the Dart? Looking back, I wish I had. At the time though, I still had my '68 Dart (still have it to this day), and figured I didn't need another Dart. If I'd made that trade though, I'd probably still have the Dart, instead of having a Cutlass that blew up a year later!
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,040
    ...then a newer car will be safer, up to a point. For instance, you slam an '03 Civic into a bridge abutment at 100 mph and then do the same thing with a Dart, you're going to most likely end up with about the same result.

    Still, there are other things to consider. Take my accident, for instance, where my '69 Dart got totaled. I got run off the road and hit a traffic light pole sideways, probably at around 45 mph. Air bags, crumple zones, etc, are useless in that type of accident. What you need is size and bulk. I ended up ripping that pole off its base and launching it into the intersection. My passenger-side door was caved in about a foot. Overall passenger cabin intrusion was maybe 4". The doors on that car were about 8" thick, and that passenger door was smashed flat. Now a car with thinner doors would have had more passenger cabin intrusion. A lighter car would have been penetrated more. Worse, a car that would not have been able to uproot that pole would have instantly turned itself into one big giant "U".

    Since most modern cars are designed to crumple up, it's actually safer to drive an older car now than it was back in the day. Look at it this way...back in the day, what was there to hit? A whole world full of cars just like yours. Big, lumbering dreadnaughts that wouldn't crumple up. Most of those cars are gone today though. When a car that's designed to crumple hits a car that's NOT designed to crumple, well, the weaker car just crumples more. And that reduces the shock to sturdier car. Basically, the new car becomes the old car's crumple zone, to an extent.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,595
    Hmmm...risky logic, that, because two "soft" cars hitting each other will allow drivers to decelerate more slowly than "hard" car hitting "soft" car. So you hitting new Honda is worse than Honda hitting Honda, except that you get to wipe out a new Honda completely, which is fine with me I'm tired of looking at them.

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  • ndancendance Posts: 323
    Oooooh, I like that logic of borrowing someone else's crash zone. It's kind of like the SUV guys buying safety at your expense.

    While I'm reasonably sure that practically any new car will crumple in a safer way than an old one, it's kind of a useless argument. Without experimental data, it's all opinions masquerading as facts.

    The whole retrofitting deal is a way more interesting concept to me...not just handling stuff, better seat belts, etc, but less obvious things. Good quality aftermarket seats that are well mounted for one (I remember seeing a nice comparison between a Recaro and factory seat blew me away how poorly made the EOM one was), decent gas tanks (substituting a fuel cell for that thing hanging under the bumper in a Camaro or behind the driver seat in a Chevy truck), hell...throw a cage in the thing.

    One kind of safetyish thing I was musing about is the widespread use of aluminum wheels on later cars. You *do* get those purty shapes (at probably no weight savings at all), but I expect that they are a batch more brittle than a steel wheel...besides being fodder for tire machines.

    One nasty side effect, of course, of cleverly made 'soft' cars, is the propagation of body damage in a collision. Pretty small taps can ruin quite a few things.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,595
    New cars being safer than old cars isn't opinion. It's about as rock solid a fact as one will find in this world, because there are tons of data supporting it, to say nothing of basic sound deductions one can make from simple observation. Just look at the dashboard of a '62 Buick and picture your face running into it at about 60 mph. The car stops when it hits something, especially a '62 Buick, but you don't until YOU hit something.

    I've never met you but I don't think you'd look very good with "Electra 225" engraved on your forehead.

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  • ndancendance Posts: 323
    That's absolutely not what I'm getting at. It's easy for this sort of thing to turn into a strawman argument...I'm not saying (and have said several times) that old is as safe as new.

    What I'd like to know is how bad an old car is rather than just guessing. Pick a model, any model. Obviously a 1950 Beetle is going to be worse than a '73 Monte Carlo. It wouldn't suprise me if there isn't more difference there than between the Chevy and something newer.
  • ghuletghulet Posts: 2,628
    ...but after I sold my '71 Buick Electra (as massive a tank as was ever built) to my cousin, he promptly smashed it into a tree @ ~50 mph. The front end was pretty banged up (hood, fender damage) but the car was still drivable, and I don't think it had any frame damage. I guess we couldn't really consider this an 'average' old car because of its size and fairly high price when new. What struck me as unusual (though I guess it wasn't, exactly), even seventeen years ago when I owned it, was that it was 'all metal'. There really was virtually no plastic on the outside of that car, not the grille, the trim, the emblems, nothing.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,595
    ndance---ah, okay, gotcha! Yeah, that would be interesting. Do you mean installing a test dummy in both the new and old car or just to see how the cars themselves would look after a smash up, and disregard the aspect of injuries to passengers?

    I'd guess that with really old cars one major difference would be that it was far more common for people to be thrown out of their cars in a wreck, which I am told increases your chances of dying by a factor of about 7.

    Then with 60s cars, that only had lap belts, I'd expect more injuries than a new car but with 70s and 80s cars maybe not such a big difference except in the really violent high speed collisions, where air bags might really be helpful.

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  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,040
    ...was because seatbelt use didn't even become common until it was made law, and that wasn't until the '80's!

    I'm sure if people wore their belts, even lap belts, back then, death rates would have looked much more favorable.

    As for judging how a car looks after an accident, when I do that I look to see how well the passenger's space was maintained. Sure, that's not going to mean squat if they spattered themselves on the dashboard, but it is at least part of an indicator. Still, you can at least get a bit of a picture just from how the car crunched up.

    For example, when I bought my Gran Fury, the guy had a couple of wrecked police cars around in back. I had actually gone to this place looking for a Caprice, but when I saw how poorly they did in comparison in the crashes, it was downright disturbing. Truthfully though, the fact that the cheapest Caprice he had had fewer options, a cheaper interior, and about 40,000 miles more than the most expensive M-body, not to mention a $500 higher price tag, that pretty much cinched it ;-)

    Anyway, these cars were all involved in high speed crashes. The body-on-frame Caprices had some pretty severe passenger cabin intrusion. Their frames would buckle under the passenger cabin instead of further up front, resulting in basically the whole front-end-clip of the car pushing its way into the passenger cabin. The Diplomats and Gran Furys, on the other hand, seemed to crumple up in a much more controlled. The front-ends accordioned just like a more modern car, leaving the passenger cabin unscathed.

    Sure, maybe the cop driving still could've been killed...anything can happen. Still, I'd say the chances were much greater in the Caprices, as they transmitted much more of the shock to the passenger cabin, and with the steering and dash pushed back, chances of the cop getting impaled on something were much greater.

    As for '70's and 80's cars, I think one advantage some of them might have, especially the larger ones, is there's a larger buffer zone inside the car. Well, if you're tall and sit with the seat all the way back, at least. For instance, the dash of my Intrepid is only about 3-4 inches from my knee. The dead pedal is mounted on the firewall, and if my foot were on it in a crash and it buckled, that would probably be the end of my left leg. In contrast, the dash on my '79 New Yorker is more like 9-10" from my knee, and the only way I can even reach the firewall is if I fully extend my leg and point my foot out. In a bad accident, maybe I'd feel more of a shock since the car might not crumple up like a modern one. Still, I'd have less of a chance of getting impaled on something, since everything's further away.

    I've also noticed that a lot of cars, especially starting around 1968, seem to have more crash padding inside them than modern cars! For instance, my '68 Dart has not only a padded dash, but also a thick pad running along the lower edge of the dash (a handy junk shelf), and a thick pad shrouding the air conditioner ducts. GM's '68-72 intermediates seem to be overly padded, as well. Come to think of it, so was my '69 Bonneville. Even the fake wood in that car was soft to the touch! Was their some kind of padding revolution around that time?

    One interesting tidbit...for some reason, only the '68 Dart had that lower dashboard padded shelf. The '67 and '69 didn't. I wonder if there was some problem with it that they quit putting them on? I know one thing I'd have a bad habit of doing is putting cassette tapes on it. They'd start sliding around in spirited driving!
  • blh7068blh7068 Posts: 375
    "...was because seatbelt use didn't even become common until it was made law, and that wasn't until the '80's!"

    Shifty, help me out on this if this is wrong...but didnt seats belts start showing up on cars as standard equipment sometime in the mid/late 60's. So no available seatbelt might have contributed a little too!! :)
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 19,603
    When front seatbelts became standard. I could be wrong.

    A few years ago I was a passenger in a restored '64 Malibu. It didn't have seatbelts. I had the most uneasy feeling and I couldn't wait to get out of that car!
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,040
    I think shoulder belts became standard in 1968, and head rests January 1, 1969.

    Still, seatbelts only work if you use them. And I'm sure a good percentage of the population didn't use them until required by law. And even then, it took awhile!

    I remember when the seatbelt laws went into effect in the '80's, that my grandmother decided to start riding in the back seat! I don't know how the laws are now, but when they first came out, only front seat occupants were required to be buckled.
  • blh7068blh7068 Posts: 375
    'I don't know how the laws are now, but when they first came out, only front seat occupants
    were required to be buckled. "

    I dont think that's changed... I think the laws concerning how one can be "busted" for not wearing a seat belt have, though.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,595
    The rate of non-use for belts varies from state to state, but in some parts of the US there is a very high rate of dis-use. I don't remember the rate but I remember being quite surprised, either 35% OR 55% non-use.

    The problem with older cars is that in high speed collisions the engine ends up in your lap, regardless of how far away you were...and the steering post is like a spear aimed at your heart.

    If you had an older car that was designed to deflect the engine and the steering post, and you had good shoulder belts, you'd probably only die at maybe a 5-10% higher rate. Which seems about right, since the death rate has gone down about that much since the 1980s.

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  • If Dodge Dart or Plymouth Valiant is a dependable car, why do thiefs prefer to steal a 1980 to 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme instead of a Dodge Dart/Plymouth Valiant? Is it because the Olds' engine is better than Dart or Valiant.
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