If you’ve never seen the 1963 Stanley Kramer classic, It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, I seriously pity you...
Not only is it one of the funniest movies of all time, it’s also bursting at the seams with the finest American automobiles from the swinging Sixties.
One of this riotous comedies’ most hilarious characters, Sylvester Marcos (played by the late great Dick Shawn), races across country to get to his nagging mother who he believes has been abducted by, of all people, his brother-in-law who is — along with a diverse and colourful group of strangers — in the midst of a madcap pursuit of $350,000 in stolen cash which, according to “Smiler” Grogan (Jimmy Durante), is buried in a park near the Mexican border under “a big W”. Cue unparalleled big screen pandemonium as the all-star cast (Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Mickey Rooney, Phil Silvers, Terry-Thomas, Jonathan Winters and more!) desperately try to get to the loot first.
They’ll have you crying with laughter while the Chevrolet Impalas, Plymouth Belvederes, Chevrolet C-10s, Ford Fairlanes, Oldsmobile 98s and countless others will serve as serious eye-candy.
My favourite in the movie is the red second gen ‘62 Dart convertible (thrashed by Sylvester!) but the model debuted two years earlier when the compact segment was growing in the US. This was Dodge’s entry (production lasted until 1976 — the name was brought back in 2013) but the second gen featured rather unique styling which generally wasn’t well received. While other manufacturers were moving away from the jet-age designs of the Fifties, Chrysler design chief Virgil Exner used every creative bone in his body to pen the ‘62 Dart. Featuring four headlights (two in the grille and two below what looked like eyebrows extending to the front door) it sure was an attention-getter. I love it — and it sure was noteworthy; it handled far better than any other car from the era thanks to a lightweight body, (the power to weight ratio was nearly perfect) and it was as close to a unibody as you could get.
What’s more, if you were an enthusiast looking for a powerful ride, this was it. It could be had with the 413 cubic inch (6.8-litre) Ramcharger Max Wedge V8 which readily tore up the drag strips thanks to its 420 horses. It featured free-flowing cast-iron headers, heavy duty dual valve springs in the heads, a forged steel crank, lightweight aluminium pistons, and two Carter AFB carburetors mounted diagonally on a cross-ram intake. The ‘62 model year saw the peak of Dart performance and as the cars got smaller year by year, power also started to wane.
Sadly, all of the principal cast exited the world stage years ago, but we can take some solace from the fact that a lot of the cars remain.
Today, a well-maintained hardtop ‘62 Dart can fetch up to Dh230,000 and Dh250,000 gets you Sylvester’s convertible.