Ready To Rise: 1961 Dodge Dart Phoenix


Thanks to one of our intrepid readers for sending us a tip about this interesting and rarely seen 1961 Dodge Dart Phoenix that is up for sale on eBay. It’s a no-reserve auction, but with a starting bid of $2,000, as of this writing, has not yet attracted any bidders.

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1961 was the second year for the Dart as Dodge’s small car offering, with the Phoenix model as the top-of-the-line. With body style number H23, the two door hardtop was called a coupe by Dodge. Altogether, there were 37,300 Phoenixes made that year, but Dodge statistics do not provide a breakdown by body style; but we do know that two door hardtops accounted for about 15% of Dart sales, so it’s likely that Dodge made about 5,000 of the particular model being sold here.

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Styling is always a matter of personal preference, but I think the look of these cars has aged well. Even though this example is looking pretty much the worse for wear, having been allowed to sit by its current owner for quite some time, it seems likely that someone will take the plunge and buy this car, so it can live again.

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The seller says he meant to restore the car, but never got around to it. He says there is some rust, which is confirmed in the photos provided, but does not say whether the floors, trunk or frame are rusted. That rusted out from bumper does make me nervous about what else might be found underneath this car, and being that it’s located in Miami, it’s possible the salt air and humidity has done its work on the underbody.

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The engine is said to have run up until a couple years ago, when the starter died, and now it will need not only the starter replaced, but also a new battery, and doubtless some further attention to get running again. Unfortunately, the gas tank will need to be replaced, as the seller says it leaks.

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Great dashboard and steering wheel!

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The interior is said to be all original, including seat covers over the original upholstery.

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It looks like most of the trim is present and in decent shape and the glass is also good. There’s that gas tank…

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The seller suggests this car can be restored or used as a donor, but I think that because it is a two door hardtop, this car should be a candidate for either restoration or some form of “fix-up-enough-to drive” or even made into a cool looking restomod. It’s an unusual enough body style that it will always attract attention. Either with its stock engine or something a bit more powerful, this might be a fun cruiser for someone with a bit of talent, time and ambition.

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What do you think of this example of early 1960s Chrysler Corporation style? Is this car worth saving and what do you think it’s worth?


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  1. Martin L Smigielski

    I think it’s worth saving. First time I’ve seen that body style dart. Nice car would be a neat project.

    Like 1
  2. Doug M. (West Coast) Member

    I had one of these in red and white about 15 years ago…was a fixer, but finally traded it off. I loved the “space race” sparkles and mid-century modern styling that the interior of mine displayed! It had a clear resin steering wheel with sparkly glitter in it, and gold and chrome trim on the door panels, etc. Was really “space” inspired from back when we were trying to get to the moon!

  3. Rick

    Ugly car. But not quite as ugly as a “61 Plymouth

    • Eric Dashman

      You took the words out of my….umm…..errrr….keyboard :-)

    • Mike H. Mike H.

      What’s wrong with the ’61 Plymouth? They were unique looking but still beautiful in their own way. The look has aged really well, I think, and besides the quad round headlamps it isn’t so much different from a variety of the contemporary cars available today.

      Like 2
      • Rick

        There was a Plymouth dealer a block from where I grew up. When these models came on the market I immediately thought designer had totally forgotten taillights until production was about to start at which time they just stuck them on the sides of the rear fenders.

      • mat

        the 61 plymouth is hideous but in a good way : )

      • Keith

        I’ve always liked the angry look of these….too bad Lexus ripped it off

      • harit

        The beauty lies in its ugliness. I always say that about my 1959 Dodge Custom Royale Coupe.

      • Sam

        “What’s wrong with the 61 Plymouth?”
        *shows photo so reader can see for themselves exactly what is wrong with the 1961 Plymouth. Much.
        I would drive one. I’d be proud of it. I’d value it. I’m glad people preserve them. But that is an ugly car. I can only see a handful of parts that are even okay looking. The rest is about as awkward and as clumsy and badly-proportioned, strange, pinched, bulgy as it can be. Ugly enough to be loved just because it’s so ugly, really. But that’s just my opinion. I won’t judge someone else who thinks it looks beautiful, because what is “beautiful”? It’s not a democratic thing; it’s each person’s personal preference. If a person thinks something is beautiful, then it IS beautiful, even if everyone else in the world disagrees.

  4. Rick

    Always thought the term “butt ugly” might have originated during this era of automotive design.

    • Sam

      Definitely ornate, unique, and seemingly eclectic, but ugly? I don’t think so…

      Like 2
  5. Ed P

    The 1960 Dart was better looking. Chrysler’s ’61 line had strange styling. The 1960 thru 61 Dodge Darts were the same size as Plymouths. Why Chrysler thought competing with itself was a good idea is beyond me.

    • Vince Habel

      Ed P That is why De Soto died. I thought the De Soto was the best looking Mopar.

      • Ed P

        Tex Colbert’s “divisionalazation” did more damage to Chrysler than most folks understand. The impetus for the Dodge Dart must have been the loss of Plymouth to Dodge dealers. Desoto’s were good looking, except the ’61’s were weird enough to kill the brand. Maybe that was the plan.

  6. Steve B

    Notice that push button transmissions and the “pucker” grill are now back in style. While these final Exner cars did get a bit too, umm, baroque, for most tastes, they symbolize the optimistic Kennedy/Mad Men era and are a touchstone for many Baby Boomers, who remember those unique cars as children before the turbulent years that followed.

  7. Pfk1106

    Always thought the 60-61 darts being called small was funny. These weren’t small cars. My dads 60 desoto had similar styling cues.

    • Ed P

      Yeah, Darts were the same size as the 60-61 Plymouth.

  8. RON

    i think it is totally cool as is the plymouth, redone riginal would be great. had i the money and not so far away i would tacke it. it does have non original wheelcovers from the last year or so desoto but very cool. the clors with original color interior would put todays bland crap to shame

    Like 1
  9. Blindmarc

    I’m glad. I’m an intrepid reader! 😎

  10. Rex Kahrs Member

    Love the styling.

  11. Doc

    My second car was a convertible phoenix 361 4bbl hauled ass! Ooops, is that considered profanity?

  12. C brand

    I have a dumb question…Why is drivers seat back higher than the passengers?? Seems a bit odd.

    • Ed P

      Just a styling gimmick. No real function.

    • Sam

      I imagine they probably marketed that as “extra support for the driver”. And it probably was to an extent. It’s not quite a real headrest, but it would give more support for the driver when he wanted to lean back, whereas the passenger’s seatbacks are quite short and your shoulders might be sticking above them. Neither one is really ideal if you get rear-ended, but when they were selling these they mostly expected to be selling them to men, who would drive to work alone, and then drive their wives and children around on the weekends. As far as that goes, it makes sense to give the driver a taller seatback.

  13. ben

    they were made that way I think all 1961 were cool love that year but the buick and olds conv verts were asome had a few wish I still had them now

  14. Doc

    The seat? I guess to be different?

  15. alabee

    Had a neighbor growing up who traded a 55 Nomad for a toothpaste green 61 Dart 2 door plain Jane sedan. Why? Even at 13 I knew better.

    • Sam

      Depends on the relative conditions of the cars. And perhaps he was bored with the Nomad and wanted to try something new. Maybe he was done fixing up the Nomad and wanted to tackle another project. Maybe he had a sentimental memory about the 1961 Dart and it was his dream car. If he was happy with the trade and the other guy was happy, it’s a good trade. Just because it’s not the trade YOU would want doesn’t make it a “bad trade”. Also remember that the high value of Tri-Five Chevys is a relatively modern thing, from the last 20-15 year, only peaking over the last 10. Back in the 1980s a 1955 Nomad was just a 30 year old car, not a grail. Especially the Nomad; those were just the non-desirable STATION WAGON form of a generally popular old car. They didn’t think of Nomads as rare, highly-valuable variants of a popular classic collectors car. Perhaps he kicked himself later, but I’d like to think he was happy enough. If no one wanted 1961 Darts at all, we might as well just send them all to the scrap yard. And I think that would be a huge shame, even if there are better looking cars out there.

  16. Texas Tea

    Sometimes things are so ugly they are beautiful. I like it.


    What a cool car. Restomod if not rusted beyond repair.

    • Kevin

      I’m restomoding my 61 Phoenix convertible. New k member w big discs, tubular control arms, coil overs. 9 inch moser rear, 4 link, built 727, 6.4 gen3 hemi, keeping push button , AC

  18. AMCFAN

    These Forward look era cars like this are rare for several reasons. Chrysler used cheap imported steel and cars started rusting on the showroom floor. Chrysler actually had a reputation for poor quality that started around 1957.
    In the 50’s and 60’s people were accustomed to trading every two years.These fell out of favor very quickly and ended up on back lots or worse. The junk yard. The fins that were so in style at this time were not. On the Dart and Plymouth for 61 it looks like they were sliced right off in mid design. Virgil Exner who was so loved was booted out of styling. It also hurt that George Romney was touting the Rambler and poking fun at Detroit by using cartoons of huge finned cars that looked just like the ones being built by the Chrysler Corp.. These today are very desirable if in any kind of shape. FYI you can see a Dart like this in the rolling by in Leave it to Beaver.

    • Sam

      “Imported steel”, huh? Imported from where? “Imported” is not a synonym for “cheap junk”, BTW. Many countries make very high quality steel, and one doesn’t need to look overseas to find sources for subpar, cheap steel. We make that domestically as well. Although I seriously doubt that it was “cheap steel” that was to blame, but poor paint/prime procedures, and/or cheap paint. I’m as favorable to nationalism as anyone, but it’s just jingoism to assume that all American-made cars (or products) are/were superior, and then when someone points out a cheaply made, inferior American product, to blame it on “imported” components. Americans just sometimes manufacture crap. It happens. China is perfectly capable of manufacturing quality goods, if anyone was willing to pay them for it. They export cheap junk to the US because that’s what US companies contract them to build, that’s what US importers ask for, and it’s what US consumers buy.

    • Ohio Rick

      To free itself from the hole it had dug, quality-wise, Chrysler came up with what I believe was the first 5-year, 50,000 mile warranty. That was absolutely unheard of at the time. And it worked!

  19. Roselandpete

    Certainly more style than the jelly beans they crank out today.

    Like 1
  20. Jim

    The term fugly comes to mind, but its very unique. Guaranteed you’d be the only one at the local cruise night with it. Considering how fast most of these rusted away to nothing this one looks pretty good and is complete, it wouldn’t be a bad driver while you worked on it. I like different and this fits the bill. The only reason I say it would be a good driver is cause its complete, not much chance of finding trim parts if any were missing. I hope someone gets it and enjoys it.

  21. E finch

    Much more interesting design than GM OR Ford!!

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