Richard Kinnison’s LS-Powered 1975 Dodge Dart

Richard Kinnison's LS-Powered 1975 Dodge Dart

When someone decides to build a project car, they’re doing it because they want to fulfill their own dream or vision…what others think usually isn’t a factor in the equation. That mindset will lead some to go against the grain and create a car that drives the traditionalist in the automotive world insane. Richard Kinnison wasn’t worried about what anybody else thought when he started his journey to LS swap his 1975 Dodge Dart Swinger known as “Abomination”.

Richard has been tinkering with cars his entire life — his father was a mechanic in the Army, so he grew up in the garage with his brothers working on a variety of vehicles that made plenty of horsepower. His exposure to racing came from family trips to Super Chevy Shows at different tracks, the smell of burnt rubber and race gas pushing Richard’s obsession with cars into overdrive.

When Richard and his brothers were old enough to drive it was during the height of popularity for the Fast and the Furious movies. Richard’s first car was a 1992 Eagle Talon TSI and that car didn’t stay stock for very long.

“For me, that sound of the turbo and the grip of the AWD from my car made me feel alive like nothing else ever did. The fact I could take my factory car and run mid to low 14’s, which was quick for the time, with just a boost controller and an intake is where the snowball began. After that, the car quickly evolved into DSM with a big Precision turbo that made well over 500 horsepower to the tires while still using a stock block,” Richard says.

The holy grail of cars when Richard was younger was a Mitsubishi Evo 8: the ultimate all-wheel-drive import performance car. After his third deployment overseas with the Navy, Richard finally had the funds to purchase one. The car made over 500 horsepower when he was done with the build and was a blast to drive since it had room for his two children. Eventually, the import car scene changed and Richard wasn’t interested in being a part of it. The Evo was sold, and Richard was ready to look for something to build with his two children.

Richard decided he wanted to jump into the world of classic cars since many in that community shared his views on performance builds. Many of the cars he wanted to build that were in good shape were out of his price range, plus, he wanted to build something different that wouldn’t get lost at a car show in the sea of Mustangs, Camaros, and Novas.

“I saw an early 1970s Dart and fell in love with the body lines, but it was the Swinger that really got my attention. The late ’60s and early ’70s Darts were still very popular at the time and I noticed you could pick up a ’73-76 for thousands less than a ’69-72, so I started looking for those. I ended up finding this 1975 Dart in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin. It was a slant-6 car originally, which didn’t matter to me because it was going to be a cruiser first; plus, it would be a great way to get into a Dart as cheaply as possible compared to the 340 and 360 V8 versions at the time. So, I picked it up for the kids and I to have a nice project,” Richard explains.

When Richard purchased the car, he was given a mountain of documentation that showed it had been well cared for, so the plan was to keep the car as original as possible and just make it drive better. Richard, his girlfriend, and his kids all took part in adding a Hotchkis TVS kit to the Dart; they also cleaned up many other parts on the car. Soon, the Dart was back on the road attending car shows and the family enjoyed making memories in the classic Mopar.

Military orders led Richard to move to Washington D.C. and that meant the Dart had to traverse some hilly terrain. The Slant-6 under the hood really wasn’t up to the task, so Richard starting shopping for traditional Mopar V8 swap options; this led to an extreme case of sticker shock. Richard thought that going to fuel injection and a GEN III Hemi would be a plausible option, but again the cost was just too much for him.

“I was having a random conversation with my twin brother Stanley one day and he out of the blue said, ‘why don’t you LS swap it? Parts are cheap, and I can help you with any kind of fab work you need.’ I heard that and thought, ”why in the hell would I do that? At the time, in September 2016, I had never heard of anyone else ever doing it, so this made the good idea fairy come out of her hiding place and I started doing some research to see if it could even be done,” Richard says.

After Richard posted on an A-body Mopar page about his plans to do the LS swap the page’s purists lost their collective minds. One person who didn’t want to burn Richard at the stake was Dave Akre — he was trying to do a similar swap. The two enthusiasts began sharing ideas about how to make the swap work. Eventually, Richard got the LS to fit, built his turbo kit, finished the driveline, and got the car running.

People loved the car because of how clean the swap was, but his trips to the track weren’t successful because the Dart’s chassis couldn’t harness the horsepower.

“With the traction issues and wanting even more power, I decided to do one last revamp on the Dart, which is what you see before you now. I wanted the car to be safe, so I decided to add some significant parts in the chassis like a roll cage, plus a new built motor, and I wanted to add a set of 28×10.5-inch slicks,” Richard states.

The Dart was taken to Theodore Redmond at Redmond Fabrication to get a full chassis upgrade. Richard turned Redmond loose on the Dart and had him create a custom 10-point roll cage for the car. For the rear of the Dart, a Chassis Engineering Stage II ladder bar kit was used along with a set of Strange Engineering shocks, and a Quarter-Max anti-roll bar, plus one of Quarter-Max’s wishbone kits to keep the rear end centered. Up front, a new K-member for the LS was created by Tory Shellehamer at STR Fabrication; the K-member is a custom unit made of chrome-moly that allowed Richard to remove the torsion bars and add coilover shocks.

Richard’s latest engine is a 370 cubic-inch LS that was machined and partially assembled by Magnum Machine in Chesapeake, Virginia. Inside the engine is a Summit Racing Pro LS crankshaft, connecting rods, pistons, and turbo camshaft. For cylinder heads, Richard used a set of junkyard 317 GM castings that are topped off with a Holley Hi-Ram intake. The entire valvetrain consists of parts from Brian Tooley Racing with pushrods from Texas Speed. A pair of VS Racing billet 6973 T4 turbos provide the boost, while an Aeromotive Pro Series fuel pump keeps the fuel moving. A Holley Terminator X Max controls the engine.

Now that Richard has the Dart finished up, he plans on hitting the track more in 2021. Any event where there’s a street car class and the Dart fits in will be on his schedule, including any Mopar events where there’s no engine restriction. The biggest events on Richard’s list include several Street Car Takeover dates, LS Fest, and even a few Super Chevy Shows.

“I have to thank a lot of people, starting with my brother Stanley Kinnison for giving me the random idea to do the swap, and Dave Akre for helping push me to keep it going and get those first steps knocked out. My wife and kids for always helping me in the garage when I need it, and putting up with me always being out there turning wrenches. Theo Redmond and Tory for all the chassis fab and knowledge they’ve dropped on me, my mother and father for raising an individual who isn’t afraid to think outside the box, and doesn’t care what people have to say when he walks his own path. All the other countless people who have helped me here or there with info, support, and dealing with the purists,” Richard says.

The car’s name may be “Abomination,” but Richard Kinnison loves everything it stands for. What other people said about the build has never mattered to him, he has always been more interested in marching to his own drum.

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