Youthful passion holds on

By BOB JOHNSON
Register City Editor

Register/Bob Johnson
Neil Westervelt waited two years for his 1972 Dodge Dart Swinger to be redone, stem to stern. It will be among entries in the Allen County Fair Car Show.

Jim Ring bought a Dodge Dart in 1969, orange with a black vinyl top and faster than anything else in Barton County, Mo.
At the time, Ring’s sister, Joy, was dating Neil Westervelt and he often made the trip from his home in Columbus to the Ring farm, just across the state line east of Pittsburg.
“I really liked Jim’s car and got to drive it around the section one time,” Westervelt recalled.
When the Allen County Fair’s car show unfolds Aug. 1, Neil and Joy Westervelt will arrive in a bright yellow 1972 Dodge Dart Swinger, probably just as fast as his brother-in-law’s was, but not likely to ever be driven on rock roads.
“We don’t take it out for drives,” Westervelt said, saving the car just for shows. The Westervelts have been to several this summer and usually come home with a trophy. No wonder. The car is as pristine as new-fallen snow.
Westervelt had the 1969 Dodge Dart in mind when he went looking for a car to restore. He found the 1972 model offered on eBay by a seller in Oklahoma. Previously he had found a powerful 340-cubic-inch engine that he wanted to put under the hood.
Westervelt made a deal with the eBayer and drove to Oklahoma to pick up the car about four years ago. The car wasn’t in terribly good condition and was a not-too-appealing denim blue. Westervelt toyed with the vehicle for a while and then turned it over to Iolan Mike Schwindt, at M.S. Restorations, for a complete rebuild.
“Mike does a fantastic job, but you don’t want to be a in hurry,” Westervelt said. “He does things right and when he’s done, everything about the car is straight and true.”
Schwindt reconstructs cars with care and kindness, making sure each component is exactly as it should be before moving to the next. That goes beyond body work and the paint job.
Westervelt remembers an extensive search through scores of cars at Ray’s Metal Depot in LaHarpe looking for the exact bucket seats that would make driving the Dart Swinger like a walk in the park. He came away with six-way power bucket seats from a 1978 Mercury Cougar.
The rebuild took two years and when the car rolled from Schwindt’s garage, it was outfitted with enough racing parts to make a NASCAR driver sit up and take notice.

WESTERVELT keeps the Swinger in a garage next to the shell of a 1955 Chevy two-door station wagon that he hopes someday to have in similar condition.
When he turns on the Swinger’s ignition, the familiar chatter of an electric pump tells him fuel is being pushed to the carburetor. Then, with the solid roar that gets the attention of even a novice, the engine springs to life and Westervelt, with care fathers give their first newborn, backs it from the garage.
He can’t help but smile as he walks around the car and poses, again like a proud papa, for a photo.
“This is something I wanted for a long time,” Westervelt said, but first he had to establish himself with his Iola business, M & W Manufacturing, and there were kids to raise. “I just couldn’t afford it for a while.”
The Dodge Dart Swinger isn’t Westervelt’s first classic, it was just that he wasn’t fully aware of what he had with the first one.
When in high school his dad told him about a car the local banker had traded in.
“I stopped by Price Motor Co. and looked,” he recalled, and liked what he saw. He plopped down $650 and drove away in a 1957 two-door Chevy hardtop that would fetch a great deal more today if it were in the same condition as his 1972 Dodge Dart Swinger.