Plymouth product planners were given $15 million to freshen up the dowdy little Valiant for 1970. Nobody told them they could spend the money to create a slick, new fastback coupe. Then again, nobody said they couldn't. And so begins the story of the 1970-1976 Plymouth Duster.

Classic Cars Image Gallery

1970 Plymouth Duster 340 full view.
Featuring a vibrant paint job and sporty touches like
Rallye wheels, the 1970 Duster 340 was an attractive
and popular mini-muscle car. See more classic car pictures.

Fall 1959. Dateline: Detroit. New car buyers eagerly anticipate the bright new compacts promised by the major American manufacturers. Designed to do battle with the likes of Volkswagen's Beetle while answering social critics who say that the standard Chevrolet, Ford, and Plymouth, have grown too large and heavy, the Big Three bring forth an eclectic array of smaller cars.

General Motors takes on the Beetle directly with the rear-engine Chevy Corvair, while Ford's conventional Falcon is a scaled-down version of the larger Ford. Chrysler's Valiant goes its own way with Virgil Exner-directed European lines that allow Valiant to boast "It's nobody's kid brother."

Fall 1969. Dateline, Detroit. The VW Beetle is still around, but the Corvair faded away in the spring, a victim of the histrionics of safety crusader Ralph Nader and the rise of sporty compact "pony cars." And while it was the most successful of the new entries, the Falcon, too, is nearly gone, a victim of Ford's trendy game of "disposable nameplates."

The fresh Maverick is destined to be Falcon's replacement. Of the trio of new compacts introduced with such hope and promise a decade earlier, only Valiant remains, with its best days still ahead of it. And all because of a cute two-door fastback with the unlikely name of Duster.

Sooner or later, almost everyone owned a Plymouth Duster or knew someone who did. They were everywhere, as ubiquitous as toast. And the crazy thing is the Duster was never supposed to happen.

Continue to the next page to learn more about Chrysler's 1970 compact car models.

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