1970-1976 Plymouth Duster

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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1970 Chrysler Compact Cars

By the latter 1960s, Chrysler Corporation had successfully established itself as the major player in the compact-car segment of the American market. This page introduces the 1970 Chrysler compact cars.

The 1970 Plymouth Duster was conceived to challenge the Chevrolet Nova.
Plymouth planners conceived the Duster as an attractive
package in which to deploy a 340-cubic inch V-8 and
challenge the small-block Chevrolet Nova compact.

With its one-two punch of the Plymouth Valiant and the slightly larger Dodge Dart, the Chrysler products regularly took 30 percent or more of compact sales, a percentage far in excess of its approximately 16-percent share of the overall market.

Since its introduction. Valiant had been restyled twice; once in 1963, and again in 1967, when its wheelbase was stretched out to 108 inches. But with the 1967 rework. Valiant was pared to just two- and four-door sedans, surrendering its notchback two-door hardtop and convertible to its sexier sibling, the Barracuda.

After subsisting on grille and taillight tweaks for 1968 and 1969, Chrysler product planners budgeted $30 million -- split evenly between Plymouth and Dodge -- for facelifting the Valiant and Dart (designated internally within Chrysler as the A-bodies) for the 1970 model year.

Dodge dutifully spent its allowance on grafting new fronts and rears for the Dart's four-door sedan and two-door hardtop bodies. This was the make that fanned the flames of "Dodge Rebellion" in its advertising, but a more literal insurrection was raised by Plymouth's product planners.

Instead of spending their money touching up the Valiant sedans, former Plymouth compact-car planning executive Gene Weiss said they decided to spend "nothing -- zip, zero, nada" on the carryover cars. Instead, the planners clandestinely conspired with Plymouth stylists to bet the entire $15 million on a longshot outside the corporation's sacrosanct product plan.

Why rock the boat? One reason was the all-new Barracuda and Dodge Challenger "pony cars" that Chrysler was conjuring up for 1970. The 1967 Barracuda, while handsome enough, was still a disguised Valiant that really could not compete with its lustier Ford and GM rivals.

And the Dodge Boys wanted a piece of that market, too. So the Barracuda and new Challenger were given their own unique E-body shells. And to make sure you could stuff every one of the corporation's hottest engines underhood, the two also were given most of the heftier chassis components from the Plymouth and Dodge intermediates.

But this process, while beneficial, also had unintended consequences. With their beefier chassic parts, the new Barracuda and Challenger were more costly to produce, a factor that contributed to their good-die-young demise in April, 1974. Worse yet, they weren't quite fast enough.

"At the time the E-bodies were being planned, the relatively inexpensive 327 small-block Chevy Nova was the fastest car [in the quarter mile] right off the haulaway," recalls Weiss.

"And we knew that unless a guy opted for the big-bucks Hemi engine or got a really good 440, the heavier E-body Barracuda just couldn't do the job. We felt we couldn't be really successful with a Barracuda that didn't beat the competition without a Hemi engine. What we needed was a lighter-weight car we could drop our new 340-cubic inch V-8 into to match the quarter-mile times of that 327 Nova. That meant using our [compact body]."

To learn more about the design of the 1970 Plymouth Duster, continue on to the next page.

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Designing the 1970 Plymouth Duster

Before the 1970 Plymouth Duster was introduced to the marketplace, Plymouth had a lighter-weight, compact car that could carry a 340 in 1968 and 1969 -- in the departing Barracuda.

And Dodge, which had stuffed a 340 into the Dart, still had the Swinger 340 hardtop. Weiss said nobody expected a square-rigged Valiant 340 two-door sedan to sell, but something with racier looks might. Thus, every last penny of the tooling budget went into the new car.

That's not to say it would be easy. For one thing, a new compact coupe wasn't in Chrysler's Long Range Plan (LRP). "But luckily," says Weiss, "the new E-bodies were occupying most of the corporation's attention, especially at the upper levels.

The Duster program didn't attract much scrutiny because compared with the E-body program, the Duster was small change. So we could pretty well operate under everyone's radar screen.

"Still, it was an extraordinarily tough tooling budget. All of the package had to be carryover, including the wheelbase, together with carryover front-end sheet-metal, cowl, front and rear bumpers, door lowers, quarter-panel inner structure, etc. The Plymouth stylists could do anything they wanted as long as they held these hardpoints. Their task was to come up with a close-coupled looking coupe while stuck with a carryover floor-pan on a 108-inch wheelbase with immense rear overhang. Even the overall length -- 188.4 inches -- had to exactly match the four-door sedan. 'Junkyard styling' I called it: making do by creating something of value mostly out of what's available. Milt Antonick excelled at it."

Antonick was the supervisor responsible for compacts and pony cars in the Plymouth Exterior Studio. Working under Milt was Neil Walling, who would become Chrysler's Director of Advanced and Exterior Large Car, Small Car, and Minivan Design but then was a junior stylist. He had been working on full-size Plymouths before being pulled in to work on what became the Duster.

"I was asked to do some sketches," Walling recalls. "It was what I call a 'quick-hitter' project. We didn't have much lead time. Since the fender and door lower were carryover Valiant, we had to come up with a design that came off all those existing crease lines -- five of them, no less. We did tape drawings trying to get a better flow; sportier and more creative."

Continue to the next page to learn more about the interior of the 1970 Plymouth Duster.

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Inside the 1970 Plymouth Duster

Designer Neil Walling succeeded in designing the 1970 Plymouth Duster so that its five existing crease lines worked well for the car by swelling the quarter panel about the centerline of the rear wheel and having the lower of the two top crease lines angle up sharply, then drop toward the rear.

Similarly, the lower pair of creases angled down off of the door, then rose upward aft of the wheel opening. The resulting wedge shape added drama while softening the look of the car, a neat accomplishment.

The center crease continued straight through, and all five lines resolved themselves at the end of the quarter panel by terminating in a peaked "V" in side view.

Since Walling was stuck with the Valiant's existing rear track dimensions (55.6 inches, compared to the front's 58.2 inches), the new quarters didn't swell in plan view, as did those of some GM cars. That would have made the rear wheels look even more tucked under.

"I always wished the car had a wider track," he recalls. "When I got a Duster on the company's lease plan, I bought two-inch-wide spacers for each rear wheel just to make the car look right."

If the more dramatic rear quarters were a big part of the successful make-over, the new roof was the key ingredient.

"A fastback is a '25-percenter,'" explains Weiss. "No matter how well it is styled, when the customer is given a choice between a fastback and a notch-back, 75 percent will be notchbacks."

Yet the Duster was a fastback. For one reason, its sloping roofline made it obviously different from the two-door Valiant's nerdy notchback. For another, it was the best solution to the styling problem.

"The sloping Duster roof looked lower than the Valiant notchback because it touched down (to the decklid) higher," says Walling. "To get a new look, I wanted to get the base of the backlight up as high as I could."

Toward that end, the stylists created a steeply sloping backlight mated to a wedge-shaped C-pillar that angled sharply forward, reducing the apparent length of the roof to arrive at the desired close-coupled coupe look.

They were also able to lop an inch and a half off the overall height compared with the sedan. Additionally, in side view, the beltline was angled up sharply behind the front door, then turned and angled forward around the rear-quarter window.

The resulting smaller quarter window, together with the arched drip rail and the use of frameless glass in the front door, created the look of a smallish sloping roof perched atop hunched quarters. Though it looked like a true hardtop, the Duster's flip-open rear-quarter windows were non-retractable.

Although the 1970 Plymouth Duster was an attractive, sporty automobile, it wasn't perfect. Continue to the next page to learn more about the design flaws of the 1970 Plymouth Duster.

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Design Flaws of the 1970 Plymouth Duster

Although the 1970 Plymouth Duster was an attractive, popular automobile, it did have an assortment of design flaws.

Along with the non-retractable flip-open rear-quarter windows, the side glass itself was another design flaw for the 1970 Plymouth Duster.

A decade earlier, Chrysler, working hand-in-hand with Pittsburgh Plate Glass, gave the 1957 Imperial the first curved side glass used in an American automobile. The plebeian Valiants and Darts finally got curved glass in 1967.

"But that was 90-inch-radius glass," recalls Weiss. "In order to get a rounder look above the belt for the new coupe, the stylists and studio engineers proposed using 45-inch-radius glass for the Duster. Now, it's a fact of life that nobody [in the company] quite believes a styling studio engineer, but when a car engineer says something can be done, he's believed. John Worthy of Advanced Engineering -- who incidentally was mad at us for not following the approved LRP -- got the task of confirming that we actually could take a carryover door whose inner and outer panels had been originally designed to accommodate the flatter, less-radically curved 90-inch-radius glass and stuff the 45-inch-radius glass down into it, get it to fit, and then move up and down. Though it was an extraordinarily difficult assignment, he did it. It was the turning point in the program."

The rounder glass dramatically increased the Duster's "tumblehome" above the belt. ("Too much," opines Antonick, who always felt the door glass was too close to the driver's head.) But by imparting a rounder contour above the beltline, the stylists made the body below the belt look rounder, too, even though the door was a carryover Valiant component.

Out back, the taillights, designed by Tom Hale, added to the sportier look. Deliberately horizontal (as opposed to the vertical lamps on the Valiant), the twin-slot lamps were placed inboard and recessed into openings in the sheetmetal without the customary bright bezels.

The new look, while attractive, came at a price. For one thing, the lack of outer bezels contributed to a potential rust problem. For another, the placement of the lamps resulted in a high liftover, requiring owners to lift luggage up and over to get it or out of the trunk. And, after a year of production, the sloping decklid itself became a problem.

Lacking a handle, owners shut the decklid by placing their hands directly on the sheetmetal. If done incorrectly, the result was often an unintended vertical crease (or worse, a series of creases) in the lid's shallow lip.

Engineers desperate to solve the problem proposed adding a vertical windsplit down the center of the decklid, hoping this would strengthen the sheetmetal. The revised decklids were rushed into production in the summer of 1971 as a running change to that year's cars.

The next page describes the features of the 1970 Plymouth Duster. Continue reading to learn more about this sporty automobile.

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1970 Plymouth Duster Features

Plymouth devoted a large amount of money to the design and development of the 1970 Plymouth Duster, and the car's abundant features reflected this attention.

There was enough money left for Plymouth stylists to add an attractive new grille of closely spaced, recessed, blacked-out horizontal bars, with the center section brought forward flush with the grille frame and capped by Plymouth's "frog-legs" emblem.

Rectangular park and turn lamps molded into the recessed sections added something of a "poor man's Grand Prix" look. (The new grille was also fitted to the sole 1970 Valiant, the four-door sedan.)

Interiors used the Valiant instrument panel with a new twin-circle gauge cluster with full instrumentation and room for an optional tachometer between the two big main dials. Seating choices included a standard vinyl front bench seat and four options: cloth-and-vinyl bench, all-vinyl split bench, vinyl split bench with fold-down armrest, and all-vinyl front buckets with or without center console.

"The whole Duster program -- sketches and modeling -- took six weeks," recalls Antonick, "and while that impressed Chrysler officials, I thought to myself, 'Hell, when I was at Studebaker, we did a whole car [the Avanti] in six weeks."

Now, what to call the new car? "The Duster name came out of the [advertising] agency," recalls Weiss. "It was a relatively aggressive name, like Judge, Boss, all of that."

During the first few years, the Duster name was accompanied by a cute bit of whimsy, a squat whirl of dust with angry eyes. Though the cartoon looked slightly menacing, everyone knew instinctively that it was a friendly little dust devil who just wanted to play.

"The Duster 'swirl' is really the Tasmanian Devil [cartoon character]," laughs Antonick. "We wanted to use it directly, but couldn't get the rights from Warner Brothers. They wanted maybe 10 times as much money [as they charged to use the Road Runner name] because the Road Runner name had been undervalued by Warner. So we did our own 'devil.'"

Dusters enjoyed the full panoply of Chrysler engineering features of the era: Unibody construction, front torsion bars, TorqueFlite transmission, etc.

Engine choices included two versions of the "bulletproof" Slant Six introduced on the original Valiant -- a stroked 198-cubic inch version offering 125 horsepower (up from 170 cubic inches and 115 horsepower the year before), and the larger 145-horsepower, 225-cube variant. For those preferring power over economy, there was Chrysler's workhorse 230-horsepower, 318-cubic inch V-8.

The 1970 Plymouth Duster 340 coupe was soon introduced in the marketplace. Continue on to the next page to learn more about this exciting automobile.

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1970 Plymouth Duster 340

Fulfilling the Duster's raison d'etre was the 275-horsepower 1970 Plymouth Duster 340, originally conceived as the CK -- for Clark Kent.

The 1970 Plymouth Duster 340 featured a 340-cubic inch V-8 engine with 275 horsepower.
The 340-cubic inch small-block V-8 generated a healthy
275 horsepower with its four-barrel carburetor
and 10.5:1 compression ratio.

Outside identification was discreet: dual black side stripes mid-body that thickened slightly to mimic the swelled quarters, and two wide black stripes connecting the tail-lights.

Stuffing the 340-cubic inch, small-block V-8 underhood was the Duster's ticket to ride in Plymouth's elite Rapid Transit System.

The package included all the expected goodies, like high-flow cylinder heads with 10.5:1 compression; high-lift, overlap, long-duration camshaft; a single Carter four-barrel carb; high-rate .87-inch-diameter front torsion bars; .88-inch front anti-sway bar; heavy duty shocks; heavy duty, six-leaf rear springs; front disc brakes; and E70X14 raised white-letter tires mounted on 5.5-inch Rallye road wheels with trim rings. Transmission choices included floor-mounted three- and four-speed manuals plus Torque-Flite, all heavy-duty.

In its March 1970 issue, Car and Driver put the coupe through its paces, succinctly characterizing the Duster 340 as a "reroofed Valiant with a performance engine, priced to sell ($2,547)." C/D clocked 0-to-60-mph times of 6.2 seconds, with top speed pegged at 120.

Regarding the standing quarter-mile, it reported, "A 14.72-second ET is better than any stock 'Cuda we've tried and a swarm of big-in-cost cars." But the testers were less impressed with the handling, reporting severe understeer that led to plowing in turns. "With all that rear overhang and the narrow rear track, we were lucky it handled at all," says Weiss.

The 1970 model-year production totaled 24,817 Duster 340s compared with 19,515 'Cudas. In fact, the Duster 340 outsold the 'Cuda 340/383 in each subsequent model year, and by healthy margins, proving the viability of the Duster concept.

Annual volumes for this hottest Duster remained in the 13,000- to 16,000-unit range right through 1973.

"One reason is that Duster 340 buyers -- mostly young men -- were able for a period of time to beat the deal-killer $1,200- to $1,500-a-year insurance rates with a bit of subterfuge," says Wiess. "Queried about their new purchase, these guys were able to obtain decent rates by telling their insurance agent, truthfully, 'I'm buying a Valiant two-door sedan.' Eventually, of course, the agents caught on and began asking, A Duster?' And then, 'six or V-8?' And finally, 'which V-8?' By that time, the game was over."

The 1970 Plymouth Valiant Duster was popular in the marketplace. Find out why when you turn to the next page.

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1970 Plymouth Valiant Duster

The new 1970 Plymouth Valiant Duster (all three names were used in 1970) went on sale September 23, 1969.

By the time the showroom doors of the nation's 3,500 Chrysler-Plymouth dealers stopped swinging at the end of the 1970 model year, an astonishing 217,192 Dusters had been built, a stupendous increase over the 36,317 two-door sedans erected the previous year, enabling Plymouth to capture third place in the sales race for the first time since 1959.

When the 50,810 four-door sedans were added. Valiant had broken its previous model-year sales record set a decade earlier. In fact, in its first five years of production. Duster's popularity would propel Valiant to five consecutive sales records.

Why the success? Styling was a big reason, of course. But savvy customers soon realized that at $2,172 to start, the Duster was a lot of car for the money. One Plymouth ad compared a comparably-equipped 1970 Maverick and Duster.

Though costing $90.75 more, the Duster boasted a five-inch longer wheelbase, 4.5 cubic feet of additional trunk room, nearly 11 inches more rear-seat hip room (and 3.5 inches more in front), bigger brakes, more options (including the two V-8s), and a better warranty to boot. A later ad in 1972 similarly targeted Chevy's ill-fated Vega.

After the first 100,000 Dusters had been sold, Plymouth celebrated the car's amazing popularity by announcing the Gold Duster option, the first in a series of trim packages created to keep up the sales momentum.

Enticements included Duster 340-type side and rear tape stripes in gold, bright drip moldings, an argent grille, 225- or 318-cubic inch engine, whitewall tires, and deluxe wheel covers borrowed from bigger-brother Satellite, all designed to turn prospects into "prospectors." Customers loved it.

After such a successful beginning, changes for the 1971 Duster (no longer badged a Valiant) were understandably minor.

The grille lost its "frog legs" ornament, but the new wheel covers, with their "salt-and-pepper shaker" center holes, were an improvement. (These understated wheel covers were disfigured in subsequent years by black lines that divided the surface into wedges, the result of an unfavorable reaction to the original design in a consumer clinic.) But it was the 340 that received most of the attention.

On the next page, find out what design changes were made to the 1971 Plymouth Duster 340.

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1971 Plymouth Duster 340

Frustrated in their desire to make the original Duster 340 a sneaky "sleeper," Plymouth stylists moved in the opposite direction, giving the 1971 Plymouth Duster 340 attention-grabbing graphics in the form of a bold, full-length bodyside tape stripe that traced the upper-body contour, ending with conspicuous "340" numerals on the rear quarter.

True extroverts could order the performance hood treatment -- flat black paint stretching across the hood and cowl to the fender peaks, and then along the belt to the rear quarter windows.

Huge white-outline "340" numerals, set at a jaunty angle on the driver's side of the hood with the word "wedge" in orange stenciled down the vertical stroke of the 4 shouted to the world what was underneath.

Racing-type locking pins completed the treatment, making the 1971 Plymouth Duster 340 the best-looking Duster of the entire seven-year model run.

Other had-to-have-it options included a black-only decklid spoiler, tachometer, and the new, smaller-diameter, thick-rimmed "Tuff" steering wheel.

Additionally, all 1971 Plymouth Duster 340s received an exclusive and attractive grille. Similar in plan view to that of the regular Duster, it was composed of narrow, vertical, blacked-out rectangles, including concealed park and turn lamps.

At the other end, complimentary vertical slotted tail-lamps were planned to give the 1971 Plymouth Duster 340 its own look coming or going. But those taillights never appeared on any Duster, and therein lies a tale of corporate infighting.

While the Duster's success had naturally pleased the Chrysler-Plymouth folks. Bob McCurry, Dodge Division's hard-charging general manager, was not quite so happy. Nor was his dealer body.

Long accustomed to having the Dart outsell the Valiant and thus chagrined at the Duster's popularity, McCurry demanded a variant of the Duster for his Dodge Boys to sell, and quick. He got it.

"That," recalls Weis in a controlled voice, "was a top-level management decision." To create the Dodge version, a stock 1971 Dart front clip was tacked onto the Duster shell, giving the "Dodge Duster" its own front fenders, hood, grille, and bumper.

The wheel lip detailing didn't match, but who cared? Now, how do you get a distinctive look out back? Over the objections of the Plymouth stylists and planners, the Duster 340's vertically slotted taillights and lower deck panel were appropriated for the Dodge variant.

Saddled with an unfortunate choice of name, the new Dodge Demon (later Dart Sport) never achieved anywhere near the popularity of the Duster, undoubtedly much to the satisfaction of the Plymouth guys, who, by the way, did not emerge from this skirmish empty-handed.

In return for sacrificing its proposed Duster 340 taillights, Plymouth was granted a copy of the popular Dart Swinger, one of McCurry's own crown jewels.

Christened the Plymouth Scamp, it was Valiant's first two-door hardtop since 1966. (Duster production dipped temporarily to 186,478 cars in 1971 as the new Scamp hardtop enticed more than 48,000 buyers who might have been Duster customers.)

In hopes of getting wider use from its newly developed tools, Plymouth decided to offer the Duster Twister package. Find out more about this package on the next page.

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Plymouth Duster Twister Package

Having spent most of their 1971 tooling dollars on new parts for the limited-volume Duster 340, the Plymouth sales and marketing types created the Plymouth Duster Twister package (the name itself a neat twist on Duster) in hopes of getting wider use from the new tools.

The 1971 Plymouth Duster offered an options package called the Twister.
The 1971 Plymouth Duster had a distinctive grille
and new graphics included with its Twister package.

Announced in February, it was available on six- and eight-cylinder cars. Twisters were fitted with the distinctive 340 grille and a special black "Duster twirl" bodyside tape stripe with Twister decals.

Except for a black-and-body-color strobe treatment on the center plateau, the hood was blacked out and could be ordered with twin flat black simulated hood scoops. Lower deck stripes, dual racing mirrors, wheel lip and drip rail moldings, deluxe seat trim, whitewalls, and Rallye road wheels (sans trim rings) completed the package.

To hammer home the idea that the Twister was a 340 look-alike, a neat double-page ad showed a Duster 340 and a Twister parked side by side, both in identical Lime Light paint.

Despite the yearly expenditures of tooling dollars, Chrysler's market-leading compacts had not been totally redesigned since 1967. Thus, as originally planned, the 1972 compacts were to be all-new, and the Plymouth and Dodge exterior studios had prepared attractive Darts, Valiants, Dusters, and Demons with softer lines and rounder body sections.

But these cars were stillborn. During 1970, when the go/no-go decision had to be made, Chrysler was undergoing one of its customary crises. Financial uncertainty, coupled with the Duster's runaway success, led the planners to cancel the all-new cars.

1970-1976 Plymouth Duster automobile and Gold Duster package.
The 1972 Gold Duster package included a new "canopy"
vinyl roof covering that covered only the forward portion
of the top and was available in two colors.

Designers were disappointed, but in retrospect, the planners were right. The existing A-bodies were so popular that they didn't have to be changed; they continued to command more than a third of the compact-car segment.

Plymouth stylists scrambled to add new seasonings to the existing Duster. Changes were concentrated at the rear, where the new taillights were wider and still split horizontally, but by the argent plastic lens collar and not by sheetmetal.

Underhood, the 340 V-8, with its compression ratio reduced to 8.5:1 and net horsepower to 240, was now available on any Duster. Optional on all V-8s was an electronic ignition system eliminating the condenser and breaker points. For the ecologically-minded, a two-quart plastic litter bag was standard, attached to the inside of the glove box door.

Plymouth Duster interior
The Gold Duster's front seats
folded quite flat
to ease rear-seat entry.

The Plymouth Duster Twister Package was continued and the Gold Duster made its second appearance, attractively-adorned with a "canopy" vinyl roof covering the forward two-thirds of the roof in Gold Reptile or Black Boar grain vinyl.

A full vinyl roof, which terminated in an unnatural and unattractive break at the top of the rear quarters, was still available. Whitewall tires. Satellite wheel covers, drip moldings, special interior trim, and gold lower deck panel tape stripes completed the look. Duster production hit 228,012 units.

In 1973, Plymouth didn't have a new model coming to the marketplace, so they focused their attention on the 1973 Space Duster Pak options. Find out more about this package on the next page.

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1973 Space Duster Pak

Since there was no new model immediately forthcoming, Duster planners concentrated on improving their existing car. The 1973 Space Duster Pak option (also known as the Spacemaker Pak) was the result.

The 1973 Plymouth Duster received a new and improved look.
The 1973 Duster had a revised look which featured a new
grille and hood, squarer taillights, and larger bumpers.
The 340 also gained new side and rear-panel striping.

Harking back to the original 1964 Valiant Barracuda, the engineers reconfigured the body bracing to allow passage between the passenger compartment and the trunk.

The rear seatback folded flat forward, while a security panel immediately behind folded backward, creating an opening 64 inches wide and 13.5 inches tall. The happy result was a fully-carpeted cargo area 6.5 feet long (long enough for skis and surfboards), offering 56 cubic feet of cargo space.

And if you opted for a sunroof (metal this year, as opposed to the folding vinyl sunroofs available in 1971-1972), you could also haul taller objects through the hole in the roof.

Plymouth Dusters could always swallow loads of stuff. With the Space Duster option, the car's cargo capacity was truly enormous.

The product plan for the 1973 Plymouth Duster also called for front- and rear-end "freshening." Up front, a new hood was created that featured a "power dome" raised center shape.

The new grille was a series of argent rectangular horizontal boxes, eggcrate-filled and stacked three high. The center ones were the same width as the hood dome, while the outboard boxes were interrupted by the parking lamps.

Running along the top was a bright molding which widened under the power dome to display the Plymouth name. New rectangular headlamp doors completed the look. A deeper front bumper was fronted by massive vertical guards necessary to meet new federal bumper impact standards.

At the other end, above the new deeper rear bumper, fresh lamps -- their lenses still split horizontally -- were moved to the outboard ends of the lower deck panel and framed in conventional bright bezels.

These lamps were actually cheaper than the chromeless ones on the original Plymouth Duster. But the combined front and rear appearance changes, with their new formality, seemed to move the Plymouth Duster away from the original concept of a hip, slightly counter-culture little coupe.

The Twister and Gold Duster packages continued with subtle changes; a new hood blackout treatment with smaller fake scoops for the Twister, new side and deck panel striping available in gold, black, or white for the Gold Duster.

The Plymouth Duster 340 also sported reworked body-side and rear striping. The front suspension was tweaked via new upper and lower control arms, improved upper ball joints, and new knuckle arms.

The V-8-equipped Dusters now came with front disc brakes standard (power on the 340), while all engines were fitted with electronic ignitions. Interior fabrics were upgraded considerably. As a result, Plymouth Duster production increased once again, this time to 264,974 cars.

In 1974, the Plymouth Duster 360, with a larger-displacement 245-horsepower engine was introduced to the public. Find out more about the Plymouth Duster 360 on the next page.

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1974,1975 Plymouth Duster 360

In most respects, the 1974 model year was a pass for the Duster as far as changes were concerned; however, the 1974-1975 Plymouth Duster 360 was introduced to the market.

1974 Plymouth Duster 360 was the most successful model year in Duster's history.
The pinnacle of the Plymouth Duster's success
came in 1974, when 281,378 cars were produced.
The base model is shown above.

In 1974, Twister and Gold Duster packages were continued and buyers could even opt for a combined Twister/Gold Duster combo. The biggest change was a larger-displacement 245-horsepower engine for what was now called the Plymouth Duster 360.

But buyers weren't interested and only a paltry 3,969 were built. Thanks to killer insurance rates and higher fuel prices, the muscle car era was truly dead, marked at Chrysler by the termination of Barracuda/Challenger production in April.

Due to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries embargo that hit about the time the 1974 model year was getting under way, gasoline availability became scarce in many areas.

Worried buyers started seeking more fuel-efficient cars and sales of large cars plummeted. In tune with the times, Chrysler introduced the Fuel Pacer System option in March.

A small chrome casting on the left front fender housed a light that glowed when the carburetor began to enrich the fuel mixture during increased power demand, signaling the driver to back off the accelerator.

Plymouth Duster assemblies rose to an all-time high of 281,378 and Valiant popularity hit its peak as all the varieties (including a plush new Brougham line) accounted for an incredible 476,818 units, enabling Plymouth once again to capture third place. But the following year was a different story.

1975 Plymouth Duster automobile new grille design.
A new grille design graced the 1975 Plymouth Duster.

Nineteen seventy-five was another harrowing year financially for Chrysler. It began with a three-month rotating layoff of most engineering and styling personnel.

This ill-conceived cost-saving measure had the unintended consequence of delaying the launch of the new F-body cars being groomed as A-body replacements.

Unlike the year before, Dusters sported quite a few changes. Studio manager Bob Eidschun designed an attractive new tight eggcrate-texture grille with a center shadow box that housed, for the first time since 1970, the "frog legs" emblem.

There was also a new Duster Custom series whose rear lower deck panel was decorated with a taillight-to-taillight bright applique panel. This "boiler plate" was unfortunately also standard on the Gold Duster, where buyers now had the choice of a new bodyside tape stripe much like the original Gold Duster's or a bodyside protective molding.

There was no Twister package, but in its final year, the Plymouth Duster 360 was given gaudy new striping that covered much of the upper quarter panels. Engine-wise, the 198-cubic inch Slant Six disappeared, leaving the 225 as the base six.

1970-1976 Plymouth Duster Gold Duster package split-bench seating.
Standard Gold Duster seating consisted of a split-bench
seat. High-back seats with integral headrests and
a pulldown armrest could be ordered.

By now, the upcoming launch of the next-generation compacts occupied the corporation's attention. Though the semi-fastback F-body coupes were clearly intended as Duster/Dart Sport replacements, management decided to call the new lines Plymouth Volare and Dodge Aspen.

There were a number of reasons for this decision. One of them, ironically, was the popularity of the Duster and Dart -- they were common, perhaps too common. Another was their reputation as good basic transportation.

Chrysler, however, wanted a more upscale image for the forthcoming compacts to compete successfully with the new Ford Granada and Mercury Monarch. Hence, the new names, despite some last-minute experimentation with "Valiant Volare" name-plates.

With the corporation's problems headlined in the media and word of the new compacts leaking out. Duster production dropped dramatically in 1975 to 120,131, barely ahead of the Valiant sedan.

The Plymouth Duster 360 had its final year of production in 1976 -- a disappointing final year that attracted less than 35,000 buyers. Find out more about the 1976 Plymouth Duster 360 on the next page.

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1976 Plymouth Duster 360

With all the hoopla surrounding the introduction of the 1976 Volare (it was Motor Trend Car of the Year), for the first time it was easy to forget there still was a 1976 Plymouth Duster 360.

The 1976 Plymouth Silver Duster had a canopy vinyl roof and attractive lower-body striping.
The 1976 Silver Duster featured a canopy vinyl
roof and distinctive lower-body striping.

Pared to its essence in its final year, the Plymouth Duster was offered with a choice of 225-cubic inch six or 318-cubic inch V-8 power. The 360-cube engine was still available (only with TorqueFlite, and not at all in California), but the Duster 360 was dropped; ditto the Duster Custom.

Replacing the Gold Duster was the one-time-only Silver Duster package. The usual accoutrements -- canopy vinyl roof, etc. -- were set off by distinctive red-and-black stripes that traced the lower bodyside character lines, then swept up and crossed between the taillamps. Colorful Boca Raton cloth and vinyl spiced the interior.

Chrysler engineers contrived, in skunk-works fashion, to get every bit of mileage possible out of the Slant Six. The result was the "Feather Duster," a $51 option package.

Fitted with lightweight aluminum components including hood and decklid inner panels, bumper reinforcements, and intake manifold, the Feather Duster (identified by name on the front fenders) came with a specially-tuned 225 Slant Six with a single-throat carb.

An economy-minded 2.94:1 rear axle ratio was specified, and buyers could also opt for a manual overdrive transmission with aluminum case for an additional weight reduction. With the overdrive transmission, the total weight savings was 187 pounds. Of course, to realize the promised greater fuel economy, the list of available options was severely restricted.

In its final year, the Plymouth Duster 360 tempted just 34,681 buyers, nearly 6,000 fewer than went for the Valiant sedan. Nevertheless, in its seven-year run, more than 1.3 million Plymouth Dusters were assembled, a truly astounding accomplishment. And it was significant for more than just its sales potential, according to Weiss.

"With the Duster, Chrysler learned a lot about line simplification, reducing part numbers, using less manpower, etc. It was our progenitor of 'lean manufacturing.' And by building essentially the same car year after year, manufacturing learned how to build car quality and at the same time wring out the cost," he says.

Although much of the justification for the Duster's creation was performance-based, the majority came with sixes as buyers embraced the coupe's singular combination of style and practicality.

Actually, the Duster was really about fun and freedom, hip and cool. It fit into a time when cars bore unorthodox names like Road Runner, Judge, Boss, and Eliminator; when cars sprouted wings and spoilers, wild colors, and outrageous graphics; when they boasted "Mod Tops" and "Tuff" wheels, shaker hoods, and "beep-beep" horns.

After 1976, the Duster name was periodically, uh, "dusted off" and used to promote some sales package, as on the 1979-1980 Volare Duster Sunrise and, during the last few years of Sundance production.

Are Dusters collectible? Well, Chrysler thinks so. It recently purchased a Duster 340 to add to its collection of significant vehicles housed in the Chrysler Historical Museum being created on the corporation's Auburn Hills campus.

For models, prices, and production numbers for the 1970-1976 Plymouth Duster, continue on to the next page.

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1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976 Plymouth Duster Data

When Plymouth product planners were given $15 million to freshen up the dowdy little Valiant for 1970, nobody could imagine that the sporty, fastback coupe that they created -- the Duster -- would become so popular. Here are the specifications for the 1970-1976 Plymouth Duster:

1970 Plymouth Duster Models, Prices, Production


Duster (wheelbase 108)
fastback coupe
340 fastback coupe
Total 1970 Duster


1971 Plymouth Duster Models, Prices, Production

Duster (wheelbase 108)
fastback coupe
340 fastback coupe
Total 1971 Duster


1972 Plymouth Duster Models, Prices, Production

Duster (wheelbase 108)
fastback coupe
340 fastback coupe
Total 1972 Duster


1973 Plymouth Duster Models, Prices, Production

Duster (wheelbase 108)
fastback coupe
340 fastback coupe
Total 1973 Duster


1974 Plymouth Duster Models, Prices, Production

Duster (wheelbase 108)
fastback coupe
360 fastback coupe
Total 1974 Duster


1975 Plymouth Duster Models, Prices, Production

Duster (wheelbase 108)
fastback coupe
Custom fastback cpe
360 fastback coupe
Total 1975 Duster


1976 Plymouth Duster Models, Prices, Production

Duster (wheelbase 108)
fastback coupe

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