The Plymouth Duster should have had the cult status that the Plymouth Barracuda enjoys as a classic car today. Yet somehow, it slipped through the cracks of the muscle car collector mania. It could be because it arrived late on the scene, or because it existed just for a short period.
It could also be because the Barracuda was doing exceedingly well for itself, and the world was after the best thing in muscle cars since sliced bread: the all-powerful Hemi Cuda. Whatever be the case, the Plymouth Duster deserved a slice of that glory, and here are ten reasons why.
10 The Duster Was A Valiant Coupe
The Valiant was a compact car. To give it a sportier look and feel, $15million was spent on making a semi-fastback two-door coupe that became the Plymouth Duster. The 1970 model years came with a Valiant badging, but post that the Duster was simply a standalone car. While it shared the front end with the Valiant, the back cowl was all different and what made the Duster so appealing to the young generation. Initial engine offerings were kept simple, 3.2-liter and 3.7-liter slant-sixes and the 5.2-liter and 5.4-liter V8s. Three trims came for this year: the standard Duster, the 340 performance Duster and in mid-year, the Gold trim.
9 The Duster Was Key To The Dodge Demon
The Duster became a runaway success. Pitted against the likes of the slightly smaller Ford Maverick and the AMC Hornet, the Duster also managed to complete well with the slightly larger Chevrolet Nova. Of course, while the Maverick and the Nova also came in four-door versions, the Plymouth Duster was a two-door coupe for all of its short if impactful life.
It was also marketed as an alternative to the Volkswagen Beetle and enjoyed so much attention that soon Dodge also wanted its very own version of the Duster. So in 1971, the Dodge got the Demon, and the rest, as they say, is history.
8 That Unmistakable Duster Logo
What many won’t know is that the Plymouth Duster was going to be named after a Warner Bros character. Much like the Plymouth Road Runner, the Duster was going to be called something based on the Tasmanian Devil toon. By then, the license agreement had fallen through because Warner Bros wanted a lot more money. And so, the Duster was named the Duster. The logo was designed by Chrysler’s Thomas Bertsch and was also inspired by the way the Tasmanian devil moves in the toon – in a cloud of dust. So the Duster logo came to be a twister with eyes. It remains one of the most recognizable automobile logos to date.
7 Performance At A Cheap Price
The top trim of the Duster offered a 5.5-liter V8 that pulsed out 275 horses and 340 ft-lb torque – for a car the Duster’s size, these were serious performance numbers. The 5.4-liter V8 also gave out 230 horses, while the two 3.2-liter and 3.7-liter slant-sixes managed 125 and 145 horses respectively, which could also propel the Duster with good speed.
Of course, the 5.5-liter V8’s performance was boss, with a 0-60mph sprint of 6.2 seconds, and a quarter-mile run in 14.7 seconds. All that performance came at just $2,947 for the top trim. Ford Mustang cost upwards of $3,300 – so the Duster was quite the steal.
6 The 1971-72 Dusters: No More Valiants
The biggest and most significant change made to the 1971 Plymouth Duster was the removal of the Valiant fender badges, as well as the Plymouth writing on the grille. The Duster had come of its own and was recognizable as a standalone car. Another new trim was introduced and called the Duster Twister with special side stripes, a matte-black hood, and the 340’s shark-tooth grille. A hood scoop and rear spoiler were added (non-functional), as was a dual exhaust and cool bucket seats. More than 186,000 Dusters were made in 1971 alone. The 1972 model remained pretty much the same, though the horsepowers dropped because of a new way of measurement, power remained the same.
5 The 1973 Plymouth Duster: Spruced Up
The Valiants were refurbished for this year, and so was the Plymouth Duster. There were a new hood and grille as well as restyled fenders, bumpers, and taillights; the latter of which were chrome encircled. An interesting tidbit is that the Dodge Demon was now called the Dart Sport because some church groups had a problem with the demonic name.
Disc brakes and rear-axles were changed and a three-speed automatic transmission was also added in as an option. The ignition also became electronic across all trims. A Space Duster package was also brought in, which had got nothing do with outer space but rather car space – the backbench could be folded down to add to the cargo space.
4 The 1974 Plymouth Oil-Embargo Duster
Despite 1974 being flush with the first wave of the oil crisis, the Plymouth Duster outperformed every other year's sales by shipping out more than 280,000 examples. The engine was now a 5.9-liter V8, de-tuned to meet the strict emissions regulations of the day. This engine still churned out 245 horses by using a combination of the camshaft, intake manifold, a dual-exhaust as well as the carburetor. A Duster 360 model was introduced for this engine – and it also had power disc brakes, attractive tape stripes on the side and rear, an upgraded suspension and shocks, and a sway bar. The Duster was still all heart and muscle.
3 The End Of The Duster: 1975-76
The 1975 Duster remained largely unchanged but the 360-engine caused a sales slump, as with all underpowered muscle cars of that era. 1976 saw minor changes to the Duster with some special edition models added to the roster. Along with the 1974 Space Duster, now there was a Feather Duster. This came to be a little lighter than the standard Duster because of lightweight aluminum parts. The lighter weight managed to give a good fuel economy of 24mpg in the city. Then came in a Silver Duster, which was simply a bit striped in looks and came with a stylized interior. Without a catalytic converter, the 360 engine remained to be a powerless one, doing a 0-60mph spring in 7.9 seconds and that too with special real axle gearing ratios.
2 A Strange, Abrupt End
In the middle of 1976, The Plymouth Duster was suddenly replaced by the Plymouth Volaré – and on Dodge’s end, the Dodge Aspen shunted the Dodge Dart out. Sadly, we all know how this went. The Volaré and Aspen were beautiful cars, perhaps the prettiest Dodge and Plymouth ever made, but they weren’t made well. The quintessential rust buckets, both the cars had massive reliability issues and leakage problems. The moisture in the air made them rust like nothing else, and this soon brought about an end to the Volaré, and later Plymouth in general by the turn of the 21st century.
1 A Truly Fun Muscle Car
The one reason why Plymouth Duster sold in droves was a bit of fudging around the insurance. The Duster 340 was a pure muscle car, so obviously, the more than $1,000 a year insurance rates were killing for buyers. So the buyers, in the initial few years, would go to their insurance agents and tell them that they were buying a Valiant two-door coupe – and down the rates would go. Of course, this game could not last too long when the agents figured out that this was a Duster, and then ask if the Duster was a V8. But it lasted for a while and made the Duster a very popular car during its short but respectable lifespan.