The Plymouth Duster (1970-1976)
The first Plymouth Duster was a semi-fastback version of the Plymouth
Valiant automobile, produced in the US from 1970 to 1976. The Duster resulted from the Plymouth planning staff's desire to use their allotted 1970 restyling money for something more desirable than the usual two and four-door Valiants. Working "under the radar", Plymouth designers and engineers pulled off a neat trick - a close-coupled coupe design that managed to fit all of the "hard points" of the existing Valiant platform, but provided the new and exciting product that the planners wanted.
The Duster was also created to fill the slot that was formerly occupied by the Valiant-based Barracuda. When the Barracuda moved from its A-body platform to the new E-body platform in 1970, this left a hole in Plymouth's lineup for a low priced youth-oriented car. The Duster would fill this gap beyond Plymouth's expectations, and would be primarily responsible for the sales failure of the E-body Barracuda. Several versions were designed for different market segments, from economy to performance, often with fanciful names such as Feather Duster, Gold Duster, Space Duster and Duster Twister.
1970 Plymouth Duster
In 1970, Plymouth unveiled its new Duster model. Following in the Barracuda's footsteps, the Duster was all Valiant from the cowl forward, but the rest of the car was completely different. Using a semi-fastback and a special rear valance with twin horizontal taillights, it aspired to portray the performance and youthful look that Plymouth desired. For 1970 only, a small Valiant badge went on the front fenders just above the Duster badge.
The Duster was available in two models — the standard Duster and the high-performance Duster 340. The standard engine was Chrysler's long-serving, reliable Slant Six. The smallest available V8 was the 318 (5.2 L), but the top-performing engine was by far the 340, rated at 275 hp. Performance was brisk with 1/4 mile times in the mid-14s at almost 100 mph, which was good for a car wielding less than 400 in³. With the factory optional 3.90 rear end, the car was documented to run high-13s in the 1/4 mile in stock trim.
At midyear, a "Gold Duster" trim package was added for the standard model. The Gold Duster package came with either the 225 in³ Slant Six or the 318 in³ V8. It also came with special Gold Duster badging, gold stripes on the sides and rear and other luxury trim options. Total sales in 1970 came to 217,192. 24,817 Duster 340s went out of the doors that year. At the end of 1973, Plymouth replaced the 340 cubic inch V8 with a lower performing 360 in³ V8 due to government imposed emissions requirements.
1971-1972 Plymouth Duster
The Duster was an instant success for Plymouth, so much so that Dodge insisted to Chrysler management that they receive their own version, the (Dart) Demon, which debuted for 1971. In response, Plymouth was given a version of the Dodge Dart Swinger 2-door hardtop named the Plymouth Scamp.
For 1971, only small changes were made to the hot-selling Duster. The "Valiant" badges were removed, as well as the Plymouth logo on the grille. A new trim package was added to the Duster line. Called the "Twister", this package gave its owner the appearance of the Duster 340 but with only Slant Six or 318 V8 power. This would help in securing insurance for the car and would set the stage for the later all-show-no-go cars in the 1970s.
The Twister came with special side stripes that mimicked the 340 models and also provided the new matte black hood and hood scoops. The Duster 340 would also receive these add-ons as well as a new "340 Wedge" decal that was mounted on the hood and at a 45° angle. This told anyone who saw the car that it was powered by the 340. The Gold Duster package also returned this year.
The Duster was selling extremely well, and no significant changes were made to the car in 1972, other than the tail lights being made longer. Chrysler executives originally planned to name the vehicle "Beaver", in an aim to appeal to hunters and sportsmen.
1973-1976 Plymouth Duster
Minor restyling involving new hood, grille, and tail lamp treatments were made for 1973 and 1975. In the midst of the first oil crisis, 1974 would be the Duster's best sales year, with over 277,000 units produced.
The 1976 Feather Duster was an engineering (if not marketing) success, featuring many lightweight parts including some aluminum body panels. It was, by far, the most fuel-efficient car in its size class (along with a similar Dodge model, the Dart Lite). That same year, the Duster 360 was one of a select few truly high-performance cars remaining on the market.
The 1976 model would be the last, since the successor to the Valiant, the Plymouth Volare, had been introduced and had gained considerable critical acclaim with its more formal look and redesigned front suspension.