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1970-1994 Plymouth Duster and Dodge Demon cars

1970 plymouth duster

sunroofShortly after the highly successful new Valiant by Chrysler was launched, designers created a sporty fastback version called the Barracuda. While it was in many ways more attractive than the new Mustang that came out shortly afterwards, Plymouth sold roughly one Barracuda for every ten Mustangs. Product planners knew something had to be done, and started working on a new body that would accommodate much larger engines than the little Barracuda could handle.

When the Barracuda moved to a new body, shared with Dodge’s Challenger, the (now Plymouth) Valiant had no sporty body style to engage and grab buyers. Plymouth people saw this coming, and acted accordingly — quite possibly with the success of the Plymouth Road Runner providing some inspiration.

The Plymouth Valiant was economical, inexpensive, attractive, and dependable, but because of thin margins, Chrysler did not have much money to invest in it. Still, $30 million was set aside for a 1970 model year makeover, to be shared between the Plymouth Valiant and similar (with a longer wheelbase) Dodge Dart.

Just dropping a 340 V-8 into a two-door Valiant was not enough. The existing Dodge Dart Swinger 340, despite high performance, wasn't flying off the shelves. A new body style was needed, though only $15 million was available — that money was meant just to rearrange the sheet metal on a low-margin car, not create a brand new model.

Plymouth Duster

Because of that budget, anything that could carry over from the Valiant, did: front end sheet metal, all bumpers, quarter panel inserts, drivetrain, most of the suspension, and running gear. The stylists were, within that realm, given free rein to come up a neat looking two door — as long as it had the Valiant floor pan, chassis, wheelbase, and overall length. It had to be done quickly. Getting tooling machines on line for production takes a long lead time to avoid expensive overtime, so the body had to be in place just as soon as the styling folks got it together. The rear axle track wasn't changed, due to cost, and it remained around 2 inches too narrow on either side to coincide with the sketches.

1976 Figures Wheelbase Length Width Height Track Headroom Legroom Trunk (cu. ft.)
Valiant Sedan 111 199.6 71 54 59.2 / 55.6 38.3 / 37.3 41.9 / 35.2 16.6
Plymouth Duster 108 197 71.7 53.4 59.2 / 55.6 37.2 / 36.4 41.9 / 29.4 20.1
1994 Duster 97.2 171.7 67.3 52.7 57.6/.2 38.3 / 41.4 41.4 / 34 13.1

The Duster had a somewhat smaller rear seat than the Valiant, but had over three cubic feet of additional storage space, thanks partly to a higher deck lid. The rear window was curved more aerodynamically and flush mounted, as a result of wind tunnel tests done on cars designed for racing. The Valiant still had a 108” wheelbase in 1970, when the Duster was introduced; the front legroom of the 1970 Valiant was 40.8 inches (rear legroom was 35.4).

1976 Plymouth Duster cars

Gene Weiss, the Plymouth compact car product planner, conspired with Plymouth stylists (notably Neil Walling and Milt Antonick) to bet $15 million on a long shot model allegedly not approved by corporate management. The high performance 340 would give it big-muscle performance. Dodge had their light Swinger coupe with the 340 in it, which made for very swift competition to anything on the street; that also provided the components they needed without having to pay for more development or tooling.

Plymouth Duster dashboard

Weiss tapped Milt Antonick, supervisor in the compact and pony car exterior design studio, as a stylist; Antonick was an expert at making something of value out of what was available, which insiders called “junk yard” styling. Milt, in turn, called upon a junior stylist who had been working on the full sized Plymouth to make some sketches.

duster 340

Neil Walling dropped everything else, and within a couple of days had the basis for what would be the Duster. Setting off the sketch was the sloped rear, wide rear fenders, and metal crease lines that fit perfectly with the Valiant. The fit of the small roof made the car, especially in the sweep of the large “C” pillars. The design, though, called for sharply curved side glass in the door windows. Walling proposed to go from the industry’s current maximum radius — 90 inches — to a mere 45 inches. Not only would this glass have to be made and installed, but it had to fit into the existing Valiant door.

See the 1966 Plymouth Duster Sportwagon proposals made by John Samsen.

Duster car proposals at Plymouth from John Samsen

While PPG worked on how to make the glass, Advanced Car Engineering’s John Worthy was brought in to stuff 45 inch radius curved windows into doors not designed for them, and then make them go up and down flawlessly. Worthy made the 45 inch curved glass work inside those 90 inch curved glass designed doors, in a couple of days — without this, the car would never have been. The curve dramatically increased the round look above the belt line, sweeping away the “made from Valiant parts look.”

Other flaws cropped up later; the tail lights were set directly in the metal, without any bezels, and quickly became a spot for rust through. The rear panel resulted in a high lift over to put things in the trunk. The flat deck lids had no handles to for closing; owners took to closing them by slamming them with their hands on the lip, resulting in creases or small dents very quickly. The Plymouth team rushed a redesigned lid into production that had a strengthening vertical rail down the center real early in the 1971 model year run. But these were relatively minor complaints on a phenomenally successful car — one that leveraged and built on the Valiant’s many real strengths, but with a much sportier look, a substantially larger trunk, and less wind resistance (thanks to the revised rear).

John Samsen with his slant six Duster and boat

Enter the Plymouth Duster

The Duster concept name came out of an advertising agency suggestion. It sounded performance oriented, and had a bit of humor in it. After all, when you got beat, you had been “dusted.”

340 engineThe 1968 Plymouth Road Runner had proven that characters could sell, so the company approached Warner Brothers with the idea of using the Tasmanian Devil, as well. It would have fit with the Road Runner, but Warner Brothers either turned them down or asked too high a price; either way, they could not do it. The designers created their own “duster” swirl, similar to the Tasmanian Devil in flight.

Meanwhile, Milt Antonick was working on how to sell the 340 engine option. The 340 ci V-8 was one of the highest performance V8s ever built by Chrysler. Rated at a very conservative 275 horsepower, some say it had an easy 320 or better. With the 340, the Duster could not only easily beat the Nova 350 and its Ford equivalent, but could go after big game — the intermediate-sized big-block cars, including, it must be said, the 383 and possibly 440 four-barrel Barracuda and Challenger.

Milt Antonick drew up a small image of a telephone booth with the door left slightly ajar, with the letters “C K” beneath it — standing for Clark Kent (Superman).  On the engine silencer pad was a 36” by 36” Superman “S.” All the rights to use the character and symbols had been secured from the DC Comics company.

Chrysler-Plymouth Division Assistant General Manager R. K. Brown reportedly thought it was the most ridiculous concept he had ever heard about. He could not grasp what a telephone booth had to do with marketing a car. That was the end of the Duster CK, which became, simply, the Duster 340.

1970 Plymouth Duster

From sketch to final design, creating the Duster had reportedly taken all of six weeks! Plymouth division heads were highly confident.

The 1970 model was titled as a Plymouth Valiant Duster to build off the strong reputation of the Valiant. This would change for 1971, when the Valiant part was dropped.

valiant duster diagram of the cars

Duster was based upon the solid and proven Chrysler engineering of the time: unibody construction, front torsion bar suspension, Torqueflite automatic, manual or power brakes (drums, with optional discs in front), bench or bucket seats, and, for Duster 340, full instrumentation with an optional tachometer. The high performance 340 V-8-powered Duster became a member of the Plymouth Rapid Transit System; stock, it ran a 6 second 0 to 60 time. It could reach 130 miles an hour, and could pull a 14.5 second quarter mile at 99 miles an hour. That was within the territory of the 440 V-8-powered B-bodies.

1972 Plymouth Duster picture duster plymouth duster car photos

The Plymouth Duster hits the showrooms

On September 23, 1969, the new Duster went on sale nationwide.

Car Life rated the 1970 Duster 340 with a 3-speed TorqueFlite automatic in their March 1970 issue. They obtained a 6.2 second 0-60 time, with 0-100 in 17.5 seconds, incredible for the tire technology of the time. Quarter mile time was 14.7 seconds @ 94 mph. Overall gas mileage was 14.8, quite good for the performance and the time. Weight was 3520 lb as tested, price $2547.

inside the duster   340 V8 engine

 

Some car testers said the Duster tended to understeer. Even at triple digit speeds, though, the Duster was every bit as competent as any reasonably priced car on the road at the time.

car salesAt the end of the model year, Plymouth had sold an incredible 217,192 Duster cars — a huge increase given that in 1969, they had sold just 36,317 two-door Valiants. When the 50,810 four door sedans were added in, Valiant broke its previous sales record with a 1970 total of 268,002 units. Duster would score five more sales records before the end came in 1976.

At a base price of $2,172, the Duster represented a fantastic car for the money. The Duster had a five inch longer wheelbase, 4.5 more cubic feet in the trunk, 11 inches more hip room in the rear seat, 3.5 inches in the front, bigger brakes, more options to choose from, and a far better warranty than the Ford Maverick.

The buying public was captivated by the advertising and pushed sales ever higher, peaking in 1974 with well over 250,000 units — more than Valiant and Scamp combined. The 340 Duster was always a tiny fraction of sales, but it could be argued that it drove sales of the rest. It could also be argued that the slant-six Duster was a fine, sporty-looking car, with a big trunk and “big enough” interior.

After selling 100,000 units, Plymouth turned out a Gold Duster option package. It was a dressed up version, designed to turn “prospects” into “prospectors.”

The overall height was 52.6 inches, headroom (front) 37.2 inches, wheelbase 108 inches. The large trunk had nearly 16 cubic feet of space, hidden neatly by the styling. The interior was borrowed directly from the Valiant, as one might expect. The base price of $2172 bought a very basic model with a three-speed column-shifted manual transmission and no power assistance, which made the brakes and steering into exercise equipment; few decided not to spring for power brakes and steering. This was only a little above the base price of the original (1960) Valiant.

With sales of the 1970 Duster through the roof and seemingly no end in sight to the demand, Plymouth stylists were already hard at work on developing the next generation. John Samsen, who provided the following photo of a full sized clay model, wrote in 2010, “I think it is a proposal for an all-new Duster for 1973. I don't know if it was to share Valiant sheet metal, or be on its own. Anyway, it was never put into production. Note how similar it is to present-day compacts! Except for the door handle, it could pass for a contemporary car design.”

1970 Duster clay model

The Dodge Demon joins the Dodge Dart Swinger

1971 dodge demon1971 brought some changes; the Duster 340 got a huge Carter Thermo-Quad carburetor, new front-end styling, twelve new colors, and a new side tape treatment. Keeping up interest with little money, Plymouth developed another package, the Duster Twister, that looked like the Duster 340, but it didn’t have the 340.

Dodge got its own Duster equivalent, and Plymouth was given the Dodge Swinger in return. The Dodge version of the Duster was given a little cartoon devil with a trident. Burton Bouwkamp said, “... The Dodge Demon was named by the Dodge sales department because they envisioned an ad that said ‘Come in for a Demon-stration.’ The Demon name didn’t last one year because some religious groups formally objected to the Demon name.” Demon sales only hit 40% of Duster sales; but the Scamp turned 48,253 people into Plymouth owners, 48% of the sales of the Dodge Swinger.

Road Test looked at the 340 Dodge Demon automatic in April 1971. They got 0-60 in 7.8 seconds (a more typical time) and a 14.6 second quarter mile at 96 mph. Estimated top speed was 127 mpg, fuel economy about 15-16 mpg. They rated the cornering, finish, luggage space, performance, and steering to be excellent.

1971 Dodge Demon

Owners of the Duster and Demon had some advantages over owners of Swingers and Scamps; the rear of the Duster was designed for aerodynamics, and greatly reduced noise and increased highway gas mileage. Cruising became easier. The high deck lid also dramatically increased trunk space, giving coupe owners far more storage than sedan owners.

The Gold Duster included a larger (225) slant six or the 318 V8 along with a number of trim additions, dual horns, and a cigar lighter.

By the end of 1971 the Duster had turned the Plymouth division into a winner, garnering some 277,331 sales on the Valiant side of the house.

1972 had been planned for an all-out makeover. The stylists prepared for softer, rounder Darts, Demons, Dusters and Valiants. The decision had been made in 1970. At that time, there wasn’t much money to go around, so the decision had been that there would be no allocation for the 1972 models. It didn’t make much difference to the public. The cars were so popular that they just kept on selling, just as they were. They owned a 30% share of the compact market, twice as large as any other competitor.

1970 Duster

The largest change came in the engine department for the 340. Compression was reduced to 8.5:1. The horsepower was measured by the SAE net standard, dropping the 340 to 240 ponies. On the brighter side, electronic ignition became an option on 318 and 340 models.

By the end of the 1972 model year over 330,393 folks had bought cars from the Plymouth Valiant contingent. More than ever, the Duster was just all over the place.

The Dodge division gave in to the hue and cry from the religious coalitions and changed the Demon to the time-honored Dart Sport. It still never sold anywhere near the totals of the Duster. 

340 duster

1967-73 sales and profits

Changes to the cars for 1973; the Space Duster

Portions written by Lanny Knutson. Copyrighted by the Plymouth Bulletin. Reprinted by permission.

1973 Plymouth Duster 340The Valiant and Duster were both restyled for 1973; following 1973, which ushered in a more formal appearance for the Valiant and Duster, styling changes would be minor.

The new, more aggressive hood was matched by the wide raised center section of a new three-segment grille flanked by squared headlight bezels. Below was a massive bumper with large rubber guards designed to meet more stringent protection requirements; it looked more “natural” than bumpers of some competitors and some larger Chrysler cars. Large single-unit taillamps were shaped to flow with the Duster's rear sheet metal contours. The other Valiants remained unchanged from the rear.

Chrysler's famous Electronic Ignition System became standard across the board this year. Introduced on a limited basis in 1971, it was being installed on all engines late in the 1972 model year. The points and condenser-less system provided up to 35% more voltage that improved cold weather starting and reduced misfiring. Also helping reduce emissions was the Cleaner Air System which featured an exhaust gas recirculation system that routed a varied volume of exhaust gas to the incoming fuel/air mixture to lower peak burn temperatures. Also included were an orifice spark advance and an electric assist choke.

Plymouth Duster on a steep grade

power disc brakes for 1973 plymouth carsFor greater braking performance, disc brakes were made standard on all cars except the six-cylinder Duster, and even for these cars, they were optional. Power assist was standard on all Furys, Duster 340s, and all wagons.

This was also the Year of the Bumper when bumpers able to withstand 5 mph front and 2.5 mph rear impacts were mandated by law. Although the bumpers had to be set two inches further from the body than on previous models, Plymouth did a better job of integrating them into overall styling than some other manufacturers managed to do. Inside, mandatory shoulder belts were stored above the doors; they were awkward at best.

In addition to the returning Twister and Gold Duster were the new Space Duster and the Special Coupe packages. The Space Duster revived the old Barracuda concept of a folding rear seat and fully carpeted trunk and cargo space that could extend to 6.5 feet. A sliding sun roof was optionally available for the car.

adoption signThe Special Coupe was intended to be a luxury Duster. Pleated vinyl seats, a full vinyl roof and vinyl-insert side trim enhanced the upscale package which also included the Spacemaker Pak created for the Space Duster.

The standard six for all other models was the 198, reduced to 95 horsepower. The 225 six and 318 V8 continued as the other available engines.

While the word had gone out that performance was dead, and insurance companies conspired to aid in its death with usury rates. The Duster 340 sold 15,731 copies this year, the most ever, but that was the high point for the high performance Dusters. The number crunchers hadn’t gotten around to figuring out just how fast the 340 truly was, keeping the rates out of the skyrocket column.

Gasoline availability did more to knock off high performance V-8 engines than anything else. It wasn’t the price per gallon, it was whether you could get it.

The end of the 1973 model year saw another record, with 380,592 registrations for the Plymouth Duster. Valiant production for the calendar year 1973 rose to 402,805, approximately 265,000 of which were Dusters. Another 2,614 hardtops were reportedly built for Canada. Smiles all around again. Chrysler's corporate production increased 13.1 % over 1972, bettering the overall industry's 9.5% improvement and garnering an industry share of 15.55 percent Although doing even better with a 21.2% improvement in sales, Plymouth remained stuck in the No. 6 industry position.

1974: Valiant Scamp becomes the Brougham; luxury pushes out sport

1974 was another banner year for the Duster. Buyers continued to come into the Plymouth dealers in high volume, driving away every Duster that could be built. Style wise, the 1974 was a pass. No major changes at all, except under the hood. The 360 cubic inch V-8 replaced the 340.

1973 dusterOriginally conceived as a smog motor, the 360 was a great performer. In the Duster it made for 245 horsepower.

The 360 was just as hot as the 340. Gasoline prices and insurance rates had been making a big impact, though, and only 3,979 Duster 360s were sold.

Styling had gussied up the Valiant Scamp, turning it into something called a Brougham, and people went nuts for it, snapping up 127,430 copies. The Brougham, with its luxury appearance and features, including plush velour, provided an economical option for those who were used to bigger, more expensive cars, but who wanted better gas mileage. The Brougham pushed Plymouth into an easy third place win in the production race. Total assemblies amounted to 476,818 cars!

Dusters became safer and easier to drive with the advent of new shoulder belts that would “give” when drivers leaned forward, and could be attached in one movement. The government also insisted on a seat belt lockout, so that the engine could not be started when the driver (and passenger, if one was present) did not have their belts on. This “feature” could easily be eliminated in the Duster by disconnecting the wires underneath the seat. By 1975, that rule had been dropped.

Never great sellers nor anywhere near the performers they were expected to be, Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Barracuda ended production in April 1974. The original Barracuda, which would presumably have morphed into something like the Duster, had been the correct answer after all — like too many Mopars, it might have just been too far ahead of its time.

The last Plymouth Valiant Dusters: 1975 and 1976

duster towing package

Plymouth Valiant Duster - cars of 1975The Valiant Brougham was a big hit, and Plymouth followed it up with the Duster Custom. The full-length rocker and taillight panels that decorated the Custom were optional on other Dusters.

The grille was changed for 1975, with a more finely-meshed plastic that had silver coating in front and black behind; the effect was more upscale than the 1973-74 grille. White parking light lenses hid amber bulbs. Seat belts were improved again, and were less balky than the 1974 units.

The Gold Duster returned along with the Space Duster Pak. For the second year, the high-performance coupe was called the Duster 360 after its four-barrel, 245 net-horsepower engine. Radial tires, a fuel-pacer system, and a tighter torque converter helped increase the fuel economy of the Duster.

Word got out early about the planned replacement for the Duster and Valiant. Chrysler wanted to have compacts that would compete on an upscale image as opposed to being basic transportation. Their decision was reinforced with the Brougham model; people couldn’t get enough of them, and the added options (and price) made them profitable.

Chrysler had, by early publicity, given people a reason to not make that buy. The car was good enough to wait until the new models came out in 1976. You could see it with the end of the model run. Valiant sales figures, overall, fell to 267,525. A large number of those were the upscale Valiant Broughams, which fuel-efficiency minded customers, used to the luxury trim in their big Fury or Monaco, could buy without a qualm. The 360 only sold 1,421 units in 1975, and was discontinued at the end of the year. Find one of those and you have a very rare MoPar. The writing was on the wall.

The Scamp sold a mere 8,455 units in its final year, and the Duster, in its last year as an A-body, eked out 26,688 units despite the addition of the Feather Duster. Valiant sales finally beat Duster sales in their final year.

The end finally arrived in 1976. The press fell in love with the Plymouth Volare and Dodge Aspen. Motor Trend Magazine named them the “Car Of The Year” for 1976. With all the uproar, it was easy to forget that the Duster was still around for 1976.

1976 Silver Duster

Hidden among the Valiants, the Duster garnered 34,681 sales that would not come back to haunt Ma Mopar. Two surprises included the Silver Duster package, an appearance and trim scheme, and the more popular, more memorable Feather Duster.

silver dusterThe Feather Duster included aluminum replacements for the inner hood, trunk bracing, bumper brackets, and intake manifold, cutting weight by 180 lb (around 5%). It had a smaller single barrel carburetor, economy distributor calibration, large exhaust, and a 2.8:1 rear axle ratio, with a choice of three-speed automatic or four-speed overdrive manual transmission.

While acceleration was compromised, the Feather Duster was now rated at 22 mpg city, 31 highway with the automatic (a stunning 24 city, 36 highway with the manual), and was larger inside than many other economy cars, though acceleration took a hit. The Feather Duster was a fine alternative to the extra-slow Japanese imports that customers were waiting to buy, at list price; or at least it would have been, had more people considered it over the quick-rusting Coronas, Civics, and Datsuns of the time.

The Feather Duster could be well optioned — Richard Benner’s (pictured) had styled Rally wheels, a vinyl top, bucket seats with a console and floor auto shifter, full carpets, and all the other options.

All the Dusters, and all the Valiants, had one styling switch for 1976: the white lenses covering amber parking lamps were changed to amber lenses covering white lamps, making the grille somewhat more attractive.

In its August 1976 issue of Car and Driver, editor William Jeanes reported on a one-off show car built by the good folks over at Plymouth and called the "Fonzmobile." Based on a Duster 360 coupe, the Fonzmobile was built to capitalize on the popularity of the television show "Happy Days." The car featured a flame paint job, lakes pipes exhaust running under the body sill, dummy dual spotlights, wide whitewall tires, baby Moon hubcaps, a fold-down rear seat and a sliding sunroof. At the time, no plans existed to build such a car for public sale. The idea was to entice owners of the 1,173,000 used Dusters and Darts on the market to modify their own cars in similar fashion.  (This paragraph was from Jim Benjaminson writing in the Plymouth Bulletin, reprinted by permission.)

1970 plymouth duster

Finally, like all good things, the end arrived. The Duster went quietly away. Most analysts felt that Chrysler could have kept right on marketing the Duster for years without major alterations.

It had been a great run. A stunning 1,328,377 Dusters had been assembled in just seven years — not bad for a car that was not supposed to be produced.

1966 Plymouth Duster Sportwagon proposals made by John Samsen.

Plymouth Twister

Dave Duricy wrote that the Plymouth Duster Twister option package cost $100 and included a large variety of trim and stripes, but did not include any engine enhancements - a sheep in wolf's clothing.

Chad E Brown, a 1972 Twister owner, tells us that a Twister is a Duster with certain options standard, including bucket seats. The Twister also had a little cartoon tornado with eyes on the back panel near the taillights. First started production mid 71, when it had Rallye wheels, racing mirrors, side and lower deck stripes, flat black hood with Swinger 340 hood scoops and a unique 340 grill, standard. Biggest motor available was 318. 1972 models were the same but had standard bucket seats, Rallye wheels, and racing mirrors. The Twister lost the cool hood this year too. Also available was a canopy top and other stuff (inside hood release, etc...)

Jesse Moser wrote: "the Twister package changed to match the new body style of the 1973. The hood stripe follows the top edge of the "power dome" on the hood, and the late 1960s Formula S type scoops were added in place of the larger 71-72 scoops. A rear panel stripe was also present, though the cartoon disappeared, which by the way was only used on '72 cars. Bucket seats are no longer standard, since mine has a full "deluxe" bench. The Rallye wheels should be free of trim rings and a front anti-sway bar should be underneath. All of this should also be true for the '74 Twister, the last year for the option.

Steve Brown noted that, in 1972, the Twister Package was the A51 Accessory Group (option package) and consisted of body color dual racing mirrors, drip rail molding, wheel lip molding, performance hood treatment, and strip (body side tape with slant six, lower deck tape stripe and Twister decal with V8). The drip rail and wheel lip moldings and the Twister decal were only available as part of the Twister Package. Steve received this information from Galen V. Govier.

Plymouth Volare Duster

Plymouth Volare DusterThe Plymouth Duster name continued past the original Valiant Duster, but it was used as a trim line or label for existing bodies. The Volare coupe, for example, was originally tagged as just Volare Coupe, though it was clearly a continuation of the Duster concept: keeping the same front half of the vehicle, while adding a curved rear, almost identical to that of the Valiant. To be fair, the Volare itself was almost identical to the Valiant, except for its odd transverse torsion bar front suspension; other major changes included a far more refined interior, even more formal styling (which resulted in a taller, even less aerodynamic grille), and much more sound insulation. The Volare coupe even had an optional fold-down rear seat. As Lanny Knutson wrote in the Plymouth Bulletin:

In designing coupes, stylists prefer to move the rear window forward and at a sharper angle to give the car a close-coupled appearance. This, in turn, necessitates moving the rear seat forward to provide sufficient headroom which results in wasted space between the seat back and the rear axle. If the wheelbase is shortened and the axle is moved forward, this "wasted" space can be eliminated and the two-door car is given a more well-integrated appearance. It also becomes lighter and more maneuverable.

On a four-door car it is preferable that the rear wheels not intrude into the seat area. With the axle moved rearward, the rear backrest can be straight across. By going to two wheelbases, Plymouth avoided the compromised position of the Ford Granada, a direct competitor to the Volaré Premier line. Since the Granada coupe and sedan shared the same wheelbase, its sedan's backrest had to be curved in at the ends, creating a sort of three-person bucket seat.

There was a special version of the base coupe: the Road Runner. No longer a separate model, it was a sporty package offering Rallye wheels, E70x14 raised white letter tires, blackout grille and taillight panel, special decal stripes, black interior and heavy duty suspension. A mid-year Road Runner option was the Super Pak, featuring front and rear deck spoilers, rear window louvers and Spitfire Orange with black and yellow stripes as the only color. Popular options included vinyl bucket seats and a manual sun roof. All Volaré engines, 360 and 318 V8s and 225 Slant Six, were available in the Road Runner. A six-cylinder 'Runner? What would have been anathema eight years earlier was reality in fuel crisis times.

volare duster

The hottest engine for 1976 was a two-barrel 360 with just 180 net horsepower, capable of (according to Motor Trend) 0-to-60 mph in 8.6 seconds; they claimed they had to remove the air cleaner to be convinced only a two-barrel was underneath. The 360 had to be paired with an automatic.

The Duster name was a natural, given that the Plymouth Duster was one of the most successful nameplates ever introduced by Chrysler Corporation at that point. The combination of the curvy Duster rear end with the formal styling of the Volare was less successful than the pairing of the same rear with the Valiant, and sales were not quite as high, though many were made.

Walt Ronk wrote that the Volare with Duster Package was designated as RPO A42. 1980 Duster production for the A42 code cars was just 5,568, while Road Runners for 1980 dwindled down to a mere 496 units.

Horizon-based Plymouth Turismo Duster

Dodge Omni ChargerThe Plymouth Horizon, engineered in two continents using an award-winning, best-selling Simca as its basis, was a hot seller for years. Not surprisingly, the Duster name was applied to a car in the Horizon lineup as well, joining the Dodge Charger.

These cars boasted light weight and an independent front suspension, and one form was particularly successful — the Omni GLHS, which used the cars’ original hatchback form. The Turismo and Charger (TC3 and O24) had modified bodies, converting the economy-hatchback shape into a sportier low-slung hatchback-coupe shape. The Duster name was applied merely as a trim level, with absolutely no changes to the body — not a single curve or stamping was changed from the Plymouth Turismo.

The Plymouth Duster package was launched in 1985, essentially adding a rear spoiler, rallye wheels, and stripes. For 1986, there were three Turismos: base, Duster, and 2.2. For 1986, the Duster added special bucket seats, wheels, and trim to the base model; and Turismo 2.2 added an air dam, side sill spoilers, sport suspension, close-ratio five-speed manual, performance exhaust, decals, and high-performance version of the 2.2 liter engine, making it more formidable than the Duster. Only the 2.2 came with fourteen inch wheels; the others came with 13 inch wheels (though 14 inch wheels with P195/60R14 tires were optional on non-2.2 models). The main change for 1986 appears to have been anti-rattle pads added between the jack and spare.

1987 was the last year for these cars. The Duster package continued, joining up with the America program that also involved the Horizon; this provided a standard option package with steep discounts.

Plymouth Sundance Duster

plymouth sundance

woodgrain dashboardThe Plymouth Sundance had a sporty two-door version called the RS, which included a turbocharged 2.2 liter engine, until 1992. At that point, Plymouth (like Dodge with the Shadow) replaced the turbocharged engine and replaced it with a Mitsubishi 3-liter V6, which ran on regular gas; the V6 was good for 141 hp and 171 lb-ft of torque, considerably less than the turbocharged four it replaced.

While Dodge continued its Shadow ES name, Plymouth replaced the RS with the Duster model. This Plymouth Sundance Duster was merely a trim level; get the Duster, and you got 3.0 V6 and some standard features, with the stiffer suspension that went with the top engine. You could also choose to get the Duster trappings with the lower 2.5 liter four-cylinder (no turbo), as a “credit” option.

This car was the only Duster to use a non-Chrysler engine. It came with all Highline options and then some.

For 1993, Duster had seat and door trim fabric upgrades and attractive faux-wood bezels.

The last year for the Plymouth Duster was 1994. It was replaced by the Dodge and Plymouth Neon, which, with a small, naturally aspirated Chrysler-engineered powerplant, could outrace the V6 P-bodies on the straights or the curves, while boasting a larger interior and better gas mileage from its little 2-liter engine. The place once taken by the Duster was filled by the Dodge Neon SRT4 (officially just called Dodge SRT-4), which largely fulfilled the original intent and fury of the 340 Duster.

Duster detail at valiant.org | Plymouth Valiant cars | Plymouth Turismo Duster | Plymouth Sundance Duster | 1966 Plymouth Duster Sportwagon drawings | John Samsen Car DVD

340 V8 | 318 V8 | Slant Six | 2.2 Engine | 2.2 Turbo | 3.0 V6

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