Building a car for the first time is always a challenge, but doing so on a minimized time schedule can be downright nerve-wracking. When 17-year-old Rodney Knight Jr. of New Middletown, Ohio, put the wraps on this '73 Duster project, he thought he was home free. The Duster, however, had different ideas.
Rodney bought the Duster in July 2001. "The condition was great," he says, "and the price was right. It was unbelievable to find a car in northern Ohio in this great of shape."
Contributing to the Duster's sound nature was its early life in California before being shipped to the Buckeye State. Originally a Slant Six car, a previous owner had dropped in a new K-member and 440 big-block. The next owner was obviously intent on drag racing the A-Body because he added a six-point roll cage and subframe connectors to the mix.
Shortly after Rodney secured the keys to the Duster, he and his cousins decided to pull the cage. He then put the car on the road to get a better idea of how it handled and to look for potential problem areas, which didn't take long to find.
"A loose wire in the engine bay," says Rodney, "arced on the manifold and shorted out the whole wiring harness and started a small fire. Thankfully, I got it out and killed the ignition before we had an entire meltdown."
Rodney towed the car home and let it sit for a week before deciding to dismantle the Duster and give it "the business." In a little over a week, the car was nothing more than a rolling shell.
First on the plate was rebuilding the 440. Rodney had been told that the engine had less than 1,000 miles on it, but pulling the cylinder heads revealed a different story. Cylinder ridges and heavy carbon deposits indicated someone had fibbed, so Rodney sent the V8 to Benzenhoefer Performance for a complete bottom-end rebuild. BP gave the engine a .030 overbore, then lightened, internally balanced, and ground the original crank .10 under before reinstalling the Six-Pack rods with ARP wave-loc bolts and fitting them with SRP forged-aluminum pistons. A Mopar Performance .484 cam and lifter set along with a Crane double-roller timing chain rounded out the short-block redo.
For the heads, Rodney stuck with the original 906s, but had a local machine shop deck them just enough to ensure a flat gasket surface before dressing them up with 2.08/1.74 Mopar valves, Crane Gold Race 1.5 roller rockers, and Comp Cams springs. An M-1 single-plane intake, an 800- cfm Holley, and Mopar black wrinkle valve covers finished the engine work.