The '76 Feather Duster is a product of Chrysler's efforts to create a high-performance, fuel-economic car during a time in America when fuel had never been scarcer. The Duster was in its seventh year of production, and in response to the gas crisis, the Feather Duster (listed as the "Feather Duster Fuel Economy Package" on the option list) was engineered to be lightweight and get great gas mileage. There are few cars that tell more about the time in which they were built than the Feather Duster. This yellow one belongs to Mike Roberts of Ashville, Ohio, and it was only after he acquired it that Mike began learning the car's history.
Darell Blevins of Elizabethton, Tennessee, discovered this car in a junkyard in nearby Bristol. When he rescued it from the crusher, it was in "Tin Man" condition-all it needed was a heart. The original engine was gone, but the car was otherwise complete, all the way down to the buildsheet, window sticker, and owner's manual taking up residence in the glove compartment.
Mike found out about it through a mutual friend, Alan King, and in July 1997 he arranged to take a look at it. "We went to Darell's garage and there was this copper-colored Duster with black [vinyl] interior on jackstands-minus a motor and K-frame," Mike says. "He was going to paint it like this Dart he showed me on a paint manufacturer's calendar and then sell it to turn a buck. We haggled [over it] and struck a deal.
"I knew nothing about the Feather Duster, other than Darell saying they were rare. Most people thought it was just a neat phrase I made up. But I found out it was an economy option package ($50.56) featuring lightweight components."
Mike's car features the aluminum inner hood and trunk-lid panels and aluminum front and rear bumper mounts designed to make the Duster as light as a . . . well, you know. The crash-resistant bumper mounts and the transmission casing are also aluminum. A fiberboard headliner and pop-out windows also trimmed off weight. The shipping weight for these cars was around 2,700 pounds. As a result, they were getting as much as 20 mpg in town and 36 mpg on the highway, numbers comparable to today's economy cars.
Blevins and King set to work installing an engine. They decided to go with a 318 from a '72 Dodge van because, as Mike says, "That was what Darell had lying on the floor of his garage." In it went, along with a Performer intake and an Edelbrock carb. Those three components, along with the disc brakes, are the only non-stock parts. It maintains the original 711/44, 2.76 axle rearend, although Mike says there is an 831/44, 3.23 waiting in the wings should anything happen to the original.