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.
The car was ordered from the factory with the automatic transmission option ($250), so Blevins put in a 904 three-speed. "It was a rare option," Mike says. "It was ordered with a 904 on the buildsheet, and I wanted to keep the automatic because most all were ordered with stick shifts." Other factory-ordered options included tinted-glass ($34.85) and a remote-controlled driver-side mirror. There are 14x6 Rallye wheels on the front and 15x7s in the back.
With the engine, paint, and seat covers complete, Blevins and King handed it off to Mike, who began restoring the rest of the car, part by part, with some advice from friend Bobby Rogers in Kentucky. "Anything that could be unbolted was cleaned, painted, rechromed, or all of the above," Mike says. "The dashpad, door panels-anything-you name it, I did it. [Car collecting] is getting to be a rich man's hobby. But this car was not done by a renowned restoration shop or an owner with deep pockets, just three guys and a woman who love Mopars and love to drive them. It has exceeded all [my] expectations."
Mike and his wife, Vicki, log about 5,000 miles a year in weekend cruises and trips to car shows. "Vicki is a Mopar woman," Mike says. "It's really her car. After 100 miles in 95-degree heat, she jumps right in and makes it shine. We drive the car everywhere it goes. It has never been on a trailer. It's true that Mopar owners drive their cars more than any other collectors."
They have been active on the local show circuit, but Mike says his most treasured prize is a First Place finish in A-Body Modified at the '01 All-Chrysler Nationals. At the Mopar Nationals, Mike had to show in the Modified class because of the motor, but he says he lost points there due to originality. "It has rubbed shoulders with the upper crust on the show field, but they're in the trailer while we're having our fun," Mike says. "I redid the car my way, and a thumbs-up on the road is better than any trophy . . . except for Carlisle."