Remember when '70 Dusters were so common it seemed they were a dime a dozen? There are still more than a few of them around, and folks like Colorado Springs' Shaun Johnson are turning them into creations beyond the Duster's humble Valiant economy-coupe origins.
If you're worried that Shaun cut up an original Duster 340 to build the beauty that you see here, don't fret. He started out with an A-Body so basic that it didn't even have carpeting. "I started out with a plane-Jane '70 Duster, white with a green interior, and I thought that was pretty disgusting," Shaun says. "When it was judged in Vegas, a lot of people thought the same thing. I heard over and over, 'Thank God you didn't repaint it white with a green interior.'"
Shaun's good taste was evident at an early age-he was only 13 when he bought the '70. Seven years later, aided by his father and with plenty of help from local shops and his fellow Southern Colorado Mopar Club members, the Curious Yella, W2-headed, 360-powered car you see here was ready to rumble . . . sort of.
Before it got to the key-twisting stage, there was plenty of work to be done on the ancient A-Body. Thirty Colorado winters had taken their toll, especially in and around the trunk, and it had also been crunched (and badly repaired) in back. "We replaced the bottoms of the quarter-panels, the trunk floor, and trunk floor extensions," Shaun says of the restoration/remedial bodywork done by Arthur's Auto Collision and Paint in Colorado Springs. "We got our replacement sheetmetal from Auto Body Specialties. I love every piece I got from them-they're perfect."
Shaun's Duster also received plenty of attention inside, which was needed because the stock green plaid bench seats and wall-to-wall rubber floor mats had seen better days. The stock seats were yanked and replaced with a deluxe black vinyl front bucket/rear bench and black carpeting interior that Shaun installed, using Legendary Auto Interior carpet and seat kits. He also added a Rallye gauge cluster that Mr. G's rechromed. Instead of a modern-day sound system, Shaun went the original-but-when-did-you-see-one-last? route with a Mopar cassette recorder/player on the transmission tunnel, with an original Mopar AM/FM radio in the dash. He says the cassette deck was one his father had on a shelf full of Mopar parts. "About four years ago, I saw a '71 Demon that had one between the buckets and a pistol-grip, and I thought that was just the coolest thing," Shaun says of the rare Mopar sound-system option. "We decided to put the cassette player in there when we restored the Duster. The A-Body should have come with them standard."
If you want one of those for your own, or at least the outer housing for a modern-electronics upgrade, Harm's Automotive is where to look. "They're reproducing the console mount and the tranny mount for those cassette players, and they're also reproducing that outer housing so you can put a CD player in there," says Shaun, who adds that he almost took it out for Scott Smith at Harm's to reproduce. "But he'd found another one, and he's come out with it. He had the same idea-he thought putting a CD player in there would be pretty cool."
Other hardware swapped in from Ma Mopar's parts bin included a large-bolt-pattern '73 Duster front end, rebuilt with Just Suspension's rebuild kit, and an 83/4-inch, 3.91-geared Sure Grip rearend with big-bolt-pattern C-Body (Fury) axles shortened to fit their housing. Brakes are big-bolt-pattern disc front/drum rear, and wide Mopar Rallyes with custom chrome trim rings on BFG T/As fill each fenderwell. "We originally went with 225s on the front, but they were too wide and they hit the fender, so we went with 205s. In the back, we went with 275/60s. They actually stick out a little, so we had to raise the rearend just a little bit. My goal this winter is to get the Rallyes moved inboard so they fit all the way inside the wheelwell," he says.
To add looks inside where...
To add looks inside where an ugly green bench seat interior once was, Shaun added a Rallye gauge cluster, Tuff steering wheel, deluxe buckets, a pistol-grip shifter, and an original Chrysler cassette deck that his dad had.
The W2-headed 360 looks like...
The W2-headed 360 looks like it went in on the assembly line, not in Shaun Johnson's Colorado Springs, Colorado, garage.
Shaun went for "period-correct"...
Shaun went for "period-correct" items that could have been factory or dealer options, or parts-counter prizes, on his Duster. That includes these scoops and the strobe stripe between them.
The original 318/904 powertrain was replaced by a locally built 360 with W2 heads and an A-833 four-speed. But problems cropped up with the first engine that replaced the OEM 318. "The first time we fired it up, the lifters were knocking," Shaun recalls. "We went through one cam, and we couldn't figure out why." Flattened lifters were blamed by the engine builder on improper cam break-in, but the problem happened three more times. Diagnosis: Too much valvespring pressure caused by the W2 heads being set up for solid lifters, not hydraulic lifters, thus the spring pressure was too high. That engine was too torn up inside to continue with, so out it came and in went another W2-headed 360, this one built at Geddes Auto Machine in Colorado Springs.
Unfortunately, more problems cropped up again before Shaun took his car to Mopars On The Strip in Las Vegas last year. The 8 3/4-inch rearend-built by the same "expert" who built the Duster's first 360-failed after Shaun drove the car less than one block, setting off a desperate, but successful, nationwide search for another 3.91 ring-and-pinion set, which they installed the day before they loaded the Duster on their trailer and left for Las Vegas.
When the Duster was unloaded and driven to the show field on Saturday of show weekend, the engine started knocking badly. The valve covers were pulled, and the culprit was bent pushrods. They'd come too far to just leave the car at their hotel, so with a little help from their friends, Shaun and his dad pushed it onto the trailer, then back onto the show field on Sunday. They also pushed it into place for this story's photo shoot. The lack of a running engine didn't diminish this Duster's appeal-it earned the Mopar Muscle Best of Show award.
The yet-to-be-functional 360's pushrod problem was traced to faulty rocker arms, then cured once and for all by a complete rebuild by Angelo Vigil at Geddes Auto Machine, who replaced all the bad/broken parts at their expense.
Since then, Shaun's driven and shown his Duster locally, fulfilling his goal of a car built to drive, not one built to be garage art. What's it like to drive? "I would say it's like a bat out of hell," Shaun says of his W2 360-powered Plymouth.
It's also a fine example of a car built with plenty of period-correct '70s-vintage upgrades and with a lot of perseverance to see it through to the finish.
Not only did this '70 Duster...
Not only did this '70 Duster get a set of big-bolt-pattern Rallyes (with custom chrome trim rings) on BFGs; it also got a rebuilt '73 Duster front suspension.
Found on a shelf full of his...
Found on a shelf full of his dad's Mopar parts, Shaun added this ultra-rare original Mopar cassette deck to his Duster. Harm's now has reproductions of the outer housing and mounting brackets.
'70 Plymouth Duster
Colorado Springs, Co
- Engine: Chrysler LA-series 360ci V-8, built by Angelo Vigil at Geddes Auto Machine, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
- Engine components include: W2 cylinder heads, Comp Cams High Energy 231/237 (.525 lift) camshaft with Harlan Sharp roller rockers, Weisco forged pistons (10.5 compression), Mopar Performance dual-plane intake manifold with an Edelbrock 750-cfm carburetor, forged steel crankshaft, MSD ignition and tti headers.
- Transmission: A-833 four-speed built by B+M Transmission, Colorado Springs. OEM-style Hurst pistol-grip shifter made by Scott Smith at Harm's Automotive.
- Rearend: Mopar 8 3/4-inch rearend with 3.91 gears and Sure Grip differential.
On the dyno (on pump gas)
- Peak horsepower: 435 @ 5,700 rpm.
- Peak torque: 446lb-ft @ 4,100 rpm.
- Suspension: OEM-type front torsion bar/rear leaf springs. Original '70 front suspension replaced with '73 Duster front end, rebuilt with Just Suspensions rebuild kit. Monroe gas-adjustable shocks are at all four corners.
- Brakes: What should have been standard on the Duster 340-large-bolt-pattern Mopar discs in front, and big, large-bolt-pattern drums in back.
- Wheels: Custom chrome-plated, large-bolt-pattern Mopar Rallyes. Front: 15x7 inches; rear: 15x8 inches. Tires: BFGoodrich radial TAs all around, 205/60R15 in front, 275/60R15 in back.
- Body: What was left of the original '70 Duster unibody was restored by Arthur's Auto Collision and Paint, Colorado Springs. Replacement steel parts sourced from Auto Body Specialties, while Hybrid Fiberglass Solutions made the air cleaner assembly. The scoops on the hood are original Mopar scoops and are functional.
- Paint: GY3 Curious Yella basecoat/clearcoat finish applied by Arthur's Auto Collision and Paint, who accented it with repro black strobe stripes. Timberline Upholstery put on a repro black vinyl top.
- Interior: Hideous looking green plaid bench seats/rubber floor mat were replaced with black '70 Duster deluxe vinyl buckets/rear bench and black carpeting. Repro interior trim sourced from Legendary Auto Interiors and installed by owner.
- Interior also includes: Rallye gauge cluster (rechromed by Mr. G's), Tuff steering wheel, original Mopar AM/FM radio in dash with ultra-rare original Mopar cassette recorder/player and E-Body consolette on transmission tunnel.