Alligators swimming in sewers. Politicians telling us nothing but the truth. Hemi convertibles stored on blocks since Vietnam. Hey, we all know some urban legends, and we quickly figure out most of them are not true.
When it came to street racing back in the day, there were urban legends that abounded in the car culture. You know, serious cars that showed up only in the shadows with monster engines, bad attitudes, and the desire to clean out every wallet at the drive-in. Nope, I never actually saw that car, but everyone on the street set knew at least one person who had. At least that's what I heard . . . .
For Joe Sewell of Church Hill, Tennessee, this real-life, 12-second, '70 Duster was the next step in a progression of Mopars he has owned over the years. The Sewell family has been Mopar loyal for decades, and in 1999, Joe had the chance to pick this car up as a replacement for a '72 Duster he had sold back in 1994.
"My first car was a red '72 Duster," the 31-year-old mechanic recalls. "This was a one-owner car, in pretty poor shape but all there. The asking price was $500, so I bought it and began fixing it up."
To go "big red" again, Joe had Earl Peters shoot the car in '94 Jeep Liberty Red -a hot hue that stands out on this package. The '70 Duster was a big seller for Plymouth, but somewhat nondescript in styling, so the color really sets it apart from its more pedestrian kin. Black graphics with displacement call-outs are on the sides thanks to Signs by Roach.
A rumor like, "That thing's got a big-block in it" will be laid to rest once the hood is open, though the 416s listed on each rear quarter are truth in advertising for the LA-series mill. The engine is a combination that Joe built using a long-swing Mopar cast crankshaft in a '75 era 360 block that was safely bored out .070 over. Into this went Eagle rods and Diamond pistons, though Joe is keeping some of these details close to the vest. J&J Racing Engines did the balancing on the reciprocating assembly before it was installed in the short-block.
Camshaft duties went to a Mopar Purple Shaft with .508/292-duration specs, using good peripherals to lift valves in a set of Mopar X-type heads. Between them is a Mopar M1 intake and big 850-cfm Holley, which is plate-feed a 100-horse shot of laughing gas, courtesy of Sniper Nitrous Systems. Mopar also supplied the ignition system, with Hedman Hedders and a 3-inch exhaust system taking the fumes to the rear bumper.
"I can't get any traction with this thing on the street tires," Joe admits. "I drive it on Thursday evenings from my house to Bristol Dragway for their Street Fights program and have gone as quick as 12.34 at 114 with this engine, but haven't even tried the nitrous yet." The tires he obliterates are fairly fat, too. Nitto low-profile 275/50R17s on 17x11 American Racing Torq-Thrust IIs are in the rear, while the similar fronts are 17x7s with 255/50R-17 meat. Rear suspension mods, other than the mini-tubs Joe has already installed, are on the to-do list, but we'll take tire-spinning 12.30s on the street any day. The front suspension and manual steering are also still in place.
Working off the rear of the crank is a 904 TorqueFlite with a standard OE converter (no kidding). the tranny has a Cheetah manual valvebody that reverses the shift pattern. This in turn funnels ponies to the spinning tires via a 3.91 Sure Grip-equipped 8.75 banjo rear.
Meanwhile, the interior was treated to fresh vinyl, courtesy of Legendary, a Grant steering wheel, and a large-face Auto Meter tach with shift light. Joe has had every bolt and piece of trim off this car, and his handiwork showed when we took it out to a public parking lot for our photo shoot. Street cars don't come much cleaner than this Duster.
Now, we know most of the cars of legendary yore only showed up when no one was around, but this is one that offers weekly proof that power is still found on the boulevard. When Joe isn't heading to Bristol for timeslips, the car sees duty in and around Kingsport, Tennessee, which still has a strong car/cruising culture (though Tennessee's recent "zero tolerance, no exceptions" laws on street racing makes that a rare activity now).
When we put it all together, it's a pretty cool deal-drives it every week, kicks out low 12s without the bottle (though it's there if he needs it), started out as a 318 beater and now looks the part of Superman with 416, and hot paint . . . and the guy did most of it himself. Hey, you can't make this kind of stuff up.
'70 Plymouth Duster
Church Hill, TN
Mopar Power Engine: Joe went "little big man" on his engine, selecting a 360 block from the mid-'70s and getting it bored out .070-inch. Relying a lot on the Mopar Performance catalog, the short-block has a cast crank/Eagle rod/Diamond piston combo, with valve work courtesy of a Mopar hydraulic Purple Shaft. Factory X-heads are over the bores, bridged by a single-plane MI intake and big Holley carb. A 100-shot of nitrous is available but the car already blows the tires off at full throttle, so the bottle normally stays full. With Hedman Hedders and a highflow exhaust, it's a pretty efficient package. Transmission: Rebuilt 727 TorqueFlite with console-mounted factory shifter. Differential: 8-3/4 with 3.91 gear and Sure Grip. Horsepower and Performance: Estimate is 450 ponies off the crank. A little more bite and this thing will be in the 11s, but Joe realizes that tires are cheaper to replace than hard parts and is satisfied with its current layout.
Sure Grip Suspension: Though completely rebuilt during the restoration, the suspension is fairly close to what was mandated on any 340 OEM application, with "he-man" manual steering. Brakes: Front discs and rear drums, manual assist. Wheels: 17-inch American Torq-Thrust IIs: 7-inches wide in front; 11 inches out back. Rubber: Nitto low-profile radials: 235 and 275, respectively.
High Impact Body: Standard repairs plus a set of minitubs for rear tire clearance. Paint: 2004 Jeep Liberty Red by Earl Peters; 416 callouts and stripes are from Signs by Roach. Interior: Credit Legendary for nice, new vinyl coverings, and the only additions inside are the tach and Grant steering wheel. Best Performance: 12.34 at 114 last fall at Bristol.