The chassis was modified to compensate for the healthy LA under the hood. Tom fabricated frame connectors and installed polyurethane bushings, a Cal-Trac rear suspension, and a driveshaft loop. This wasn't enough to cage the animal, so to speak. Tom found out the hard way that the stock drivetrain wasn't up to snuff, and he quickly broke an axle. He upgraded them to Dutchman axles and replaced the driveshaft with a stronger one. With these modifications in place, Tom used the powerful small-block to thrust the A-Body down the quarter-mile in 11.86 seconds at 116 mph with the BFG Radial T/A tires you see here. "I know the car is capable of more with some tweaks to the chassis, a gear change, and tires," he says. "I don't think I'm going to make any changes, though. It's just too fun to drive the way it is."
Since he and son Tyler completed the car, it has received two celebrity awards at Carlisle along with class awards and has won two consecutive first place awards at the Mopar NATS-that's impressive. Tyler spent a lot of time with Tom in the car when he was just a baby, and Tom felt it was appropriate that he learned to drive in the car and that's exactly what he did. His crowing achievement was to drive the car down the strip at the NATS for the trophy run.
Restoring the car so closely with his son has only brought them closer together, and the next project will also include Tom's father. "When I was growing up, my dad had a '68 Coronet R/T that we worked on together," he recalls. "Just recently, I was able to pick up an R/T project car and we're planning to do a family resto with my son, myself, and my father." Family projects are always a blast, and we're sure an R/T restored with the same care as Tom's Duster will be a killer. He says he may even give the keys to Tyler when they're done with it . . . maybe.
'70 Plymouth Duster
Owned by: Tom Watkins, New Waterford, OH
Engine: The original small-block was machined to produce 416 cubic inches. The oil crossover was modified and the deck was squared and line bored with plates. Filling the bores are forged 4.07-inch JE Pistons attached to SCAT rods and a 4-inch forged Eagle crankshaft. Port-matched Edelbrock heads with 2.02-inch intake and 1.88-inch exhaust valves accept the incoming air from the Mighty Demon 850 carb and Edelbrock RPM Airgap intake. The exhaust was kept simple with 1 3/4-inch tti headers connected to a Flowmaster exhaust. The ignition was converted over to an MSD system. Tom and XRE Performance in Mooresville, North Carolina, performed the machine work and assembly.
Transmission: The factory four-speed was rebuilt by Tom to hold the power of the modified Mopar mill and uses a McLeod clutch.
Rearend: The original 8 3/4-inch rear boasts Dutchman axles, 3.55 gears, and a Sure-Grip.
Suspension: Tom went through the car and replaced every bushing with polyurethane. He fabricated his own frame connectors and installed 1-inch over arch springs with Cal-Tracs in the rear.
Brakes: Factory front discs and rear drums.
Wheels and Tires: Factory-style Rallye wheels. The front 15x7-inch wheels have 235/60R15 BFG Radial TAs mounted to them and the rear 15x8-inch have 265/60R15 tires.
Paint and Body: Tom sent the car off to his friend Mike Gemza of Creations by Gemza in Denver, North Carolina, to have the car sprayed down. Mike started with a clean canvas with little bodywork needing to be done. Several coats of PPG Rallye Red base were shot followed by clear. Tom took the car home and performed the final wet sanding and buffing, then applied the stripes. Every piece of the car is original.
Interior: Tom and Tyler restored the factory black interior at home, converting the dash to LED lights for crisp, clean, bright lighting.