As musclecar madness peaked at the end of the 60s, auto manufacturers were tripping over themselves to bring to market the biggest and baddest V-8 bruisers the country had ever seen. Of course, then, as now, top-shelf performance came at a premium price, and for many folks, the street rippers of the day were priced well beyond the financial means of many American muscle enthusiasts. Fortunately, there were a few examples of economic muscle on dealer lots in those days. One of the more successful of this blue-collar breed was the Plymouth Duster.
The Duster was born in 1970 as yet another performance offspring of the Valiant line. When the earlier Valiant-based Barracuda eventually left the A-Body nest with an all-new body style to set its own destiny among the heavy-hitting E-Body ranks, the Vailant line was left without a musclecar representative. To fill the gap, Plymouth designers returned to a familiar drawing board and proven approach. Once again a fastback profile melded its way onto the Valiant platform and became the Duster.
When packing the street-proven 275hp 340ci V-8, the Duster 340 was economical, and delivered a mean punch. Priced at just over $2,000, the Duster 340 could fit the budget of the financially-challenged, and with 14-second quarter-mile e.t.s on tap, the small-block compromise proved to be no compromise at all.
Paul Karg of Venus, Pennsylvania, has had a long history with Plymouths feisty little A-Body, having owned four Dusters prior to the purchase of this Vitamin C Orange 70 model in 1997. His story begins, somewhat humorously, during a trip across western Ohio, where he picked up an Auto Trader and came across an ad for a 71 Duster with a Wedge stripe on the hood.
The owner said [the car] was garage kept and never saw rain, says Paul. With the pictures that he sent me, it didnt look bad from 50 feet. After me and my two cousins drove six-and-a-half hours to see [the Duster], we ran into a piece of trash...After a half-hour of beating his car down on a local back road for lying to us, we were off. The revenge, we assume, was sweet indeed!
I picked up another Auto Trader on the Interstate and started looking at cars the whole way back, but could only locate B-Bodies and nothing worth buying. Having had four other Dusters, I had my heart set on a 70 Duster, when the last stop we made I found this one.
The next weekend we went out and bought it. Two hippies in Cleveland owned the car. He bought it for his wife in 1990 at an auction in Pittsburgh, figuring that she would like the color. Well, she hated it. They were both Pontiac people, and she refused to drive it. When I got there it was sitting beside his GTO and her LeMans. What a sight! The rest is history.
Paul says the Duster was in above average condition and just needed some elbow grease to return it to fine forma form that typified the bang-for-the-buck nature of many Duster 340s of the day. Aside from the beefy engine and High Impact Paint, Pauls Duster sports little else in the way of amenities, as the first owner was obviously cashing in on the most for the least theme. Both the steering and brakes are of the manual persuasion, and that, coupled with the gritty 3.91:1 Sure-Grip rearend, bare-bones black vinyl interior, and flashy Vitamin C exterior hue, made for a musclecar that was heavy on the go and light on the dough.
In the winter of 1997, Paul reupholstered the seats and installed fresh carpet in the Duster. After attending the Mopar Nationals the following year, the 340 broke a ring and gave Paul the excuse to dive headlong into a restoration. The engine and tranny were pulled and rebuilt, and Paul decided that while he was at it he might as well lay on a fresh coat of Vitamin C orangea job for which Butch Snyder Auto of Snydersburg, Pennsylvania, did exceedingly well. Paul also gives high praise to Kim Fletcher of Fletchers Garage, a local Chrysler dealer, who did most of the mechanical work, and to girlfriend Laura for her understanding and patience during the project.
Today, Paul and his Duster 340 enjoy road time at least twice a week, as well as participating in local shows and cruises. And while the orange banger may not get the stares some of its big-block Plymouth brethren receive, this little A-Bodys got the goods where it counts.