Duster designed with performance in mind

by Larry D'Argis . Jun 22 2018
The Duster was designed with similar styling to another Plymouth vehicle available in the 1960s and 1970s, the Valiant. The Duster's design differentiated from the Valiant's with a unique body style and accentuated C pillars. (Photos by Larry D'Argis / Winnipeg Free Press)

The Duster was designed with similar styling to another Plymouth vehicle available in the 1960s and 1970s, the Valiant. The Duster's design differentiated from the Valiant's with a unique body style and accentuated C pillars. (Photos by Larry D'Argis / Winnipeg Free Press)

Looking back to the late 1960s, Plymouth had their compact Valiant, but still lacked a model to bridge the gap between compact economy car and performance machine.

Introduced in the fall of 1969, the Plymouth Duster carried the same styling as the Valiant on the front end and the frame was the same, but the Duster was all about performance. With a unique body style from the cowl back, complete with accentuated C pillars, it could be had with an economical 198-cubic-inch, six-cylinder engine, or two optional V-8s.

At 3,000 pounds, the Duster was a capable performer with great fuel economy when equipped with the six-cylinder powerplant, and a low-cost muscle car with the V-8. Sales for the roomy Duster coupe topped 217,192 in its first year.

For Dennis Deley and his wife, Jo-Anne, a 1976 Duster was one of their first big-ticket purchases. Married in 1975, they ordered the car in February of 1976 and took delivery in April — just before Dennis graduated from university.

Delivered by Eastern Sales, it would be one of the last Dusters to leave the factory. Formal black in colour with the black vinyl bucket seat interior upholstery, it has that straightforward, no-nonsense look. Deley chose the 318-cubic-inch V-8 engine with four-speed overdrive manual transmission and 3.21:1 ratio rear axle, giving the Duster good performance in both acceleration and highway fuel economy.

Other options include power steering, AM radio, tinted glass, Tuff sport steering wheel, heavy-duty suspension, front bumper guards and dealer-added protective body-side mouldings. Purchase price, including sales tax, was $4,620. While that looks like a very low price today, it was a good chunk of income in 1976 dollars.

The Duster was treated to Ziebart undercoating and used as the Deleys’ daily driver for two years, but it did require a repaint after being caught in a hailstorm in 1978. Following that, the Deleys purchased a new car, but instead of trading the Duster in, they kept it as their summer driver.

In 2007, Joe’s Machine Shop rebuilt the engine, boring it 0.030 inches over with 9.1:1 ratio compression pistons. Other performance additions sourced from Lorne Anderson at Iceman Enterprises include a 286-duration camshaft from Comp Cams, Edelbrock Performer aluminum intake manifold and Edelbrock 500 CFM four-barrel carburetor. Inside the passenger compartment, Deley installed a new black carpet and Otto Szalai at Otto’s Custom Upholstering in Beausejour installed new vinyl centre sections in the front bucket seats. Keeping an eye at under-hood functions, Deley added an auxiliary oil pressure gauge and AutoMeter tachometer.

For the exhaust, Minute Muffler installed a 2¼-inch custom dual exhaust system with Dynaflow mufflers.

In 2009, Kevin Kaniuga at Fountain Tire installed a set of 15-inch, five-spoke aluminum Eagle Custom wheels with Kelsey Tire Navigator Touring radials. Recently, with 112,000 original miles showing on the Duster, Deley had friend Mike Arsenault do a full rebuild of the front steering and suspension system.

Deley, a Shriner with the Kharum Temple and member of the Manitoba Mopar Association, plans to continue to use his Duster in parades and as a summer driver, taking in local shows and cruise nights.

Four decades later, the 1970s Dusters are a rare sight, as many were simply used, abused and cast aside for newer cars. Immediately recognizable by their unique C-pillars, the Duster is a look apart from any other Valiant.

With sales falling to only 26,668 units for the Duster, and only 41,356 units for the Valiant line, both were retired in 1976 and replaced with the new Plymouth Volare.

The Duster name would make a brief reappearance in the mid-1980s on the four-cylinder Plymouth Turismo before fading away into the history books.

57ford@mymts.net

The Duster's engine was rebuilt in 2007 by Joe's Machine Shop.

The Duster's engine was rebuilt in 2007 by Joe's Machine Shop.

When Dennis and Jo-Anne Deley purchased this Plymouth new in 1976 it was equipped with options that included the Tuff sport steering wheel and AM radio.

When Dennis and Jo-Anne Deley purchased this Plymouth new in 1976 it was equipped with options that included the Tuff sport steering wheel and AM radio.

Minute Muffler updated the exhaust to a 2-1/4-inch dual system with Dynaflow mufflers.

Minute Muffler updated the exhaust to a 2-1/4-inch dual system with Dynaflow mufflers.