Collectible Classic: 1970-1976 Plymouth Duster

Although it was sold for only seven model years, the life of the Plymouth Duster spans the automotive landscape of the 1970s. The two-door Duster, the fastback flagship of Plymouth's long-serving, entry-level Valiant line, debuted in the 1970 model year - arguably the peak of the muscle car era. A 275-hp (gross), 340-cubic-inch V-8 propelled top-spec Duster 340s with sufficient gusto, while budget-friendly engine options, ranging from two slant sixes to a 318-cubic-inch V-8, helped put the sporty Plymouth - albeit far less fierce than the Road Runner or the 'Cuda - in 217,192 driveways that year, making it the brand's most popular car.

As the '70s went on, gasoline prices soared and engine outputs plummeted. Even so, the Duster continued to offer V-8 power and muscle car decor such as hood scoops, stripes, and wild colors with names like "sassy grass" and "lemon twist." Famous drag racers Tom "The Mongoose" McEwen and Mopar's Sox & Martin duo campaigned Dusters to enhance the model's image. Graphics packages and other gimmicks (e.g., Duster Twister, Gold Duster, Silver Duster, Space Duster, Decorator Special) also made these coupes stand out at the drive-in.

The Duster continued to pace Plymouth sales each year until its final season, 1976, when it was eclipsed by the similarly sized but brand-new Volaré. By that time, the Duster's top engine was a 220-hp (net), 360-cubic-inch V-8, but few consumers wanted the top mill anymore. During the U.S. bicentennial year, buyers were much more interested in the Feather Duster package, which featured the base 100-hp slant-six engine, lightweight body panels, and other weight-loss tweaks designed to wring maximum fuel mileage from the 2700-pound vehicle.

Chrysler wasn't the only manufacturer to offer a fuel-economy special in the years following the 1973 oil embargo, of course. Automakers rushed to slap together fuel-saving versions of existing Me Decade cars. The Feather Duster - and its lean companion from Dodge, the Dart Lite - had a mantra similar to that of other bare-bones, mileage-focused marketing exercises such as Chevrolet's Chevette Scooter and Ford's Pinto Pony MPG and Mustang II MPG.

Nearly a quarter of all 1976 Dusters were ordered with the $51 Feather package, including Mike Wintgens's jade green metallic example shown here. When Wintgens bought the needy Duster six years ago, he planned to turn it into a big-block-powered, tarmac-chewing monster, as has been the recipe with countless Dusters. But when he realized its rarity and wallet-friendly appetite, Wintgens decided to preserve the car's factory-delivered miserliness - which fortunately was fairly easy to do, since none of its feathery parts had been pilfered by Mopar drag racers looking to shave weight. Indeed, Plymouth trimmed nearly 200 pounds from the standard Duster, largely through the use of aluminum in the intake manifold, manual-transmission case, hood, deck lid, and bumper reinforcements.

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