Collectible Classic: 1970-1976 Plymouth Duster

Even though V-8-powered Dusters can be set up to rival the overall performance of many pony cars of the period, the Feather Duster - despite its low-cal load - isn't focused on acceleration, braking, or handling. It seems as if dragging your feet on the ground would stop the car more quickly than applying the unassisted four-wheel drum brakes. Luckily, high speeds aren't readily accessible: the single-barrel Holley carburetor gingerly delivers fuel to the 225-cubic-inch six; the Hurst-shifted four-speed manual requires slow, deliberate movements and a determined stomp on the long-travel clutch; and the wheels are wrapped in squishy Goodyear bias-ply tires and rotated via a tall 2.94:1 axle ratio. Steering feel is an abstract concept, and the beach-ball-sized wheel turns a recirculating-ball setup that isn't power-assisted.

The featherweight version's distinct charm lies in cruising in a comfortable, stylish, and relatively affordable American car caught somewhere between muscle car glory days and OPEC malaise - all while getting respectable fuel mileage (Wintgens has averaged 29 mpg on long interstate jaunts).

Respect, unfortunately, isn't something Dusters often get. Was the car's credibility crippled by its initial popularity and low price? ("America's first super-low-price supercar," touted one commercial in 1970, when the Duster 340 started at an impressive $2547.) Is the negative perception a rub-off from all those Valiants, driven by vast armies of the elderly until the cars rusted into the asphalt, their slant-six engines still purring? It's tough to pin down the reasons for the Plymouth Duster's Rodney Dangerfield-like reputation. Perhaps the Duster is just too strongly identified with its era, a dark time in automotive history ruled by rising gas prices and tightening emissions standards. Or maybe, as contributor Ezra Dyer wrote in these pages after driving a 340-powered example in 2006, "The Duster is nothing if not the ultimate underdog - the bottom-of-the-pecking-order performance car from the defunct division of the smallest company of the Big Three."

So why not love the underdog?

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