By on January 6, 2012

During the same trip to a Los Angeles (actually Santa Fe Springs) wrecking yard that produced photographs of this junked ’89 Buick Reatta, I spotted this used-up ’75 Duster. These things were once among the most commonplace vehicles on American roads, and it seemed that most of them were this shade of green.
With the Slant Six or optional 318 V8, the Malaise Era Duster was cheap, reliable (for its time), and slightly sporty transportation. With the 230-horse 360 engine in place, the 3,115-pound Duster would eat up the heavier, less powerful ’75 Chevy Nova with ease. In fact, the power/weight numbers on the ’75 V8 Duster are pretty similar to those of the ’12 Honda Accord… though that comparison falls apart if you look at things like fuel-economy figures, comfort, or interior quality.

Plymouth used the Duster name on several platforms, starting with this one. First there was the “sporty Valiant” 1970-76 Duster, then there was the Turismo-based Duster of 1985-87 (best remembered for the legendary “Cocaine Factory” ad, above), followed by the tape-stripe-inundated Sundance-based Duster of 1992-1994. It’s too bad that Plymouth is gone, because we’d all love to see an Alfa-based Duster.
This one has been picked over pretty well. Since the late Chrysler A-body cars have brake components that bolt onto the 1960s B-bodies, you rarely see a Malaise Dart or Valiant that hasn’t had at least some of its front brake components grabbed by a disc-brake-seeking Belvedere or Coronet owner.

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49 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1975 Plymouth Duster...”

  • avatar

    Ah, memories. I took my driver’s ed in the 4-door variant of the car.

    But is that an Oldsmobile steering wheel I see in there?

    • 0 avatar

      Doubtful; if you look closely, you can see a Plymouth emblem on it.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      The difference is subtle but visible in the photographs: Oldsmobiles have the rocket exhaust tail extending downwards from the winged dart shape, while the Plymouth logo has no tail and is trapezoidal in shape compared to the square sides of the Olds outline.

  • avatar

    I’m older than you Murilee, and I don’t ever recall seeing a Duster in that shade before. Looks like an Earl Scheib quickie spray over what was originally butter yellow or, the most common shade for a mid-70’s Duster, light tan. Maybe you’re thinking of the “forest pea” green of the early 70’s? My parents had one in that color.

    • 0 avatar

      You are correct, look at the front fender where the side marker light has been removed and you can see the original white/beige.

    • 0 avatar

      I was going to say the same thing. I’m 44 and I remember lots and lots and LOTS of Dusters, but most of them seemed to be that dark soup green, tan, or (like the one my granddad had, that one of my cousins was still driving daily well into the 1990s) the ubiquitous Mopar B7 blue. I don’t remember ever seeing the color on the car above, and an awful lot of Mopars passed through my childhood (so many that I had flashbacks when I first saw the font they used for the word “FUEL” on the current Challenger’s gas cap… seriously).

    • 0 avatar
      I've got a Jaaaaag

      I noticed that too, but I have to wonder what was going through the mind of the owner that had it painted, “you know I’m over this bland yellow, I think I will go with puke green.”

    • 0 avatar

      The one my best friend’s parents in elementary school had a light metallic green one, but yeah. Look at the inside shot of the passenger door and the trim removed between the tail lights too. Definitely a yellow one that’s had a quickie paint job.

  • avatar

    I have tons of experiences with Dusters. From the family friends up the street from me who raced three of them (one after another), most every kid in my town owned one at one time, to the Duster cousin I owned, a Dart Sport 360.

    If you closely at this one, it was one of the uplevel Dusters, it had the molding that went between the tail lights and the ‘luxury’ steering wheel. The regular steering wheels were a chicken bone thin hoop covered in plastic, this one clearly is not. Plus the material on the bench seat is way nicer than the regular Duster.

    A much younger me totaled the Dart Sport within six weeks of possession; but the present-day me would love to have a little coupe like one of these again. Slant six or 318, either one would be fine.

  • avatar

    I was in management at Avis Rent a Car in the early 70’s and drove a different rental home every night. We had Dusters and my recollection is that they always smelled like rubber or warm plastic in the interior. I don’t think they had a front sway bar because taking a corner at anything over crawl speed meant that you were going to experience body roll like no other car I have ever been in. As you can imagine, I have lots of other stories about rental cars.

  • avatar

    Our family had a stripper fire-engine red 1970 Duster with the slant six in it. No A/C, no radio, black vinyl interior, hotter than an oven when it was over 70 degrees, but it was fun to drive.

    When the car was totaled in 1979, the engine and tranny were in perfect shape, but the body was so rusted out there four places where you could see the road from the driver’s seat passing under you. Fantastic car, at least in my eyes.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    My dad and I pretty much shared one of these….our’s was also a ’75, sort of a cinnamon metallic color, with a vinyl landau top the color of coffee with double cream, and a matching vinyl interior…. it had the 225 slant six, which was a great engine but heavily burdened by ChryCo’s ham-handed attempts at meeting the Carter-era smog standards and CAFE rules…. IIRC, dad paid about $3,200 for it, tax, license, and out the door, in September of ’75

    My dad, however, was a country-music fan, and since Detroit in the 1970’s had a pretty fair country station on AM, though I bugged repeatedly, no Kraco in-dash AM-FM 8-track on which to listen to WWWW, WABX or WRIF in the Motor City….

    It was fairly light and tossable, and did great donuts in our church’s mammoth parking lot on 2″ of snow….

    I really liked that car, although it tried to kill us many times by stalling as we tried to pull out in traffic, thanks to the afore-mentioned smog-control fouled carburetor.

  • avatar

    I owned a 1975 Duster 360 from 1978 to 1984. A sturdy and entertaining car, even with a Torqueflite. Mine was baby blue with white “feather” side stripes and white vinyl half-roof. I also had white vinyl throne buckets, a console, and the cheesiest-looking fake wood ever on the dash – brown monotone plastic with a vaguely wood-like dimpled pattern. While the car was tough, the overall finish and assembly quality were slapdash, particularly in the interior. Overall, it was a fairly crude and noisy machine. The trunks on Dusters were enormous. The handling was fine if stiff at moderate speeds, but the car felt really squirrely much over 80 mph, even with fat radials. Also, it turned out to be seriously rust-prone as time went on. I’m glad to have owned mine, but I was not the least bit sorry to see it go when I bought a new Honda CRX in 1984 and I wouldn’t want a Duster today.

  • avatar

    One of my best high school friends bought a new Duster 340 in the the Summer of 1970; he went in halfses with his sister but he seemed to end up with it all of the time.

    Typical grade C workmanship for a ’70 Mopar but it was an absolute rocket. It had a 727 automatic and 3.91 gears; real sleeper too, dark blue, white interior and no flash, stripes, graphics, spoilers, white letter tires,etc.

    Since it was a first year car, a lot of the street competition at the time didn’t know what to make of it. Most competitors only got a good look at the back end because that’s all they saw pulling away from a traffic light.

    I was not much of a Mopar fan at that point in my teenage years but I became one after experiencing that Duster.

  • avatar

    By this time, this vehicle was eight years old. Considering it’s engineering roots, it had been paid off for several years. It was not a glamorous car. The Duster body was not planned by the big boys, and it’s success added a few years to it’s shelf life. My father’s first Duster was actually labeled as a Valiant during it’s first year because that is what it was. Both Plymouth and Dodge gave this body a differing name, (Duster and Demon), Dodge ended up dropping the Demon name, while Plymouth kept up the ruse during the model’s entire run.

    By 1974, Chrysler started creating gimmicks to this car in order to keep it from becoming completely irrelevant to the market. Unlike GM or Ford, Chrysler didn’t have a subcompact, so as the subcompact market boomed, Chrysler kept remarketing this old hound as a subcompact alternative. (Chrysler sold rebadged Mitsubishis at that time.) You could buy this car as a Convertriple, which attempted to mimick a hatchback. You could buy this car as a Feather Duster, which attempted to mimick an economy car. You could buy this car as a Bicentennial car, which attempted to mimick a patriotic car. You could buy this car with crushed velour interior, hood ornament, vinyl roof and fake wood trim, which attempted to mimick a personal luxury car. Chrysler did everything it could to keep this obsolete vehicle selling.

    What the Lark was to Studebaker and the Hornet was to AMC, this vehicle and it’s Plymouth and Dodge quintuplets, were to Chrysler.

    By this year, the jig was really up. But the car still had another year to go until it’s replacement arrived. That color is legit, btw. It was a new green that was popular in the late 1970s and reappeared on the new Volare/Aspen in 1977. The competition was using that color, so to keep the Valiant-Duster/Dart profits coming in, this color, as well as some other refreshed colors were applied. While the color is legit – it was not the original color on this particular car.

    The car was good. My family had three.

    But Chrysler took a good thing and blew it up. In 1977, this car’s million devotees became aware that it’s contemporary replacement had arrived as the Volare. What everyone loved about the Duster, was missing in the new Volare. Hearts across the globe were broken by the craptastic Duster replacement. As Chrysler issued mountains of recalls on the Volare/Aspen, they knew they blew a good thing. Dealers kept asking for Dusters even after the Volare/Aspen fiasco, so that is why we see a Duster decal glued to FWD K car derivatives a decade later. That only reaffirmed what a disaster it was for Chrysler to muck it all up.

    This, in turn, made the Duster more beloved by those who had them. It was just a boxy, perfectly sized, cheap car, but sometimes those are the best.

    • 0 avatar

      I have never driven one, but the Feather Duster is very impressive on paper. By cheaply substituting some steel parts with aluminum ones and tweaking the carb they got some pretty remarkable mileage:

      • 0 avatar

        I forgot to mention in my post below I owned a 1976 Dodge Dart Lite for a few years, 1983-1986, when my wife went back to work and this became my car.

        It was a beauty: 225, 4 spd. Hurst shifter with 4th gear overdrive, kind of a root beer-dark reddish-brown with white bucket seats, door panels and black everything else. Factory hung-under-dash A/C that kinda worked.

        Our Plymouth saleman used to complain that Chrysler never should have stopped making those cars. I compared this to the 1970 Duster and there was no comparison – a much better, more refined version indeed!

        Due to “economy” gearing, one of the slowest cars on the road, though…

    • 0 avatar

      Vanilla Dude: While that shade of green may well be close to a Chrysler offered color, my bets are on the Earl Scheib quick spray.

      By the time this car would have needed new paint, it would have been worth 200-500.

      No one in their right mind would seek out a factory correct color and pay the extra to have it resprayed at a more respectable establishment.

      Especially when, while prices had risen from ES’ legendary 29.95 a motorist could still get an upgraded choice of colors for under $100.00.

      Earl offered about a dozen basic colors. Pay a little more and you got a broader choice including reds.

      Believe me, I’ve had a couple of cars that have had the ES treatment. They fade a certain way, the colors are always slightly “off” from factory shades and the basic color offerings were all designed to make you WANT to pay more for a decent color.

      Puke browns, yellows and muddy blues were what you were offered if you went for the bargain price.

      This “looks” like a Chrysler color of the 70s, as many of Earl’s colors resembled OEM shades. I can tell an Earl Scheib job from 50 paces, there’s a look to them and my bet is that’s exactly what went on this Duster.

      Love your history of the Duster! They were already everything the Volare and Aspen should have been. A sad tale. {and the Vol/As were Motor Trend’s car of the year that year}.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t think there ever was a K-Car Duster, there was the L (which I think had a high-output 2.2) and the V6 powered P-Body (no Sherman models).

      I remember pulling a radio from a P-Body Duster that had been in a Dodge Shadow (according to a piece of tape on the radio), it fit perfectly into my Plymouth Horizon and generally worked but had to be touched here and there, thus Chryslers version of a touchscreen.

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t forget the Twister, Gold Duster, and Space Duster, as well as the Special Coupe packages.

      From Allpar: “The Space Duster revived the old Barracuda concept of a folding rear seat and fully carpeted trunk and cargo space that could extend to 6.5 feet. A sliding sun roof was optionally available for the car.”

      “The Special Coupe was intended to be a luxury Duster. Pleated vinyl seats, a full vinyl roof and vinyl-insert side trim enhanced the upscale package which also included the Spacemaker Pak created for the Space Duster.”

    • 0 avatar

      With the technology available today, and if I had the money, I think I could turn a Volare Road Runner or Dodge Aspen R/T into a G-Machine with a 3G Hemi under the hood. :-)

  • avatar

    I bought a 1970 Duster right after I came home from the air force. What a mistake – remember, this was August 1973, just in time for gas lines and compact cars were all but impossible to find and I bought the first one I found. It was a rebuilt wreck with an Earl Scheib off-white paint job very similar to the original color. The front end had a cracked torsion bar anchor on the passenger side. Got it fixed. The car was a 225 Torqueflite, rubber flooring, aftermarket AM radio with built-in speaker. I sold my incredible 1964 Chevy convertible I owned in the service for this???

    Two months later, I bought a beautiful 1972 Chevy Nova the day dad retired and I gave them the Duster, which turned out to be a reliable car for them until it turned to rust in 1979.

    My closest friend had a 1970 340 Duster and it was an absolute screamer! Fastest unmodified car (except for headers) I have ever been in.

    These, perhaps, could qualify for “Cockroach of the Road”© status at the time, I would think.


  • avatar

    Bow down to thine Mopar masters ye mere commoners.

  • avatar

    Our dust yellow 1970 was a great car for the time, and the 225 wasn’t yet burdened with clueless emission controls, so ran like the proverbial top. Huge trunk and over 20 mpg at any sane highway speed, I and later, my brother, went all over the country in it. He eventually traded it in on a new slant-6 pickup truck. Some time later, a mechanic at the dealership admitted that the Duster never started again, so was towed to the junkpile of history.

  • avatar

    “we’d all love to see an Alfa-based Duster” Absolutely not! The Alfa Dart itself looks a bit stupid already!

    Though an Alfa-based HorizonOmni would actually be very fitting.

  • avatar

    Wow. That Turismo Duster video ad had a catchy song… I wonder whether it is written by the person who penned the epic Chevy Volt tune made famous by the Volt Dancers?

  • avatar

    Thanks for the caveat “for it’s time”. Compared to the competition of the era these weren’t bad cars. At GM quality control for the Nova/Ventura seemed to be “It made it out of the factory.” Ford was still refusing to apologize for the Mustang II. About the only thing that could match it was the, hopelessly uncool, AMC Hornet.

  • avatar

    If you’d like to see some pre-malaise era Dusters, and not in ready-for-the-crusher condition, here are three that I saw at a Mopar show last year, a ’71, ’72 and ’73, all with 340 V8s.

  • avatar

    In 1973, I joined the throngs that bought a Duster, helping it to become the best selling compact line that year. I already owned a 69 Dart 340, which was wicked fast, so the Duster was my daily driver. Had it for 10 years of reliable service, and sold it to a friend who drove it many more years. Back then, a good Mopar created the kind of memories that we all cherish today. When they were good, they were really good!

  • avatar

    Scroll down this page to Nov 17 Star of the Day and find a Duster parked by its first cousin Demon

  • avatar

    My sister owned a ’74 Gold Duster in UPS truck brown on the outside, with gold stripe package, and a tan interior, I seem to remember it was vinyl. My father basically forced her to sell it in ’78 when she graduated from Georgia Tech and got her a Malibu coupe (I believe the same chassis as the Caprice and Monte Carlo from the same time – but could be wrong and will be gladly corrected). She was really bummed, but didn’t want to disappoint my father by not accepting her graduation present. She said she loved the Duster, and the ’78 Malibu was no where near as reliable.

  • avatar

    Enjoy your junkyard fun while you can. I just stopped by one of the last U-Pull-It type yards in this area and they are out of biz. Another victim of environment regs and and insane property taxes.

  • avatar

    The Ecology Center junkyard where Murilee found this Duster is going strong. The parking lot on Imperial Highway is full every weekend. If environmental regs and property taxes aren’t closing a junkyard in suburban Southern California, then they probably aren’t the problem in your area.

    • 0 avatar

      Been in Business for 65 years. Always had a lot of customers. The municipality has been after them for at least 2 decades because the town wants to present an “upscale” facade. It’s history now.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Oh come on people, that was a good car. go pick on the K and X cars

  • avatar

    In the 70’s my family had this habit of buying the same type of car, such as the Toyota Corolla, then passing them down to younger members of the clan as they stepped up to the next model.
    The assorted Corollas were replaced by Dodge Darts, one uncle had a 74 white two door with a 318 (I think) and my grandma had a tan 75 with a slant 6 and
    my dad had a 73 Dart two door with a 360 with dark green exterior/white stripe and darker green interior, in vinyl of course.
    Purchased new from Derrick Dodge in Edmonton (I remember the badge on the trunk)and his memories of it are good, but he was pretty popular with the RCMP being pulled over as often as he was.
    IIRC he drove it till around 1979 before selling it to his younger brother who ran it to the ground and finally expiring around 1984.
    I remember seeing it before it was scrapped, rusty and beat to hell and looking very old, and it was only 11 years old!
    Coincidently my sister made the mistake of buying an 87 Omni/Horizon Duster to replace her much abused but reliable 1982 Horizon Tc3.
    She should have kept the TC3 as the Duster has this joke not quite a carburetor, not quite a fuel injection system (throttle body?)that gave her no end of trouble and spent way too much time in the garage.
    So much so the mechanic, after much struggle, said there was no charge on the repair but to never bring that car to his business again.
    She ended trading it for a Honda Prelude and hasn’t bought an NA built car since.

  • avatar

    I love these malaise-era posts. Even growing up in the mid 80’s early 90’s, I remember these cars like it was yesterday prowling around the yuppie suburbia of the Twin Cities.

    I propose TTAC ditches the ‘Curbside Classics’ column on the homepage (which, i’m sure, we ALL like) in favor of ‘Junkyard Finds’.

    Just sayin’.

    Keep it up, Mr. Martin. I’ll keep reading…

    P.S. Some AMCs wouldn’t hurt…:)

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I grew up with these cars. All with the trusty Slant 6. My dad had a 63 Valiant white w/ 3 on the tree. He got 175k out of it which for the time was quite good considering many cars of the era were ready for the boneyard at 100k. He later had 68 Valiant in yellow also with w/ 3 on the tree. This is the car in which I learned to drive stick. After that a 70 Valiant in blue. My mom had a 72 Dart Swinger in Richard Petty blue with auto, a/c and most options including the lighting pkg which gave you map lights and the fender mounted turn signal indicators. These last 3 cars we did valve jobs on since they started to burn oil but kept running for a good 15+ yrs. As far as the stalling while turning issue is concerned, a carb rebuild does the trick.

    An uncle of mine had a 71 Duster in white which was quite nice. The trunk in those cars especially for at the time the compact class i.e. Nova, Hornet, Maverick was quite large.

  • avatar

    A friend of mine had a black 340 Duster that ran great and he refused to sell, even after he got married. Sadly, he took it to work one night and an old guy fell asleep and crossed the center line and totaled it. My friend was ok, and the motor lives on in his 70 Dart that he recently bought as a rust free great body/totally trashed interior desert car. It had a nearly dead 318 in it, and the hopped up 340 made it a rocket. Now if he can just find all the interior parts he needs to make it into something that doesn’t look like a homeless person’s car inside, he will be all set.

  • avatar

    Murilee, shame on you – you left out one! The Duster name was first revived for a trim package available on the 1979-1980 Plymouth Volare coupe (F-body).

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