By on March 18, 2015

14 - 1972 Plymouth Duster Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinCompared to the stodgy-and-sensible Valiant on which it was based, the Plymouth Duster was pretty sporty and sold well to coupe shoppers who wanted a cheap car that could handle indifferent maintenance and bad road conditions (the Zaporozhets not being available in the United States). These things were amazingly reliable for the era, when not so many cars made it to 100,000 miles, but most were discarded like empty pull-tab Burgie cans during the 1980s. The Duster survivors today tend to be lovingly restored trailer queens. That makes the 1970-76 Duster a rare Junkyard Find, so I broke out the camera immediately when I saw this ’72 in a Northern California wrecking yard.
13 - 1972 Plymouth Duster Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinYes, you could still buy a Detroit car with four-wheel drum brakes as late as 1972. If you don’t like it, buddy, you can just move to Sweden!
07 - 1972 Plymouth Duster Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinYou don’t see many Slant-6 Chrysler A-bodies with air conditioning.
18 - 1972 Plymouth Duster Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI considered buying the A/C control panel, figuring that it’s probably worth something. Then I came to my senses.
05 - 1972 Plymouth Duster Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinUnlike rolling stones, cars that sit outdoors in the shade in Northern California tend to gather moss.
17 - 1972 Plymouth Duster Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinBack when it used to rain during the winter in this region, outdoor-stored cars would rust in areas in which water pooled.


For $73.95 more than the Chevy Vega, you could get the Duster with 15 more horsepower and whitewall tires!

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54 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1972 Plymouth Duster...”


  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    That was $73.95 well spent as the slant six 225 was one of the most reliable engines installed in a domestic. Quite unlike the abomination that the Vega came with. Actually witnessed a Vega self-destruct in a parking lot at York Mills and Bayview in Toronto.

    The Dart/Duster/Valiant/Scamp/etc and all their variants were generally solid, reliable vehicles for their era.

    • 0 avatar
      Nick

      ‘Vega self-destruct in a parking lot at York Mills and Bayview in Toronto’ Dammit, that’s two minutes from here. I’m sorry I missed it. On the other hand, I did see a Fiero self destruct…those things burned better than any fireplace log you’ve seen.

      Back to he Duster. Tub that sucker and slap a 440 in it. That’s what most of the Dusters around here are like now.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      Up until about a month ago, there was a shop along Dundas West, sort of near Dufferin, that had an unplated Pontiac Astre (the rebadged Vega) sitting along the front line. I’m sort of wondering what’s happened to it, now that the lot’s slated for whatever redevelopment

  • avatar
    kosmo

    The Duster Twister (340 V8!!) was a fun, fast, affordable car for it’s day.

    • 0 avatar
      ronhawk62

      I own a 73 Dart with the 340 and its still fun,fast and affordable today.

      • 0 avatar
        kosmo

        That has got to be just pure fun.

        De-smogged? Weren’t 72 and 73 the horrible years for that stuff? We had a 72 Plymouth wagon with a 400 that could hardly get out of it’s own way. The 64 Chrysler 383 we traded in on it was far faster.

        • 0 avatar
          NoGoYo

          Chrysler just got worse when they put that Lean Burn scheisse on at the end of the decade. Low performance and poor reliability, barf!

          And of course Soviet Kalifornistan requires you to try and fix that junk or else sell your Chrysler to someone out of state.

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          Generally, smog equipment really took its toll in 1974. Our 73 Scamp had EGR, evap controls, PCV, and a heated choke. Only the EGR was a bit of a buzzkill. And lowered compression. By 75, cats helped eliminate a few miles of vacuum tubing and all that associated add-on mess…only to reappear as standards tightened but the engineering didn’t.

          Edit: our 73 did not have a smog pump on it; funny this one does…Oh, a California car…

  • avatar
    2drsedanman

    My first car was the “stodgy and sensible” 1972 two door Plymouth Valiant, the more squared version, similar styling to a 66-67 Chevy Nova. Mine had the 318/auto with a/c. By the time I got it it had well over 100k. Those 318s were second only to the slant 6 for their toughness, equally the equivalent of a small block Chevy. It was a fun car, lightweight, got good gas milage. I’m not sure what the exact numbers are, but I would think that well over 50% of these came with a vinly top. I believe this body style went well into the 1970’s.

  • avatar
    CAMeyer

    Thanks! I forgot how this car, at least the stripper version, cost only a bit more (although in early 70s $) more than the Pinto and the Vega. Extra money well spent, even if those subcompacts weren’t as bad as they were (okay, the Pinto wasn’t that bad). I wouldn’t mind having one of those Dusters now, although I presume nearly all that still exist are in day-glo colors or black with humongous shiny engines dropped in (nothing against that sort of thing, it’s just on my style). Same is true, more or less, with 60s early 70s Novas.

    A marked contrast to today’s cheap cars: Between the long hood (note the ridiculous overhang, btw) and the virtually full-size trunk, it seems only about a third of the car by length is passenger space.

    Finally, when did whitewalls disappear?

    • 0 avatar
      bomberpete

      White walls were gone from most Detroit card by the late Eighties,though Caddy and Lincoln in livery trim continued having them for years more. The 1986 Ford Taurus was an extremely successful US car that didn’t offer white walls. After that others followed suit.

  • avatar
    Discoman

    The engine bay highlights all the bolt ons that had to be driven by fan belts–alternator, massive a/c compressor, power steering, is that an air pump for the early attempts at smog control? No power brakes–must have been a beast to slow down. The Delco shocks on a Chrysler product are a nice touch.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      My ’75 Valiant had front disc and rear drums, not power brakes, and the pedal effort was reasonable (I was a skinny teenager, about 120lbs soaking wet). IIRC, the disc/drum brakes were an optional upgrade, essentially using the base model’s front drums (10″) on the rear in place of the base’s 9″ rears and 11″ vented front discs. Really powerful brakes with really lousy f/r bias (unfortunately a Mopar trait on many models over many years).

      The best thing you could do with those air pumps was to remove them… The second best thing would be to disconnect the belt.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    My 71 Pinto had 4 drum brakes; they weren’t so bad. But then again, it only weighed 2000 lbs.

    It’s hard to imagine there is much money left in this car for the junkyard.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    My sister got a new Gold Duster as a high school graduation present – either a 74 or 75 (big age gap between us so I was very young, but remember the UPS brown with gold flake paint and the gold stripe). Slant 6, no AC, AM radio.

    She went 28K miles without changing the oil, broke the dipstick off and it was rattling around in the oil pan. She just poured a quart in every now and then without even knowing level. I was old enough to remember my father’s ire when she graduated college and he discovered the black sludge that was once motor oil when he went to drain it.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    It’s 1972, and I want something slightly sporty and American and big and etc. My mind first goes to Pontiac, and the equivalent to this which was the ____GP?

    Why don’t I have one of those instead?

    http://www.oldcarsweekly.com/collector-cars/car_of_the_week_1972_pontiac_grand_prix_ssj

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    In 1975, my dad’s boss gave my Dad his “old” 1969 Mustang V-8 convertible, which was very weary for its vintage. The Mustang turned out to be a maintenance pig and soon wasn’t running at all. My dad traded the 1969 Mustang convertible for for a 1972 Duster even up. The key difference between the cars: the Duster ran. I’m sure if we would have kept the Mustang, it would be worth a lot of money now, but the bottom line is that you buy cars to get you places, and the Duster was better at that than the Mustang.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    You certainly can’t knock Burgie! beer, having drank my fill when in the air force at Beale AFB!

    Those Dusters and their brethren were cheap as cheap could be, but the drivetrains were what made them stick around so long. I briefly owned a used 1970 Duster, but gave it to my parents when they needed a newer car. I used their old car as a trade-in on the 1972 Nova – a much better car all-around. My 1976 Dart Lite was the best.

    All in all, solid, dependable transportation.

  • avatar
    doublechili

    A ’70 Duster was my first car, purchased for me for maybe $100 by my dad at a fleet auction. I then put a $100 stereo system in it. We then discovered that the car began to shake violently when driven above 60 mph, which is actually a pretty neat feature in a car for an 18 year old male.

  • avatar
    agent534

    I know that car probably has been crushed already, but bring that to the North East in that shape and its a $4k car all day long. Put in a V8 k-member, and a 360 magnum from a rusted out full size truck and double that money.

  • avatar
    Dodge440391SG

    Here in Florida, that Duster would have rusted like a shipwreck on a reef ! Those nice curvy quarter panels are splendid dirt and watertraps.

    This one, however, is in unbelievable condition. I will travel to the West Coast for old iron henceforth.

    BTW, Ihad a ’71 Duster “Twister” (with a 318). I thought it was cramped inside and it turned out to be an oil pumper with broken motor mounts, so I sold it after a month or two.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    Zaporozhets definitely aren’t indifferent to maintenance :) They need constant fettling much like all Soviet/Russian vehicles. But you’re right, they are some durable and surprisingly capable little beasts offroad, much like VW beetles. The benefit of rear engine/rwd is fully realized both in traction, and being able to float the front end over obstacles and mud, as well as keeping water out of the engine compartment. I remember hiking in the Altai mountains one year and the road to the base camp was traversed only by ZIL 6×6 trucks, UAZ 469s and 452s, a ratty old GAZ 69, a few souped up JDM 4x4s and…. an old Zaporozhets ZAZ 968! Too bad I didn’t get a photo.

    • 0 avatar
      NoGoYo

      Apparently Vladimir Putin is a big fan of the old Zappo…well, he might be a James Bond villain but if he recommends a car, it’s probably good at something.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Surprised this isn’t on Bring a Trailer, listed as a “one-of-one” for $20K. MOPAR lust escapes me, I drove one of these once and it didn’t hold a candle to anything made by Ford or Chevy of the time.

    • 0 avatar

      Chrysler engines were about as bulletproof as engines got in the 1960s and into the 1970s. Murilee has written about the torture testing Chrysler put engines through on the dyno. Also, Chrysler products handled better than GM and Ford stuff did, well, by American standards of handling. There are reasons why there are MOPAR fans.

      • 0 avatar
        PentastarPride

        You got that right. My grandfather, a retired Missouri State Police sergeant, still swears by the old Plymouths and Dodges they used and said they handled better than the Ford and Chevy patrol cars of the time.

        He recently restored a ’77 Plymouth Fury (and the 360 V8 in it was actually a part of the car that needed the *least* amount of work!); this car was similar to what he used in the force back in the 70s, though his patrol car had a 440. Those are even harder to find.

        For him, just being able to drive a car somewhat similar to what he had in the force was good enough, no sense in replacing an engine that was in mint condition. He uses it as an “almost-daily” when he’s not driving Grandmom’s Grand Cherokee or his other pride and joy, his Ram 3500, but only if the weather’s nice.

        That said, every time there’s a Junkyard Find Mopar, there’s *always* a litter of LH cars surrounding the subject vehicle. Were they that bad? I owned two of them–a ’97 Concorde and an ’04 Intrepid–and never experienced a problem. Then again, I take care of my stuff. Most of the surviving LHs are in the hands of those who can’t or won’t take care of what they have.

        ’70s Mopars in junkyards are a really sad sight, but honestly, I’m a ’90s child, LH cars have sentimental value to me as a Mustang or a Charger and so on would to a Boomer. I know, they’re not as fast, they’re front-wheel drive and computerized rather than mechanical and don’t have the rah-rah that ’70s muscle has, but it’s still disappointing.

  • avatar
    Joss

    I think Duster would corner like the DNC’s Larry O’Brien after a Cubans been thru his boozy drawers…

  • avatar
    mechaman

    Man, this takes me back … after some creep ripped my dad off by selling him a stolen Maverick (long story), he got back on the Chrysler team with a Gold Duster, probably a ’71-’72 model. That thing would NOT die. Even Chicago’s salt cure didn’t rust it that much. It ran strong until about ’87 when a drunk totaled it. If the suspension in front had been ok, it would have still been drivable. BIG trunk, too.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    These certainly were sturdy little cars .

    Most of Chrysler styling leaves me cold but I do love A Bodied Mo-Pars .

    In spite of the rust and overall neglect , this car should have gone to an Enthusiast .

    At least it was well cherry picked .

    That radio was likely made by Motorola , one more unkillable part .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    ReallyRandy

    Al Bundy’s car!

  • avatar
    joeb-z

    These were as tough as a cockroach. A plus was that the various parts like an alternator or a water pump were always the ones bottom priced in the ads at the chain auto stores for something like 19.99. I had one for about 4 years in th early 1980s and had about $1000 total in it. Got $200 when I drove it into the junkyard.

  • avatar
    Dodge440391SG

    I upgraded my 1980 Dodge Mirada’s SL6 to the “Super Six” (2 BBL intake and carb) config. Improved the performance without a fuel economy penalty ! However , I grenaded the spider gears in the rather spindly 7 1/4 rear end. I was able to drive it to a shop , though.

    • 0 avatar
      NoGoYo

      You have a Mirada? Man, those things are so rare now that I’m not sure Murilee could even find one in a junkyard.

      • 0 avatar
        Dodge440391SG

        I “Had” a Mirada . My teenage son ventilated the block in a spectacular “top end run” explosion. The oil sensor (by the didtributor) had leaked out all the oil, and the number 1 rod let go ! But , yes the Miradas are rare, now !

        • 0 avatar
          NoGoYo

          Damn! The Mirada, Magnum, “2nd gen” Cordoba, R-bodies, and 81-83 Imperial are some of the few Chryslers I’ve never seen in person.

          • 0 avatar
            Drzhivago138

            Which is really weird considering how plentiful some of those were in some areas of the country. But not surprising; it was a very awkward period for Chrysler before the K-cars became king, and I’m sure quite a few people (my father included) would prefer to forget that time.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      I found a Super Six intake manifold, carb, and air cleaner in my favorite junkyard only AFTER some piece of trash in a late 1970s Camaro ran a red light, swerved around someone, bounced off the curb, and skidded into my beloved Valiant… making it an insurance writeoff. Frigging Camaros! This one was a trailer park special too: two-tone red and gray primer with rust accents.

      Supposedly the Super Six had slightly better fuel economy AND a bit more hp. So my car might have got 18mpg instead of 17 and it might have gotten 110+ hp instead of the stock 95 (.030 over factory rebuild and I advanced the timing from the TDC smog-malaise setting). :)

      • 0 avatar
        Dodge440391SG

        I got 20 miles per gallon after the upgrade to “Super Six”. Accwleration was spiffier. I did install a 1968 2 BBl carb specified for a 318. The Mirada I had was installed with a 2.76 ratio 7 1/4 rear end. Truly a highway gear set up. The stock Holley 1920 (?) one barrel was absolute garbage and better fitted to a ’52 Cranbrook flathead.

        • 0 avatar
          -Nate

          Jim C. :

          Did the Camaro’s Driver have a Mullet ? =8-) .

          Most of those malaise era cars could be tuned a fair bit to give back much power (and reduce emissions !) by simply plugging off the EGR valve’s hose and using the proper pre smog timing , I prefer to adjust the timing ” All In ” meaning at the engine’s normal cruising speed of 3,000 RPM +/- , most engines don’t want more than 32 ~ 36 degrees BTDC all in , high compression engines like less total timing .

          For a really fun & CHEAP wake up , try replacing the cam and gears with pre smog items , on Chevy small block V-8’s use a 3/4 ton automatic truck cam and easily spin the tires with an old smoky worn out engine , amaze and delight your friends and customers .

          Also , if you actually care about exhaust emissions , you can easily re plumb the EGR valve’s vacuum hose to only open it when the engine is well above idle speeds , this makes it work again and gets rid of those annoying off idle stumbles & flat spots .

          I took the California smog test licensing class and learned a lot about how to do things , the legal way as well as how to make engines run properly and usually still pass the tests .

          I graduated then realized I didn’t want to get the license and spend my days testing fleets of cop cars & municipal trucks .

          I’m still learning every day , mostly I learn how little I know and how much further I have to go yet .

          -Nate

  • avatar
    Dodge440391SG

    Here’s a link from “Allpar” :

    http://www.allpar.com/model/mirada.html

    Yes, they didn’t sell many Miradas. Chrysler evidently had no money to market them.

    I had the fancy wheels, but traded them for some “Draglites” for my ‘cuda.

  • avatar
    bomberpete

    My old man had a ’73 Valiant with the Slant 6, A/T, A/C and drum brakes. He had custom-ordered one with disc brakes but a factory strike delayed delivery. He got a fancier Custom model, crap brown with black vinyl roof, off the lot for less money. Ultimately the wrong move. The car was reliable but those brakes were miserable,especially in rain, plus you really couldn’t climb some hills with A/C on.

    After a few years, some rust spots appeared, the brakes were annoying, the ride was noisy and my mother pushed my dad to get a similar-sized ’78 Buick Century to match her LeSabre company car.. Yes, the aero back. Huge improvement all around over the Valiant. The v-6 was stronger on hills though no hell raiser. That one went 12 years and 139k miles before it was stolen off a Brooklyn street. The cops actually found it fairly intact, but I decided it wasn’t worth putting back together.

    We sold the Valiant for $1700 to a cousin in the oil business who wanted his guys driving nondescript cars.

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